What are these terms?

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)

Ecovillages – intentional communities whose goal is to become more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecovillage)

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.   

The Sharing Economy

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 visit to Emerald Village

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.”

LA Ecovillage

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.