I wonder this from time to time. Many cohousing groups never get the place built for many reasons – money, not finding appropriate land, money, not having enough people, money, not having enough time/energy, money, etc. But if the houses are there, can it fail?
I think it comes to the intent of the question. Are you afraid to get involved and lose your money as the group forms, develops, and builds the place? That is a possibility. But after it’s built, what are you afraid of? That you may hate it? That’s a possibility and many a neighbor has moved out realizing cohousing life is not for them or that particular group is not for them. That you may be irritated beyond belief by one or two neighbors? Could happen. That you aren’t guaranteed friendships or close relationships? That’s true.
Diana Leafe Christian interviewed intentional communities and failed communities and has written extensively about what works. Sociocracy seems to be the preferred governance these days that many a community likes. Finding ways to deal with conflict and hold everyone accountable to the written community policies. So, the secret ingredients and information is out there. The problem can be individuals and groups who aren’t putting the time and energy into doing that. Diana Leafe Christian says that if you visit a community going through struggles, they have the “flu”. Come back a few years later and they probably got over the growing pain.
I also think the “failure” idea comes with the assumption people make going into cohousing. In truth, they have been promised a lot. The whole idea is a community so people assume that means peace, love, and understanding. That you will have all the essentials in life – food, shelter, and love.
Here are some of the assumptions I’ve seen people make (me included):
Everyone has the same idea of community that you do (“like minded” people)
Everyone has the same expectations for behavior and policies (making a realistic vision will help form this)
Everyone will follow the policies.
Everyone will participate.
All animals will be well behaved and controlled by the owner (same with children)
No one will call authorities on you – police, social services for children or senior citizen abuse, swatting (SWAT team)
No one will have a gun
No one will smoke
No one will do anything illegal
No one is a child sexual abuser
No one sexaully assualts
No one abuses anyone/thing/animal
Everyone is liberal
Everyone is upper middle class, at least has those values
Everyone went to college and beyond
Everyone will be well balanced
Everyone has sugar that you can borrow
So, can a cohousing fail? I don’t know. Can it not live up to your expectations? Of course! Can it become more of a condo and less of an intentional community – yes. But here is the key. You are part of the community. Each person helps create the community. When new people move in, new ideas and if it’s healthy, that’ll be accepted. Eventually all cohousing communities will have new residents than the original founders because, let’s face it, no one lives forever. Then, we can see – how does it last for a second, third, fourth generation.
Most intentional communities – communes have failed. Here is an article on that. Cohousing is a bit different because no matter what, the houses will be there and will want residents no matter what.