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.
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 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.
One of the goals of the interest group is to visit other intentional communities. There are so many around California, and we know they have great models and lessons we can use.
Some of the communities are listed in a directory hosted by the Fellowship for Intentional Community.
Last Saturday several of us visited Pomona to check out the Regen Co-op’s Sustainability Seminar. It was a great experience just to see the houses and feel the sense of
welcoming they shared, and all their cooperative projects. There were demonstrations on composting, canning, greywater systems, and getting involved in your neighborhood. They have several houses that are in the neighborhood, making it easy to walk from one house to the other. Many thanks to everyone at the Regen Co-op for sharing their experiences.
Shared housing is one of my interests, and I’ve been researching cohousing and intentional communities for several years.
The range of possibilities is so appealing. I see this type of project as a way to build community, support one another in achieving dreams and making daily life easier, and providing a place that is healthy for people and the planet.
For an introduction, see this great video.
Does this sound like you? Join in! There is an interest group forming and meeting twice a month.
Contact AtHomeCohousing@gmail.com with questions or to be added to the mailing list.