We had the opportunity to meet members of inHabitLA, a los angeles group planning cohousing.
Thank you for inviting us to brunch last week and making us feel so welcome! It has been great to hear about the planning process that has been ongoing. InHabitLA hosts meetings at Mercado la Paloma, and also social events that are open to anyone who wants to find out about their group. They have a clear vision and hope to start the project near a transit friendly location in Los Angeles in the next few years, with many of the steps happening now. We look forward to more discussions and ways for people interested in intentional communities to connect.
Diana Leafe Christian gave a presentation hosted by Environmental Change-Makers, on “The Three Aspects of a Healthy, Thriving Community.” We hoped it would be attended by people who are interested in intentional communities, and those who want to know more about “sociocracy” and the “N St. Consensus Method” for group communication. I learned so much from the presentation and the experiences she shared.
Here is the description from the event:
How do you create “community glue,” to generate feelings of gratitude and trust?
What are good process and communication skills?
How do you set up effective project management?
Diana Leafe Christian has been part of intentional communities, group living, and ecovillages for more than two decades. Recently, she has been working with a community governance and decision-making method called Sociocracy. It means “governance by peers and colleagues,” and it uses feedback loops to help an organization continuously improve.
Come meet Diana Leafe Christian and discover …
If you are curious about intentional communities, and wonder what they are like and whether they might work for you — you can bring those questions too!
Diana Leafe Christian is the author of Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community and Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities.
We had another opportunity to visit the Regen Co-op in Pomona and talk to some members. They made space for some great conversations about group dinners, diversity in members, house meetings, communication styles, what makes someone well suited for living in a community, and getting involved in the neighborhood in a way that really creates positive change that goes beyond the homes themselves.
It also made me think of the need for mentorship of forming communities by the more experienced residents. An idea is simmering for a summit of LA communities to get together, find out the status and ideas of all the forming groups, as well as hear from existing community leaders.
Being able to see their co-op and all the home projects they have worked on through years, it always makes me believe that creating a community is possible. Thanks again to the residents who spent their Saturday afternoon with us sharing their experiences.
At this point in the process, we’ve identified some interesting questions about planning a community:
Urban vs rural, how much people want to share meals and other parts of their day, and whether the space also serves the broader community. The group wrote a survey to note the thoughts on these issues. It includes a good question that a group member wrote: “What’s a deal-breaker?”
It is important to learn what everyone’s visions are, for what they picture doing in the community. Some people are most interested in having a bit more open land for gardening, and some wouldn’t mind having a smaller private living space if there are nice common areas.
I have all kinds of questions about how the beginning of this process goes. Do we get ideas of property values so that we know what we’re in for? Do we all start learning group communication skills so that we stick together for the long run? If we go too long with the research process, will we lose people who are looking to move in a faster time frame?
What I’ve learned so far is that our group wants a community that supports each of us in our individual goals, rather than trying to make us all fit into one mold in terms of philosophy or daily routine.
The development of this project continues to be fascinating in all the directions it has taken us. Through meeting people that are interested in building community, I’ve been introduced to many other projects that show that our neighbors can be the ones to help us achieve our goals, whether it is living sustainably, supporting each other when we are in need, growing and eating healthy food, or turning art into action. So many articles to read now! It felt like a watershed; once I discovered one group that had this focus (Our Time Bank), everyone shared their experiences and soon I learned about so many local and national organizations. A few of those are the Transition groups, the Learning Garden, nonprofits that group members have started, and the You Are Here project.
“You are Here” is a group that holds discussions about building community and skill-builders like group communication. This is a larger group of people than the cohousing discussion group, and most events are open to the public. It has a broader scope of topics, of which cohousing is one, and it is a good complement to our discussions and search for resources. There is much more to this group and its history than I can add here. We are learning so much about facilitating group conversations, and it has been overwhelming how much people have responded to the style of dialogue that the facilitator has guided us through using principles from the book “The Art of Convening.” In a short time, I feel like I have gotten to know many of the participants and their stories. What it means to have a sense of community or neighborhood is different in Los Angeles! We talk about the challenges of getting to meetings and making the time, which are real barriers. I have been so impressed that many people deal with busy schedules and brave the traffic because they are so committed to this issue. The group is very open to ideas and suggestions for topics, field trips, and organizations to partner with. Please post your thoughts in the discussion board of the Meetup page. I’m looking forward to future conversations.
There are many terms in use when I search for information about cohousing or intentional communities. It got a bit confusing. After some reading, it seemed that a community could be all of these, or none of these. The terms are not mutually exclusive categories, and often overlap. At times, the terms are not apples-to-apples comparisons, but rather are terms being used for similar things but for different audiences.
In my job at a university, I try and make scientific or policy information understandable to everyone. So I am sensitive to the words we choose to use when describing our projects. Words mean different things to different people, and one word doesn’t always bring the same things to mind for everyone. Some words are hard to understand because they are terms or jargon, or have meaning that changes depending on the setting, or because they are used differently in our cultural backgrounds. An awareness of how words are perceived will help us understand what we are describing, and also help us when we try and reach out to more people to see if they want to join the discussion about intentional communities.
Glossary of terms
Intentional Communities – the broadest term that encompasses a wide range of communities. A planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. There are a wide range of intentional communities: cohousing groups, ecovillages, community networks, support organizations, and people seeking a home in community. (http://www.ic.org/)
CoHousing – residents buy modest-sized, separate homes in planned communities, with separate common use buildings. Often includes environmentally friendly design, some shared meals, pedestrian-friendly layouts. (cohousing.org)
Co-living – Multi-bedroom houses leased by groups of people. Residents share spaces including kitchens, living areas, garages, and yards. Also called “co-householding.” (coliving.org)
Collaborative housing – architecture/design concept for multi-unit buildings that aim for such things as: walkable, social, creative, diverse, and minimize the need for cars. Buildings with small private units emphasize shared spaces that foster connections between residents; they are marketed to makers, artists, designers, and musicians. (collaborativehousing.com)
Co-operative “co-op” – a type of ownership structure. A co-operative is an association of persons united to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations, through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. Co-operatives are businesses owned and run by and for their members. Whether the members are the customers, employees or residents they have an equal say in what the business does and a share in the profits. For housing, this means members own the property together, through owning shares in the co-op.
Here’s what I’ve been reading and listening to lately about sharing.
The Sharing Solution is a great book with the practical side of how to buy and share things together. Its tagline is “How to save money, simplify your life, and build community.” All of those things certainly appeal to me. The book covers many topics such as ownership entities: unincorporated association, nonprofit, cooperative. There’s a good chapter on effective communication, something that will be important to any group. One tip reminded me of a workshop I participated in recently, where I had to repeat back the main points of what the other person had just said. That really showed me how much I miss if I’m just waiting to talk, and was a good exercise to make me focus on the other person’s side. There are also many questionnaires, fact sheets, and legal documents that are ready to use. I recommend the book, and I was able to find it at my library.
Yerdle is a site where you share items with people across the country, earning credits when you share an item which you can use to get other items. It mainly uses shipping, which costs a few dollars, and is not as personal. It’s a bit like a huge national garage sale. I learned about Yerdle from The Good Stuff podcast, which has had several episodes on the sharing economy. (This is the same group with Annie Leonard who created The Story of Stuff – a must-watch video.)
Buy Nothing Project is similar but local: it has the objective of neighbors sharing items they no longer need, by joining an online group (limited to your city or neighborhood), posting a picture, and seeing who needs it. At first, it seemed like extra effort to arrange times with others to come pick up the item. But when I gave away my first items, I understood! I met people in my neighborhood I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I got a warm fuzzy feeling when they could use and appreciate something I didn’t need. My group is now talking about hosting local events such as free garage sales, so I view it as a big community-builder.
A member of our group learned about this community, and it seemed like a great place to visit. As part of our research, getting a chance to see other communities makes us think of what we would want to have in a community. In addition, we get a realistic perspective on the amount of work, the planning process required, and other challenges.
Right away, I could imagine taking care of chickens and goats, planting fruit trees, and walking the peaceful grounds. The outdoor kitchen is a fabulous idea, giving a sense of welcome to everyone who joins shared meals. We listened carefully to stories about unexpected problems that can occur, and what it takes to maintain a large property. It spurred a very good discussion about different types of properties and features.
The residents were so generous with their time. Visit the Emerald Village website to learn more about their site.
They have great resources and videos on their page for Activated Villages, which helps groups looking at properties know what to do to prepare. View the helpful workshop videos which provide information on real estate and types of housing loans. They recommend getting together with your group and doing a vision exercise to write out what each person is picturing for the community, then organize the themes as a way to start your discussion. Figure out how the group will discuss individual finances and assess income. This sounds like a part of the discussion that would need special handling! The group should talk with a business lawyer, CPA, or financial planner.
I particularly love their positive message that this is possible, we just need to get creative to create the lives we envision. “Real estate is the easy part. Getting people together is the hard part.”
I’ve finally visited the LAEcovillage! That’s been on my list for some time, since it’s so close and offers tours to visitors. It also has a long history, and a lot we can learn from them about sustaining relationships with group members over time.
In the tour of the grounds we saw beautiful gardens and plants. I didn’t feel like I was in the middle of LA anymore, it felt very peaceful. It was pretty amazing what transformation can be achieved with a normal size property with 2 apartment buildings. There were also workshops for bikes, tools, and sewing.
The open house featured workshops, including ones on conflict resolution and consensus decisionmaking, very useful skills for people living together!
p.s. I totally want some chickens running around.
I envision a community that would allow people to be healthy, garden, have an affordable and secure place to live. But more than that, I think of a supportive community of people.
A large part of this would be supporting each other through exchanging many times of things like child care, lessons, cooking, and anything that people are willing to provide. Currently, many members of our interest group are members of a Time Bank where we exchange these services. Our TimeBank is a community of people living in the Westside Los Angeles (there are time banks all over the LA area as well). For every hour you help another member, you earn a Time Credit. Then you can use that Time Credit to have a neighbor help you.
This is a great way to meet people and build community. To me, it’s also a large element of what a cohousing community would have in terms of helping each other. It’s a great system because it eliminates any trepidation in asking for help, since you put up the request on the site and see who is willing to respond. You don’t have to ask a specific person, so they won’t feel pressured. And when the person earns a time credit, you don’t feel obligated to return the favor directly to them. It takes some awkwardness out of these personal relationships when it comes to helping each other out. It also sets clear expectations, so that everyone understands what will be provided by the community, and doesn’t expect more than can be offered by living in a cohousing project.