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.