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Nicola Inchbald, chair of the Rooftop Group and chair elect of the Matrix ... - 24dash

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Nicola Inchbald, chair of the Rooftop Group and chair elect of the Matrix ...
The housing association role in garden cities, community land trusts and cohousing schemes is crucial together with provision of traditional affordable and social housing programmes. To further support the 'circle of life' housing associations should ...

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Social housing e cohousing , se ne parla all'Urban center con ventotto studenti ... - gonews

Cohousing News from Google -

Social housing e cohousing , se ne parla all'Urban center con ventotto studenti ...
L'Urban Center di Pontedera organizza per i giorni 4, 5 e 6 luglio un workshop sul social housing e sul cohousing dal titolo “La casa al tempo della crisi”. Ventotto studenti del terzo anno del Corso di Laurea Magistrale in Ingegneria Edile ...

Starting with a Proposal, Revisited

Laird's Blog -

Jasen recently replied to my June 10 post Why Starting with a Proposal is Usually a Bad Idea, and he brought up points that I want to respond to, expanding on my original thinking. Jasen’s comments are in italics, and my replies follow in Roman text. (Note that when I refer to a “committee” I mean for that term to encompass anything from a single individual or manager, to a team, task force, or standing committee—any subgroup of the whole).

I personally find this challenging to hear (thank you), as I'm a proponent of crafting the proposal prior to bringing a topic for discussion to plenary. As you state, plenary time is precious so I definitely agree that some topics should be discussed openly in plenary well before a proposal is crafted by an individual or subcommittee. The challenge is determining what constitutes a good "proposal" agenda item vs. a good "discussion" agenda item. Because of the abundance of potential topics that could come to plenary, a certain amount of delegation must be done to subcommittees/individuals in order for plenary time to be effective. My instinct likely is to lean on the proposal all too often. Your post is a good reminder of this.

Re: skewing the conversation, I agree that this happens but personally believe this to be a net positive for the following reasons:

1. The proposal helps define or frame the "problem" or “issue." It gives members a lump of clay to mold.

Yes, but the danger is that you might not have all the clay you need if the plenary restricts its reply to what the committee has prepared ahead. Further, it can sometimes take more energy to change the shape of pre-molded clay than if you were starting from scratch.

2. The proposal preparation allows for research to be done prior to plenary such that knowledge/expertise can be gathered for distribution at plenary. If this is not done beforehand, the plenary is not an informed position to make the best decision.

While this is a real phenomenon, I believe it's better handled by having the need for research anticipated by a thoughtful Steering Committee, whose job it is to screen suggestions for plenary agenda topics. A competent Steering Committee will ask the sponsoring committee to conduct anticipated research as a precondition to getting time on the plenary agenda.

Further, they should insist that the presentation be tight, with a focused question. This kind of diligence should go a long toward eliminating wheel spinning at the front end of a consideration.

3. Finally, in many (most?) cases, the plenary faces a number of relatively trivial, non-fatal, and revocable decisions such that even if the proposal were skewed towards an action of some kind, that decision can be evaluated and changed at a later date based on objective desired outcomes.

I have two thoughts about this. First, why are you dealing with relatively trivial decisions in plenary? A better approach, in my view, is delegating those to committees such that if they are operating within their mandate they can make decisions without coming to the plenary at all. Many consensus groups fall into the trap of insisting that all decisions be made by plenary and that committees can only propose. While care needs to be taken to craft thoughtful mandates for committees, I urge you to consider pushing out decision-making authority to committees as much as you can stand. That way only major topics come to plenary, such as ones requiring an interpretation or balancing of values.

While committees should always be informing the whole group about what they’re doing and provide a clear opportunity for non-committee members to have input on matters that the committee has authority to act on, there is rarely justification for clogging up plenary agendas with routine matters.

Second, I agree that the plenary shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If a proposal seems good enough after thoughtful engagement, it is generally better to accept it and move on, trusting that changes in the light of better information or more complete thinking shouldn't be that difficult to effect down the road.

If you are not facing a looming deadline (which generally you aren't), another option in those moments when: a) you've done what you can on the topic; b) you've lost momentum; and yet, c) it doesn't feel "ripe," is to lay it down for seasoning and pick up again at the next opportunity—to see if anything has shifted. The important thing is to stop giving something plenary attention once forward momentum has ceased—and then not falling into the bad habit of recapitulating all the prior work when you get back to it, which means good minutes and disciplined facilitation.

Finally, if there is anguish about whether or not you have chewed on a proposal sufficiently to swallow, and are concerned about the potential difficulty of getting agreement to change it later (the interesting case would be when some in the group really like the agreement and others are quite unhappy), is to keep in mind the option of a sunset clause. This allows you to make a decision that will expire after an agreed upon trial period unless the plenary takes explicit action to continue the decision. The point is that if there is not approval to continue the agreement, then it expires.

Often, real life experience will make clear which way to go regarding a policy about which the group is in anguish over is it contemplates consequences. The sunset clause takes pressure off the group when there's fear of locking into a policy with a potentially large impact and there's uncertainty about whether you've considered thoroughly enough all reasonably likely outcomes and their consequences.

Where's the Puck Going?

Laird's Blog -

This past week I attended a nonconference hosted by the Tamarack Institute for Community Encouragement (Kitchener ON) entitled "Community: Programs and Policies." (Actually, it looked a great deal like a conference, but the organizers wanted very much for us participants to consider it a series of conversations, and not at all stuffy like a conference—which goal they largely achieved.)

In the opening plenary. Al Etmanski interviewed John McKnight (known broadly for his articulation of the theory and practice of Asset-Based Community Development). Toward the end, Al wanted to know what was ahead for John as a visionary about community organizing. As Al lives in Vancouver BC and this event was happening on Canadian soil, he phrased his query: "John, where's the puck going?" Always one to enjoy a good sports metaphor, I smiled at this colorful framing in the land where ice hockey is king.

At the front end of the event, keynote speakers McKnight and Peter Block (who joined us via webinar from Cincinnati) drummed home the message that neighborhood assets and community capacity are abundant—despite a general sense of diminishment and paucity in those arenas. The overwhelming majority of care is given not by government agencies or well-intended nonprofits, but by volunteers (93% apparently, though I have no idea how that was measured), and for those of us who want more community in our lives (is there anyone who doesn’t?) it is mainly a matter of harnessing what we already have available all around us, rather than lamenting that we don’t have more.

As you might imagine (at least I wasn’t surprised) there was an accompanying theme of engaging on all fronts—bringing policy makers, implementers, and clients to the table to make common cause. While there were some encouraging stories from places where this has been happening, by and large decisions affecting communities are made without the active involvement of all constituencies, and many people in the room were reporting fatigue and overwhelm.

Hmm. Asking overworked people to be sufficiently pumped up to go home and do more seemed uphill. In contemplating where this particular puck was going, I became interested in two leverage points, both of which I want to explore.

I. Moral Oxygen
In his closing remarks Etmanski named a handful of key concepts to hold in view as we move forward, and the one that grabbed me most he labeled "moral oxygen," by which Al meant making sure that we, as caregivers and community builders, take time for renewal and support. Given that the need is bottomless, it's not unusual to allow our giving to get out of balance with our receiving, to the point where we're running on empty.

Not only is it not much fun (both for ourselves and those around us), but it markedly undercuts our effectiveness. Truly, less can be more. And while I'm all in favor of canoe trips in the North Woods for refilling spiritual reservoirs, or reading Margaret Atwood or Robertson Davies after dinner instead of another report, I want to take this in another direction.

Community is not a spectator sport. It is something you do with others; not for them. In that regard, participants at the Tamarack event were challenged to consider how they can be part of the communities they're hoping to foster—to think of themselves as members of the family, and not just as midwives. 

While on the surface this may seem to be yet another claim on everyone's (oversubscribed) time, there's magic that can happen here. Being a member of what Tamarack Director Paul Born might style "deep community" (in contrast with shallow or fear-based community) participants can get support and sustenance even as they give it. Thus, if service providers are willing to be vulnerable and more heart-connected with their constituencies there is the prospect of being renewed in the giving, rather than having that be something accomplished only on the weekends or during holiday.

I'm hopeful that many of the good people who were touched in their hearts during the time we were together will take away the insight that this kind of connection can happen through their work—and not just at annual nonconferences in Kitchener. You can't just gulp moral oxygen once a year and expect it to sustain you for months at a time without regular replenishment, and I think the most exciting strategy is figuring out how to find oxygen in the work, rather than around the edges.

II. Harmonizing a Cappella
My second point of leverage comes from contemplating the moment when you have everyone in the room for the first time—especially when there are people present who do not ordinarily talk with one another. It seems to me prudent to anticipate that at least some of the time (if not most) the various voices will not all be singing from the same hymnal. Then what?

If the music is sour, or too off-key, people will not be inclined to come back for more. So it's important that those initial all-skate sessions go well. In the course of our four days together, there was little attention given to how to do that, or the primacy of this initial conversation going well. 

To be fair, there was one workshop on The Circle Way, that explored the power of sharing circles designed to enter heart space. This is a format that tends to be heavy on ritual and proceeds at a deliberate pace. And there was another session in memory of Angeles Arrien and her work with the Four-Fold Way (an introduction to the archetypes of warrior, healer, visionary, and teacher). These offerings are directly relevant to the question of moral oxygen, yet there was nothing focused on consensus, facilitation, conflict, or power dynamics. Were all of these so well understood among participants that no attention was needed?

Maybe. But I doubt it. In particular, I foresee three primary challenges, none of which I consider trivial. I want to explore these by walking through the hypothetical example of a rundown low-income urban neighborhood, where all parties have come together for an initial conversation about how to strengthen the community. For the sake of simplicity, let's say there are four main stakeholders: municipal government, nonprofit social service agencies, local churches, and neighborhood residents. (I know I'm oversimplifying, but it's enough complexity to illuminate my points.)

—Culture Clash
Culture can be viewed through many lenses, including racial, ethnic, national, class, and meeting. While any of these may be in play, I want to focus mainly on organizational culture—the ways in which service agencies see things differently than city hall, which sees things differently than the local churches, which is different again from the people who actually live in the neighborhood. It's not enough that everyone is in favor of strengthening the sense of community in the neighborhood. Each may be holding a different part of the same community elephant.

Agencies may be looking for a lower incidence of unwed mothers or a decrease in people receiving welfare. The municipal government may want less violent crime or fewer drug-related deaths. The churches may be aiming for higher attendance at Sunday services, or more households willing to temporarily place refugees. Residents may want a heated, well-insulated meeting space, or lighting at their playgrounds.

Each of the stakeholders comes to the table with a somewhat different agenda and is beholden to somewhat different constituencies. While these disparate goals are not mutually exclusive—no one is "wrong"—it's not obvious that the conversation won't devolve into squabbling over limited resources.

In most situations like this, the neighborhood residents will be inured to being told what they need—rather than asked their opinion and actually listened to. That is, they'll have already had a lifetime of experiences where they weren't asked what they wanted, or else weren't listened to (perhaps because the decision had already been made and the public hearing was just window dressing).

Understandably, this leads to deep discouragement about public process and cynicism about "meetings among all stakeholders." As the rep of one of those other stakeholders, it can be hard having your well-intended offer spurned and not even being given a chance to show that this time might be different. While it's not fair to judge you for the sins of those who preceded you, there's truth to the adage: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

At the outset residents are likely to be suspicious of outsiders' motives, so the current will be moving against you as soon as you put your canoe in the water. Better have your paddle out.

—Cooperation Versus Competition
Ostensibly, meetings of all stakeholders are attempts at being cooperative. But are they?

It is not enough that you intend to be cooperative. You have to understand that achieving that requires a culture shift, and unlearning deep conditioning in a competitive, hierarchic, and adversarial world. The key moment comes when someone presents a viewpoint that appears antithetical to yours and the stakes are high. Do you respond with curiosity or combativeness? Are you open to having your mind changed (based on an expanded understanding of what's going on) or do you want to win?

In general, this is where skilled facilitators earn their fees—gently, yet firmly reminding people of the way they intended to be and providing graceful, face-saving ways for belligerents to back out of dead-end confrontations.
• • •In fact, it's my sense that skilled facilitation may be needed to manage all three of the pitfalls I've outlined above. In the dynamic moment, you need the ability to reach out and show everyone that they are not just genuinely welcome at the table, but that they are seen accurately, not judged, and that no decisions will be made unless everyone signs off on them. You need to create a container in which people not only say their truth, but that they feel fully heard (note that I'm not promising that they'll get their way or that others will agree with their thinking), and that it's worth their while to make this attempt. If the first meeting goes well, the second one will be much easier.

Hmm. You might be wondering if these objectives can be managed by The Circle Way or Four-Fold Way, both of which encourage deep sharing and reflection. My experience is that they can help, but they will not work in all situations. Think back to the point about culture clashes. Slowing down and speaking deliberately can drive some people crazy, and what is meant as an even-handed circle that is open to all, will be perceived by others as a noose—choking off spontaneity, passion, and natural rhythm. Meetings should never be one size fits all, and it's incumbent upon the facilitation team to think through formats that will invite and bridge. It's OK to ask participants to stretch, but it won't work well if you're asking only some participants to stretch while others are left in their comfort zone.

What the Puck?
I admit that that's a lot to accomplish in an initial meeting, yet the good news is that it's possible. And when you think about it, can we afford to aim for anything less?

You have how many f@#king roommates?!: On cohousing communities vs. the ... - Sacramento News & Review

Cohousing News from Google -

You have how many f@#king roommates?!: On cohousing communities vs. the ...
Sacramento News & Review
The very first American cohousing development was built 23 years ago, right here in Davis. Inspired by similar setups in Denmark, Muir Commons was the answer to families who wanted community, but also private homes, careers and close proximity to urban ...

You have how many f@#king roommates?!: On cohousing communities vs. the ... - Sacramento News & Review

Cohousing News from Google -

You have how many f@#king roommates?!: On cohousing communities vs. the ...
Sacramento News & Review
The very first American cohousing development was built 23 years ago, right here in Davis. Inspired by similar setups in Denmark, Muir Commons was the answer to families who wanted community, but also private homes, careers and close proximity to urban ...

Roger and Me

Laird's Blog -

For the past several months I've been enjoying a rolling (and freewheeling) email dialog with Roger Stube in Connecticut. Though we haven't yet been in the same room together, we're buddies. Roger is new to intentional community and styles himself as a political conservative (which I am not). Though he walks the other side of the street, he's curious and we have a lot to talk about. Think of it as cross pollination.

Recently Roger asked me to profile what kind of people are drawn to intentional community—a question I don't recall ever having addressed before. First, Roger ventured the following types, to prime the pump:

o  Idealists
Mostly likely young, may be disillusioned with the world as they see it. Are looking for a better way.

o  Disconnected
They want friendships/support they could not find in the outside world.

o  Lost
Don't know what they want to do with their lives and communities look interesting.

o  Conservationists
They want to lighten their footprint on the earth.
• • •While I found that a good start, I added:

o  Social Change Agents
Those looking to make the world a better place and see community as a base of operations.

o  Integrators
Those looking for a more integrated life (walking their talk). While I reckon this is a subset of Idealists, it has a different flavor than what Roger described.

o  Simple Livers
Those wanting a simpler life featuring more sharing and less consumption. This is a flavor of Conservationist, though with greater emphasis on a life centered around relationships rather than material acquisition and consumption. That is, there is a positive side of this choice, not just embracing privation.

o  Authentic
Those drawn to a more authentic life (less bullshit and posturing; less attention to fashion). They are drawn to an everyday lifestyle where participants share and discuss what really matters, dropping easily below the veneer of social niceties.

o  Socially Awkward
Those who feel rejected everywhere else. While this is variant of Lost. These folks are not sure they'll find a home or acceptance anywhere.

o  Parents
Those looking for a great (stimulating, progressive, safe, supportive) environment in which to raise a family.

o  Concerned with Quality Aging
Those looking for security, dignity, and usefulness as they age and are seeking it through living among friends and neighbors in an inter-generational context (not a retirement home or gated community for the silver haired).

o  Spiritual Alignment
Those looking to live with those who share their spiritual path, both to walk the path together and to share their ecstasy.

o  Answer Seekers
Some hunger for charismatic leaders with answers to life's vexing questions. (These are the folks that Erich Fromm wrote about in his 1941 classic Escape from Freedom). These are people willing to surrender individual choice to the wisdom/authority of another.
• • •Though I'm not confident that I've captured them all, this is a reasonably comprehensive list. As I reflect on it, it's pretty amazing that all of these elements can be folded into strong and healthy communities. But they can with sufficient attention to bridging and understanding the different lenses through which people in each category are experiencing life.

Red in Tooth and Claw Hammer: an Evening in Toronto

Laird's Blog -

Last week I was visiting my sister and brother-in-law, Al & Dan Cooke. Though their permanent residence is the Chicago suburb of La Grange, Dan works for BMO (Bank of Montreal) and has been temporarily on assignment near the mother ship in Toronto. (Yes, it's a bit odd that the Bank of Montreal is headquartered in Toronto, but you have to take into account that Toronto is the unquestioned financial capital of our northern neighbor and everyone wants to be where the action is—which, in the case of Toronto, will take on added meaning as you read further.)

While I've happily visited Al & Dan in La Grange on any number of occasions, it was handy to catch them in Toronto last week as I was in Ontario to work with a trio of forming communities in Guelph, and then attend the June 23-26 conference (in Kitchener) being produced by the Tamarack Institute, Community: Programs and Policies.

First, though, I enjoyed three days with family, a highlight of which was this moment Thursday evening:

This image was captured at the bar of La Société (an up-scale French restaurant in the tony Yorkville district, within easy walking distance of Al & Dan's condo), just after we'd been served our first dozen raw oysters and cold crab claws. The picture evoked for me this quatrain from Tennyson's In Memoriam:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed

It is, after all, in my nature to love seafood and we were fairly ravenous by the time we'd gotten to the restaurant. To be fair though, in the image, running top to bottom, I appear as tooth, red, and claw, or guy in red about to sink his teeth into claws. Think of it as poetic license.

In any event the restaurant was offering oysters and crab claws at the come-on price of $1 a pop, 5-7 pm on Thursdays, and there was flat out no way that Al & I were going to pass that up. It happens that neither of our partners (Dan and Ma'ikwe) care a fig for raw oysters, but Ma'ikwe was in Missouri and Dan was in misery (attending a dinner following the annual golf outing that he sponsors with lukewarm enthusiasm as a legacy from the guy he replaced at BMO). With our steak and potato partners not on the scene, there was a clear path for Al & me to indulge in La Société's largesse. So we did.

After moving into the main dining room for our entrée, it wasn't an hour later that the cast and crew of The Property Brothers was seated next to us, directly in Al's field of vision. While this collection of animated thirtysomethings just seemed like enthusiastic diners to me (oysters and crab claws could get anyone in a good mood), Al was wowed. As I learned in situ (or at least in my seat), The Property Brothers is a Canadian reality TV show that's hot right now on the Home and Garden channel (which, by the way, I didn't know existed—I last lived with a television in 1972, and I'm overwhelmed by the blizzard of options just a click away on your remote).

In the show, and in life, Drew Scott is a real estate agent and his twin brother Jonathan is a contractor. Their gig is buying run-down fixer-uppers and turning them into dream homes for their clients—all within a tight budget and a tight timeline. Drew wheels and deals to buy the property for a song, after which Jonathan performs his magic with circular saws and claw hammers. Who knew? (I certainly didn't.) But hey, even television stars have to eat somewhere.

While we thought that would be the extent of the evening's entertainment, we were wrong. Walking home we came to the intersection of Yorkville & Bay, only to discover that it had been cordoned off to vehicular traffic and been re-signed as "Maiden & Pearl." Hmm. It turned out they were prepping to shoot an outdoor street scene for Pixels, a full-length movie featuring Adam Sandler and Peter Dinklage that's expected to be released next year. As I understand it, the movie is based on the award-winning animated 2010 short film of the same name directed by Patrick Jean, with the dystopian premise of New York being invaded by rogue 8-bit arcade video games (think Space Invaders, Tetris, and Pac-Man run amok).

It was surreal walking through the set, where for three blocks all the cars had New York plates, the directional kiosk offered a map of lower Manhattan, and the urban bike rack was sponsored by Citibank (as it is in New York) instead of Telus (as they are in Toronto).

No, we didn't see the stars for this production; just their spoor. Yet it was somehow the perfect ending to a magical evening where we manifested the following trifecta, any one of which would have made last Thursday memorable:
o  Delicious seafood with my sister at fire sale prices.
o  Sitting next to glitterati at dinner (which started a stream of consciousness that extended all the way from Lord Tennyson to reality TV—talk about seven league boots).
o  A stroll through a live movie set where a portion of the largest city in Canada was masquerading as a portion of the largest city in the US. Where else but in the topsy turvy of Hollywood can that possibly make sense?

Ultra-Energy Efficient Homes: Are They Worth the Upfront Cost? - Triple Pundit

Cohousing News from Google -

Triple Pundit

Ultra-Energy Efficient Homes: Are They Worth the Upfront Cost?
Triple Pundit
All 36 homes at Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BCE) in Midcoast Maine have Zehnder heat recovery ventilation (HRV) systems, that transfer 90 percent of the heat from the exhaust air to the intake air before it exits the home. Stale air is removed from ...

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