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Monday, December 01, 2008


Here's an interesting NYT article on a prospective "cohousing" community in Brooklyn. A number of families and individuals are getting together to build an abandoned previously-planned condo development, but tweaking the space to put an emphasis on shared living spaces. The members agree to be engaged with their neighbors, and they even plan to share some meals. It's a pretty neat concept, and has been implemented successfully elsewhere, especially in Scandinavia. This particular one sounds especially cool because of the location and the fact that the site includes adaptive re-use of an abandoned church.

I thought the coolest part of the article was the description of how the group makes decisions, of which there are many as they work to make the community a reality. There's an elaborate consensus-building process that, at least ideally, yields careful decisions and involves those with dissenting opinions in a way that leaves them still feeling invested in the final decision. Seems like they've had good results so far, in any case. One of the best classes I took in grad school was on citizen involvement in policy decisions, and one thing apparent in the literature on that topic is that carefully structured discussion between average citizens on a given issue (even when there are conflicting interests and viewpoints) can go a long way toward working through solutions. The problem is implementing those policies, when only the small group was part of the give-and-take that helped them arrive at a well-rounded solution. In the case of a cohousing community, the size of the group is small enough that everyone in the entity can participate in the process and feel invested in the decisions that are made (it helps, of course, that they have all chosen to live there, and thus bring some similar values to the table).


Matthew said...

I stayed with my aunt and uncle in their cohousing place in Oregon this summer, and it was interesting. Everyone knew all of the kids' names and you could tell the kids spent all day running around outside together. People pooled their resources and shared things like wheelbarrows, bikes, and cars. The consensus decision-making seemed a bit intense, though - there were lots of committees and lots of things to sign up for. I guess you trade going to lots of meetings for a more active community (maybe not such a bad deal).

teague said...

As someone who kind of likes (or at least has a high tolerance for) that sort of organizational rigamarole, I suspect I would personally find that tradeoff worth it, but you wouldn't really know until trying it. I also suspect that the organizational culture of each of these communities tends to be heavily influenced by just a few individuals, so one could like the culture/process initially but find it changing for the worse if just a couple key people left.

Your aunt and uncle's place is in a rural setting, right? It seems likely that living in a rural cohousing group would be much different from an urban one, both in how the setting would influence how it functions and in terms of the different types of people who would be attracted to it.