By Elizabeth Magill, Mosaic Commons in Berlin, MA
What shall we discuss as we are forming our communities? Every forming community (I hope!) asks this question and communities that have already moved in give lots of different answers. Many of those answers are in the form of "I wish we'd resolved this" and "we decided x which was irrelevant and should have decided y which was important." All of those reflections are completely true, of course, but I don't think they get at the purpose for deciding things prior to move-in.
The purpose of discussing policies before move-in is to
resolve as much as you can about your values before getting so many
new members you can never agree on values.
So, for example, if you decide birds are more important that outdoor
cats and make a policy for no outdoor cats, people who sign-on later
in the process agree to that value rather than after move-in having a
battle between the birds and the cats.
If you decide no one is allowed to store guns on your property, police officers, active
duty military, and gun collectors know that those are the values of
this community and they need another strategy for storing their weapons.
If you believe in full nudity for children until puberty, the
community's clothing policy allows folk to know whether they want to
live there or not.
While developing Mosaic-Commons Cohousing in Berlin, MA, we had scent sensitive folk from the very beginning, and a number of folk with allergies, so there was no question that we would use all no-VOC paint. But more than that, when
we got to deciding about a fireplace and I said I was allergic to the smoke, and to the wood, we'd already self-selected to be a community that would prioritized no wood burning due to allergies, rather than environmental benefit of wood over a gas fire. We take allergies seriously here because we early on said that
was one of our values.
While I'm glad we discussed how to do things, because it identified important values, it turned out the decisions we made how things would work was mostly based in fantasy. Who knew you have to shovel a
path in the snow to the pump head? Not any of us until the water
couldn't get tested. And the rules about the dog run? We never built a
dog run. What are the critieria for an exception to the outdoor cat policy?
The values decisions, where we successfully made them, can be helpful
in letting those who are not yet members decide if they want to be in
So what topics should you discuss?
Dog leashes, Outdoor cats, Chickens, other Farm animals.
Work expectations, meal frequency, involvement in decision making
Nudity in public spaces, hot tubs, pools
Smoking area, where will it be? What, no one will have guests who smoke?
Community or individual garden plots?
Gun storage, gun privacy
Backyards, front yards, who owns? who mows? who shovels?
Numbers of parking spaces and cars per home. Will teens get cars? Will people who rent rooms get cars?
Quiet hours, do you want them? Mornings or nights?
How are you allowed to get rid of rats?
Note that you don't need to solve all of these, each of them points a
direction for the type of community you will be, and its the direction
you need, more than the details, so that you end up with members who share enough common values you
can find consensus.
(Of course, you also have to make sure folk understand when they chose
to move-in that those are the values they are agreeing to. That's a different challenge.)