Re: Statistics on common house usage
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 17 May 2021 08:28:03 -0700 (PDT)
On May 16, 2021, at 9:52 PM, Janey Harper <jkharper [at]> wrote:

> I'm currently working on a project that will be built in Sechelt BC.  The
> designer/developer I'm working with would like to see some statistics on how
> much the community kitchen/dining room/lounge area REALLY gets used in
> cohousing communities.

I recently read two wonderful books by a British economist Mariana Mazzucato on 
the absence of “value" in economic arguments and the myth of public and private 
as distinct and separable. Her insights are very applicable to cohousing. I 
highly recommend these books. She has a wonderful gift for translating economic 
principles into daily life experiences. I’ve tried for years to understand the 
GDP with no success. Finally, she has confirmed for me that it truly is 
arbitrary and has meaning only within its own obscure definition of itself. 
Economists groan.

The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy

The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public and Private Sector Myths

Her new one that I have’t read is Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing 

The two points I think are most important to cohousing is that economics 
doesn’t measure value and there isn't a meaningful distinction between personal 
and in common.

1. Cost and statistics are not designed to measure value. For politicians 
justifying budget decisions they are meaningful but only in that context. When 
trying to understand value, these numbers have (almost) no meaning.

2. The distinction between public and private can only be made if you make one 
up. It’s fabricated depending on your purposes. One of Mazzucato's examples is 
that “public" funds support research institutes and universities that do basic 
“no economic value” research. The “private” sector then puts the results into 
useful products or services that earn money and produce economic growth.

The take-home for cohousing is that the common-individual distinction has 
little value except to identify or assign sources of funding. Does the value of 
something change if it is switched from one column to the other? Is basic 
research less valuable than applied research results? How much is the value of 
my unit based on the unit and how much on the surrounding common space. It’s an 
impossible distinction whether I look at resale value or at personal enjoyment.

Questions about the common house are usually centered on hours per day of use 
and which rooms are used the most? The hope is that these numbers can be 
meaningfully used to cut costs.

Cost can be determinative if you don’t have any money. But when you have a 
choice, what value does this thing have or might have in contributing to 
building or strengthening the community. If you identify value before 
identifying the cost, the question becomes can you get the same value out of 
something less expensive? Does the granite countertop produce better food or 
better after dinner conversations? It might if your community values the 
designer look in kitchens. It makes (some) people feel happy and proud of the 

The difficulty of measuring value is that communities have to make these 
decisions before they know what will be most important to them. People’s 
interests and the expression of those interests in the common house won’t 
necessarily be the same. Some people will only work puzzles in the common house 
and others only in their own units. They can both talk puzzle, however, and 
puzzles have benefits.

But value in terms of community are tricky to define, too. Laundry rooms are 
characterized as important because they bring people together in the common 
house. Most of our residents use the outside door to the laundry room to go in 
and out, and very rarely does anyone fold laundry in the common house. Every 
once in a while someone watches TV while their laundry washes but not often. 
The laundry room, however, “feels” like community space because so many people 
value it. Even when they use it one at a time and never go into the rest of the 
CH it feels like a group activity. A group would rise up in unison if there was 
a suggestion of eliminating it.

One community had a person who played the piano after meals and a group would 
gather around to sing. Without that one person would there be a piano? If the 
piano broke, would it be fixed? I doubt if the value of the piano would be very 
high without that one person. And without the number of people who like to 
sing. And the number of people who like listening. And the number of people who 
are just happy that the piano playing occurs whether they participate or not.

I never watch sports and watching the finals of things was one of the main 
reasons to get a TV in the CH. But I love it that people are so happy and 
enthusiastic while watching sports and will often knit in the corner watching 
the watchers. A question like “Do you watch the World Series?” or “How many 
sporting events do you watch each month” would not measure the value of a TV in 
the CH.

A sociologist once told me that the first thing sociologists do when studying a 
group of people is to identify the common means of communication. That defines 
a community — they have developed and can communicate with each other. I’ll 
have to ask him how important it is that a community has a place to gather.

Sharon Villines

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