A collection of first hand
experiences from inside
cohousing’s unique neighborhoods,
offering a glimpse at the personalities
and dynamics that make them work.
The first “report from the field”
about how cohousing is working,
written and photographed by
people who live there.
“The folks David Wann profiles in Reinventing Community are the vanguard for the future — they’re learning today, often by painful and sometimes humorous trial and error, what it takes to go beyond the solitary and alienated survival tactics of modern urban life to the full flowering of the human spirit of tomorrow, in community.” ~ Eric Utne, founder of Utne magazine and editor of Cosmo Doogood’s Urban Almanac.
“Reinventing Community is an accessible and inspiring book, a rich tapestry of voices and insights from modern pioneers who are creating human scale villages, friendly to people and the sustainability of life on this planet.” ~ Duane Elgin, author of Voluntary Simplicity
What you’ll find in this anthology:
Stories that mainstream Americans, as well as culture shifters, can relate to:
Whether it’s photovoltaics on the common house roof in Davis, CA, community activism to shut down a pesticide-happy strawberry farmer on adjacent Oceano, CA land, the offer of a kidney in a Boston-area community; a wacky way of celebrating rather than competing at a Golden, CO garage sale; the annual retreat at a New York cohousing community; an all-African American neighborhood in downtown Chicago; an existing neighborhood-turned-cohousing, also in Davis, CA (by UC students;) an operating farm in Vermont – an off-the-pipe village that designed 26 computer-controlled compost toilets into its village infrastructure – and they’re working; the celebration of marriages, deaths, graduations, births, promotions, new books; and the creation of neighborhood cultures, complete with community traditions — cohousing is establishing itself as a proven component of new urbanism.
Common meals created by teams of chefs; community gardens, pedestrian walkways, labyrinths; carsharing; bicycling and skiing outings; kids who are especially articulate in school, and whose teachers visit cohousing to find out why; cohousing residents who become politically active (city council, etc.) because they’ve learned how to interact with a group;
An interview with Chuck Durrett and Kathryn McCamant, who “imported” the idea from Denmark in the 1980s, and a vicarious design workshop led by a cohousing architect in which a group decides what their neighborhood will look like–
I believe the mini-movement of cohousing is partly a response to a perceived loss of trust and individual control that’s becoming pervasive in our world. People gravitate toward do-it-ourselves communities because they sense they can be better heard and understood in a place that strives for cooperation and support. They can be neighbors with others who want to help put the pieces back together. When I first joined the group that would become Harmony Village, my old Subaru sported the familiar bumper sticker “Cohousing: Changing the World, One Neighborhood at a Time,” and I’m still convinced that the reinvention of community can bring individual empowerment as well as cooperative action. The world is sorely in need of focused, nonpartisan cooperation right now. Why not deliberately create neighborhoods that are safer, friendlier, and healthier? Is there a downside to this?
The reason cohousing fuels my own burning soul is that many of its experiments are extremely valuable to a society so distracted by materialism and so shell-shocked by the frantic American lifestyle. What kind of experiments am I talking about? Consensus decision-making; participatory design; alternative sources of energy; alternative sources of information; shared resources and designs that reduce each person’s ecological footprint; aging gracefully and vigorously; neighborhood activism in surrounding towns and communities; and collaborative management of neighborhood resources, to name just a few. In general, residents of cohousing are living actively rather than passively.
The underlying intent of cohousing might be seen as the deliberate substitution of real experiences for canned ones. Cohousing at its best provides a structure for learning to trust other people and for learning to be unselfish, at least in theory.
But you know what? Cohousing isn’t Utopia, as you’ll see in some of the stories included here. For example, the process of codesigning a neighborhood involves many, many meetings, some of them very emotional. Children begin to role-play going to meetings as a way of life, and outside friends of cohousing participants begin to suspect insanity. But the dividends begin to accrue as future members start to know and rely on each other, learning how to create and maintain a mutually beneficial neighborhood. By the time houses begin to rise up from construction sites, cohousers are ripe and ready for life in cohousing.
And then other challenges — lots of them — pop up like jack-in-the-box puppets. What happens if the community won’t let your free-range cat roam the neighborhood? What if one of the neighbors is “difficult,” a carrier of stress? What if nobody wants to do the work required for the maintenance of commonly held property?