Your Community's Purposes: Vision, Mission, Aim

Most values statements are so vague that pretty much anyone would be willing to endorse them. Values statements mean nothing unless they are connected to a vision, mission, and aims. The same organization can say we value environmentally friendly products and processes and mean entirely different things. I'm sure there is an executive at BP that can tell you they are one of the most environmentally friendly multinational corporation on the planet. And always have been. Committing to Mom and apple pie isn't going to energize and focus your community.

Developing Vision, Mission, and Aim Statements

What is your vision? What is the Dream? What would the world look like if you were able to achieve it?

What is your mission? What is the thing you are building? A spaceship? A factory? A park? What does "cohousing" mean to you? What does it look like?

What is your aim? Aims change frequently as you move closer to accomplishing your mission. Aims have measurable results. You will know when you have accomplished an aim because you can see it and feel it. You can point to it.

Where to Start?

The best place to start in defining your purpose is usually with the aim because it is tangible, but you will move back and forth between the vision, mission, and aim modifying each as you move forward. It's a process.

The mission has to be very clear and short. And it can't go in all directions. Building a community is hard. Building a residential community is even harder. Building a cohousing community is one mission. Building a residential community for artists is another.

"Self-managed housing" and "good neighbor" are terms that are fairly easy to define and comprehend. But when you combine that with a commitment to another mission, like housing for artists, things get more focused. Opportunities and limitations change. I'll use as an example developing a community for artists because I have a lot of experience with artists. I lived in the West Village and Soho in Manhattan and small arts communities in upstate New York, taught in universities and community programs, and was an exhibiting artist.

Cohousing is based on the model of home ownership and long term stability. "Artists who can afford to own homes" is pretty much an oxymoron. The more serious the artist the less the artist is likely to have the money to buy a home or to be interested in a self-managed community. They want to do art. if they are very successful, they need large studios and often warehouses. Maintaining that and maintaining cohousing is not going to be very attractive. Not impossible.

The mission has to be in sync with reality. What would be necessary to develop cohousing for artists? You will need to define a mission that is targeted at a certain kind of artist.

What is an artist? Who says whether another person is or is not an artist or is or is not practicing? I no longer paint, for example. Am I still an artist? Do art historians count? Do anthropologists studying the arts in Africa qualify? These definitions will affect not only your ability to design a define a specialized community, but also your eligibility for any government subsidies for artist housing.

New York City has a certification process for artists, or used to. It certified artists for eligibility to live in Westbeth, a subsidized housing project for artists. It asks for education and arts participation records, like exhibitions, active memberships, etc. (You can probably find it online.)

There is also the question of artists living with artists. I'm not sure how many artists you want in the room all at the same time. Stimulation for artists usually comes from outside the arts. They may like to live like artists and to be understood to be an artist, but at some point, the conversation needs to be about a lot of other things. And based on some authority, not just what this artist or that artist thinks.

Given these parameters you probably will go back and redefine your Vision and Mission to be a community that attracts artists and people interested in the arts. Your aims would then be focused on creating the conditions that would accomplish this. You could build into the common house and the budget specific spaces and funds for arts related activities. Include this in the Bylaws. People who don't want to pay for that, won't join. And artists will take you more seriously. The aim has to be that tangible before you can accomplish it.

Tangible Aims

One topic that comes up often on Cohousing-L is "how do we attract households with children?" The most common answer is design a playground outside and a playroom inside. When people see that, they know you are serious. For this community:

    The vision is an intergenerational community.
    The mission is to attract households with children.
    The aim is to build the facilities that will attract children, probably a playground and a play room.

This aim is measurable: Do more households with children sign on? Or at least express more interest than previously.

Aims change as you accomplish them. Examples of aims for developing communities are finding land, attracting members, understanding financing, hiring professionals. But already developed communities also need to develop aims: Strengthen the meal program. Develop more programs to integrate children. Improve the acoustics in the dining room. By defining them clearly and determining what you would measure to determine success.

Forcing yourself to define outcomes that are measurable is fundamental to accomplishing your aims. And help redefine your aims to more realistic expectations.

Vague values are fine. They don't mean much. You need actionable aims that support your mission. And a vision that inspires and energizes you when things don't go as expected. Which they won't.

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