cohousing ted talk and building community anywhere

She talks about cohousing but other ways to build community where you are. She “outgrew” her community. I hope to interview her for the podcast soon.

Enjoy!

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cohousing scam

I’ve been scammed. I re-read the book – the book that started the whole cohousing movement in the USA.  Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett wrote Creating Cohousing: building sustainable communities and I have the updated version.  They found cohousing in Denmark and developed many in North America.  

Reading through again I realized that building the houses and common house does not make a true cohousing. The secret sauce and the community building is the point.  There are certain elements and steps that help create that.  Where I bought into, has a long way to go. I hope they get there, but re-reading the book, I see that what I moved into is not what most people experience in cohousing. Or not what we are told will happen.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“Trudeslund shows that while there is noting exotic about these consciously created, high functioning neighborhoods, the support that they can supply at the neighborhood level and at the level cannot be reproduced today in a  haphazard fashion, it has to be forged, crafted really, and then maintained.  They continue to operate on the basic premise, “if it doesn’t works socially, why bother?” So they still have dinner at each other’s houses once a month in small groups. The notion is that, if you have dinner in someone’s house, you will listen to them better. Similarly, the cooking committee matches up people who don’t know each other or who often don’t agree with each other. They have found that once folks have cooked together (or done anything practical together) they give each other the benefit of the doubt when it comes to discussing the merits of a new sandbox for the kids.”

They also have a common house – “residents put in well over 450 people hours in the common house each week.  They have put over half a million dinners on the table since they  moved in” about 30 years before this book was published. (p57–8)

Drejerbanken has a yearly evaluation week.  “The discussion ranges from practical organization to social activities, from the children’s concerns to next year’s projects. This provides the opportunity to go beyond routine business to explore what might make Drejerbankene better, and helps avoid “sweeping issues under the rug”.  The evaluation process begins with two discussion evenings, when the community breaks into four groups of six to seven adults each. The smaller meetings allow people to express themselves more effectively without intimidation. One woman explained, you learn a great deal about yourself in these meetings. When someone asks how you feel about this or that, then you have to ask yourself, “well how do I feel”…   these days such meetings are much more rare – once every third or fourth year. Some argue that the group has grown to a place, where, as any functioning culture or subculture, it is obvious what expectations are, who is strong and who is weak, who has capacity for empathetic communication and who will never have it, and how to compensate for this….One resident told us, “the key is to not let one of your neighbors ruin your day. Once you have figured this out, you learn to appreciate the benefits of community and not worry about the annoyance” p101

The book says that most communities have only two households move out in the first five or ten years.  Wow! So if that’s normal, ask a lot of questions if there are a lot of move outs.  And keep asking. Some may gloss over. Others might not want to see the real reason. My community has had three renters move out (none lasted a year). I moved out before a year and hope my renters stay (so far they like it but they are still figuring it out which is smart – I told  them to put a toe in the water, don’t jump in head first like I did).  Two home owners moved on and sold their houses (one was a pure reason for leaving coho – just not for them – that would have been our one if we were a functioning cohousing and not a nice condo as the book says).  Three more households are getting ready to move on and sell or rent their houses too. So, it’s about a third.  I’m hoping the new people who move in can change the culture and listen to the wisdom of those who have healthy communities.

Lastly, they address the question everyone asks – what if a jerk moves in and they say the exact thing I heard at the first presentation I went to about cohousing – what if you are the jerk!  I’ve been thinking about that  and it doesn’t compute. Now I see the rest of what they say – “Generally speaking, you’re not going to make your neighbors mad on Thursday if you’re going to ask them to babysit for you on Friday” in other words, you learn that it is in your best interest, short-term and long-term, to not be a jerk”.

Aha. The people in my community – first, we were all new. Just started so we wee learning those lessons. I just wish everyone had compassion towards all of us for that – we are all new and mistakes and missteps should be forgiven and given second chances. Second, the ones who do jerky moves tend to not ask for help. They don’t want babysitting, or yard help, or whatnot. I saw one household outright resist some community projects and collaboration. So, yes, jerks can move in.  If the community is strong, it shouldn’t cause too many ripples.  I still have hope especially for those working hard to make their place a real cohousing community.  This book is usually the first step to all cohousing projects, with good reason.

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signs of a healthy community

On page 171 in

Finding Community: how to Join an ecovillage or intentional community by Diana Leafe Christian,, she includes a list of signs a group is connected.   It was written by Larry Kapiowitz.  The  Lost Valley Educational center brainstormed this list. It was reprinted from Communities magazine, Fall 1999.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, Communities is a great magazine to read and you can get all the older issues up until they sold it off when you join FIC – Foundation of Intentional Communities.  So much wisdom from over the years.  

Indicators of being in relationship, feeling connected:

Activities are exciting/stimulating/important

Adults and children have important and recognized roles to play in the community

Appreciation is given more  often than blame

Awareness and enjoyment of and interaction with our land

Beauty is valued

Calm in the face of crisis or emergency

ceremony/ritual/practices that are reflective of individual passions/growth

Children embraced and included

Committees meet regularly

Coordination between areas of activity

Eagerness to participate

Emotions are visible/acknowledged/supported

Freely admitting mistakes

Generosity

Gratitude is regularly expressed

Joyful sharing of resources

Laughter

Listening before speaking/leaving a moment of silence after someone

Lots of touching/physical affection

Manifesting easily what we want and need

People freely saying in the moment what they feel/see/need

People working together without resentment

Playing music together

Reaching out to include others perspectives

Responsibilities are fulfilled

Singing, skipping, breathing, whistling

Socializing freely and regularly

Spaces are kept clean and orderly

Spontaneously/ easily asking for help

Spontaneously volunteering service to others

Taking responsibility for our own emotions (not dumping or blaming, being vulnerable, seeing others as allies) 

visitors/guests feel welcome and comfortable/it’s easy for them to fit in

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Danger signs to look for in a group and/or intentional communities

 On page 170 of

Finding Community: how to Join an ecovillage or intentional community by Diana Leafe Christian,, she includes a list of signs a group is disconnected.  Earlier she mentioned that communities go through “flu season” so these are just ideas but something to look for in a group you are joining, already in, or ways to improve.  It was written by Larry Kapiowitz.  The  Lost Valley Educational center brainstormed this list of symptoms of eroding relationships in a community. I assume it was to keep them on their toes.  Next time – signs of a healthy group!

SIGNS A GROUP IS IN DISTRESS:

Arguing

Avoidance

Backbiting gossiping

Binging of anything

Blame

Chaos at mealtimes

Chronic lateness

Cliques fractions

Competitiveness

Defensiveness

Depression

Difficult coming to agreements

Drama and struggle

Eating standing up or in a hurry

Feeling alone and unappreciated at work

Feeling of not enough time

Feeling unsafe to express thoughts feelings

Going through the motions

Uncompleted projects/lack of follow through

Injuries

Isolation/separation

Kitchen is a mess

Lack of physical touching

Non-accountability for decisions/passing the buck

Over committing

Overwhelmed/burnout

Prolonged worrying

Qualify our contributions

Resistance/resentment to service

Restlessness

Rushing or hurrying

Sarcasm/fractions/hurtful speech

Secrecy//covertness

Sickness

Sluggishness/heaviness in work

Speaking over each other

Superficial interactions

Suppression of enthusiasm

Territoriality

Unclear communication

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talking about your generation – millennials and cohousing

It dawned on me that most people that started cohousing in the US are at least in their late 40s. Most started in the late 90s and early 2000s. Not that new ones aren’t breaking ground every day, in general, cohousers tend to be at least over 50 due to the costs (and some are meant for over 55 anyways).  Young people with families are desired. It becomes more affordable once others put up the gamble and got the houses built and then, millenials can buy a house with a mortgage in the bank – the second generation.

So, now that it’s been about 20 years, there is this second generation in some cohousing communities. I wanted to know more about them (as I realized I was old now).  I read a book called The Trophy Kids Grow up: how the millennial generation is shaking up the workplace by Ron Alsop.  It is about work but I it can be translated to communities also.  This is what he wrote:

What generation is what –

Millennials                     Gen Xers              Baby Boomers          Traditionists

Born 1980-2001           1965-1979           1946-1964           1925-1945

Some had helicopter parents who harassed teachers and coaches and tried  to go to college admission interviews with their kids. (pg 53) One recruiter gets calls from parents trying to set up job interviews. “When she tells them, the child must set it up themselves, some parents get testy, accusing her of not working with them and threatening to call her supervisor. She says she tells parents, “you have to realize that your child will be on their own and will have to do things for themselves.” (pg 83-4)

Studies of college students show that student have been told how great they are and seem more narcissistic than other students in the past.  “I think we have been catering a softer generation, not a greater generation,” says the Karen Boroff, Dean of the Sullivan School of Business at Seton Hall University.” The2Rs that we haven’t been teaching enough are resourcefulness and resilience. Young people have been told they’re so great, but now they don’t have the antibodies for dealing with criticisms and failure.” (pg105)

“The need for explicit direction is a common characteristic of the millennial generation. Many millennials struggle with independent thinking, decision making, and risk taking. They are especially flummoxed by unexpected, ambiguous challenges, the kind that business is all about. This tendency worries some educators and employers, who foresee a generation that can’t cope well with the sudden twists and turns of their jobs and of life in general.   In contrast to generation X which had a ‘just do it’ mentality and a bias toward action even without sufficient information, this generation seems to favor consensus and getting as much information as possible before making a decision.” (pg116)

“Creativity scares me” a member of the millennial generation told me. “I think we are a scared generation, sacred to take risks, scared to think independently for fear it may produce ridiculous ideas. We are a generation that seeks approval.” (pg124)

Lastly, the book shows howand  why this generation would love cohousing – they are used to groups and consensus:

“Millennials work well together – maybe too well. Companies will find that millennials are team players extraordinaire. They have spent much of their lives working in groups at school and in extracurricular activities, all of which makes them a good fit for universities and companies that value teamwork.

But teamwork partly accounts for their weakness in taking risks and thinking creatively and independently.  They like the collegiality of teamwork and feel comfortable relying on the entire team to provide directions and keep everyone on track. They also prefer to reach a group consensus rather than make difficult decisions on their own. Team decisions are safer, less risky to the individual.

But where are the leaders? With their groupthink mentality, millennials may not make outstanding leaders. The team player mindset and team style of working are fine for many business projects, but companies are looking for other traits in the future leaders.  They want employees who are poised to take risks and think creatively on their own to solve thorny problems.  More then ever, business managers and executives must be adaptable and prepared to manage change in today’s fast moving global economy.  With millennials so averse to ambiguity and risk, companies worry whether this generation will be up to the challenge.”

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Smart Mama

I once read in a prominent newspaper article about mothers that some working moms didn’t like being around stay at home mothers because they found them stupid.  They assumed being at home meant they could only do baby talk. I was offended on many levels but I realized that staying at home made me smarter.

How do people learn? Increase knowledge? Gain vocabulary? Through reading.  When my second son was home we didn’t know he was on the autism spectrum but we did know he was high needs. For whatever reason, he wasn’t latching on in breastfeeding and we went to a million specialists and tried this and that to feed in any way possible.  So, if he did eat what I wanted him to (mama’s milk), I wouldn’t move.I had to stay still on the couch. Then, if he fell asleep, I also stayed still since he was crying all the time when he was awake.

So, the couch was full of books and magazines. I read all the time.  Staying at home made me more intelligent.

I thought of that today since I just ordered another book. I haven’t read this much since then.  Zoom and the pandemic has made me social by joining a few book clubs.  They are a wonderful way to build community. My mother’s book club friends were the first to show up at her funeral. They were her social world.

There are many ways to build a community. If book clubs scare you, I do know one secret. Not all clubs stay on topic.  They usually veer off and just laugh and enjoy each other.  Or, you could cheat like George on Seinfeld and just watch the movie.

Happy Reading!

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small town knows all – all your faults and foibles

It finally happened. I’ve been living in small towns and my kids have been growing up there.  A teacher I”m co-teaching a class with me figured out she taught my son a few years ago.  It’s not the biggest deal but it feels like crossing lanes of my life.

It was bound to happen. I’ve been teaching for years. I know a lot of people in the area. Plus, my kids have their own lives too. Now they have all collided.  

I enjoy working with her. We are a good team.  However it is awkward since my son had an awful time in her class. It had to do with another student who bothered him.   It is interesting to hear her perspective on it. We never met at the time – she had to miss parent open house night.  We might have emailed.

That’s the thing I’m still not used to in small towns – less anonymity.  It was hard enough when a friend hired me for a project and later had to let me go. I felt embarrassed. I was used to moving cities, getting out of town, not stay around where there was a failure.  I never really saw her again – she hired me a few times for other projects where I was a better fit in my abilities (let’s just say the first project was too much and little other hires to help whereas the man they hired after me got at least two staff to help him).  I set my facebook settings so I wouldn’t see her posts about the project.  I also trusted her less because at the same time she dropped her best friend from college. They were besties and lived near each other and raised their kids together.  I couldn’t imagine just unfriending my best friend, in any form.

So cohousing was a big leap for me. I was going to stay forever. But, what did I do?  Run away.  I know I made mistakes. I was embarrassed. I wanted to be forgiven and welcomed back in the fold.  With time, most people did seem to let it go.  By then I couldn’t forgive them.  And it still stings when the blow up floats back into conversation or official meetings. Can’t we just forget and move on?  Maybe that’s impossible since we never dealt with the real issue in the get go. I saw a friend from high school and college recently.  We hadn’t seen each other since the 90s but he became a pastor. He told me that churches that have had a big blow up never really recover. It comes out in other ways for years. He just left such a church and is happy at a new one – which happens to be in walking distance from his house.  

So, don’t let it become a blow up. Listen to everyone.  Respect everyone. Speak out how you really feel.  Lean into hard issues. Then you’ll be somewhere where people want to leave.  (Oh, two other households are leaving my community – new news this month. It’s about one third of the original people leaving.  At least four households – including me, didn’t even last a year. Some of them were new since I left and are already checking out)

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Want community, get a dog!

Dogs always bring people together. Okay, in cohousing they can cause problems with barking and bites, but besides that, they are a great way to meet people. My dog jumped on someone once outside of a video store (Dating myself here) and that landed me a date after I apologized.

In my condo, some people were visiting the beach and they met some of the neighbors. They had forgotten their names but remembered the dogs’ names. Cracked me up.  So, dogs are the gateway drugs to community.   They want to live here. I’m sure they’ll learn our names next.

By the way, I’m Bailey’s mom.  That’s my dog.

They are also good for security like in this funny clip:

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Made for TV community – ecovillage Dancing Rabbit

I have heard good things about the ecovillage Dancing Rabbit. It’s doing well. Unfortunately, it’s not a continual community. The way it is set up – in rural Missouri, many people have to move on for work or what not.  Maybe one or two founders live there, but otherwise it’s different people so a bit different than most cohousing.

I met someone who lived there and loved their time there. They had to move on to find an in-person job at the time. They also said it’s hard to date if you are gay.

One thing they  said was amazing. If someone has an idea, everyone says yes and helps out. Or if someone wants to play a game, they say yes. Such creative, fun energy. Like in improv you always say yes. 

A few years ago a TV show filmed there. The person I talked to was in that video but they and everyone else moved on. I did see a post recently of someone else who now lives there and talks about life there. They let people stay and intern all the time. Check it out.

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Lesbian Drama

I have heard of lesbian drama but I haven’t experienced it much.I had great experiences in lesbian women groups in my 20s. I thought living in cohousing would be similar to that sense of community. Now I see that was super dumb. First off, it’s not all women. Second, no one brought their children to the functions except some festivals.  We didn’t live together though I did dream of joining a lesbian commune.

I finally re-found a group since leaving cohousing. It’s on zoom but we’ve met in person a few times. Especially to support each other. We all traveled far to be at one woman’s mother’s funeral.  That same woman is wary of groups. She’s had bad experiences with cliques and mean girls.  I tell her that I”m wary now but we have the power to make it what we want. So far, we are taking steps and creating guard rails. Just like the most successful cohousing communities out there. It’s possible.

Her experience was negative in lesbian groups. So she is trying something new. I think that can happen to anyone of us. We get a bad taste in our mouth from our personal experience. I can’t wait to visit the cohousing communities that are doing well. I did once and it gave me lots of hope. I also know my community will be there one day.

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