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The Audacity of Cohousing

The inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th President is one of two indicators that dramatic change is upon us! His election signals a new direction for our country and the rise of hope by many who felt left out and in the wilderness in recent years. The other major change is the economic meltdown and accompanying recession, if not depression. Critical immediate results have been millions of people losing their jobs, record numbers of home foreclosures, severe tightening of credit, diminution of savings and investment for retirement, growing difficulty of middle and lower income families to meet their needs, and inability of food programs to feed the increasing number of hungry people across the country. Does this changed landscape have implications for cohousing communities and the cohousing movement? What might we do to respond to these challenges?

"But our Agreements Might Constrain My Freedom!"


I just got an email from a friend I met when I did a consultation-workshop for her forming cohousing community awhile back. She wrote that the core group is struggling right now.

“After your workshop,” she wrote, “people were enthusiastic about creating structures, but we’ve gotten bogged down arguing about what structures we want. Some people don’t want any constraints on them, and we don’t have a voting back-up in place.”

She added that they’ve got a Vision/Values/Mission/Purpose workshop scheduled in a couple of weeks. “Maybe that will move us forward,” she wrote. “Wish us luck!”

Revised In-the-News section

Coho/US has recently begun more active review and filtering of online news items from mass media for display on the Cohousing Website.

You can see this on the homepage, see the "In the News" section - or the associated pages. This section on the home page include 5 news items. Our webmaster, Catya, made some structural changes that lets us update this section indirectly - so we no longer touch the home page - or the longer list of news items, which can be found here.

To date, most of the news items have been discovered using Google Alerts.

Another source we've started using is the Yahoo News Search

New approach toward blogging?

Hi All,

Since becoming Executive Director of Coho/US, I've made very few posts to the website under my name. I have been involved in lots of content changes and managing different processes behind the scenes. My intention is to start making Blog posts now and then to share more about what's going on...

My focus will be the cohousing movement and what Coho/US is up to (via the website and more broadly). Accordingly, here's some of what's going on and/or coming soon.

“Community Mental Illness”


This is a phrase coined by Kevin Wolf of N Street Cohousing in Davis, California, who told me about their impressive form of consensus, described in my 1/5/09 entry, "Is Pure Consensus Right for your Group?"

Kevin believes that when someone in a community consistently blocks proposals that others support, they have a community-style mental illness. The person would certainly not be considered "mentally ill" in mainstream culture, they would function normally at work and among families and friends. But in a community context, Kevin says, if the person consistently cannot let go of what they personally want in favor of the greater good of the community — as defined by how the other members see the community’s mission and purpose (including its values, goals, and principles) — they are "mentally ill" in a community context.

But Is It Really Consensus?


My friend Tree Bressen is a meeting facilitator and consensus trainer in Eugene, Oregon, who teaches consensus, facilitation, and effective meeting process for many cohousing communities.

Tree values inclusivity in community, so I wondered whether she considers N Street’s six-meeting/voting fallback method, described in my 1/5/09 Blog entry, "Is Pure Consensus Right for Your Group?", to be inclusive enough and fair to everyone.

“It seems like consensus to me,” she replied when I asked her. “And I like how it balances power with responsibility.”

Is Pure Consensus Right for Your Group?


How can the most number of people get the most of what they want, most of the time?

I’m intrigued by how the members of N Street Cohousing in Davis, California practice consensus. They seem to get the best of this decision-making method without any of the exhausting and demoralizing aspects that sometimes plague other communities. This is important to me because, ideally, the most number of people in community would get the most of what they want in community proposals and policies, most of the time.

Consensus Decision-Making — a Double-Edged Sword

Every cohousing community I know in North America (and almost every non-cohousing intentional community too), uses pure consensus as their decision-making method. This means, of course, that if someone blocks a proposal it doesn’t pass.

Best of Times, Worst of Times for Cohousing

The old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times” is upon us. For the cohousing movement it is as Charlie Dickens would have said the “best and the worst of times.” The housing market is at its worst and the economy is not doing well. It is a hard time to think about housing as a solution to life’s challenges let alone a way to “save the world one neighborhood at a time.” It is times like this that small splinter movements like cohousing can get lost and buried.

But it is the best of times for cohousing in that our awareness of the need to sustain our culture and our planet are at a high point. The economic downturn is forcing a break with the American addiction to materialism and a rethinking of values. Global warming and high gas prices are having significant impacts on our society, although it still isn’t a fast enough impact for some of us.

A Mess on Our Hands

The Great Depression, probably not, but we sure have a mess on our hands. On Sunday, October 5th In Fresno, CA the Cohousing Partners and McCamant and Durrett Architects (MDA), and an awesome cohousing group celebrated the grand opening of La Querencia cohousing among hundreds of well wishers, under glorious blue skies and next door to the new Gold LEED Unitarian Church. The church and the community, both designed by MDA, have been recognized for their cutting-edge environmental leadership.
The core Fresno community of 16 households is very strong and enjoys excellent participation as it goes through the usual challenges of the move-in stage. But the challenges are not usual this year. The politicians talk of the financial crisis moving from Wall Street to Main Street. Well, Main Street is us.

But Is It Really an “Ecovillage”?


If a cohousing community uses the word “ecovillage” in its name, is it really an ecovillage? What does that mean, anyway?

Today I got an email from a cofounder of a cohousing project in the Northeast. She wrote, “Can you tell me how a community gets to use ‘ecovillage’ as part of their name? Is there a process, or does the group build the principles into their vision and just use the term? I’m just beginning to organize a group for a cohousing community in my rural village. I think that a group will form and very likely want to be an ecovillage.”

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