“So many of our problems would be alleviated if we had 3 or 4 exceptional friends living within a 2 minute radius.” Alain de Botton (h/t shonias/Ariane).
Over the past little while, I’ve been thinking about alternative housing styles. It’s kind of crept up on me. A conversation with a sweetie about how unsure they are about living with a partner again, but wanting to be close to others; starting off living alone in a country where I don’t really know anyone, and where knowing who to contact for help with electricity, or heating, or rubbish is made more complex by new institutions, a new language and really no community at all; a conversation with a friend about how television had once been a shared thing, and had now become an individual pursuit; a growing sense of being maybe adult enough to make some choices about how and why I do relationships and community rather than having them all made for me by necessity, and discovering there are more choices than I’d thought; a few conversations with people about having kids, or not having kids, and the possibilities of being a part of kids’ lives without being a parent; a few conversations with people who have families, sometimes involving two parents, and sometimes not, which have made me think about the many and varied pressures of parenting and how much they might be eased by opening out ideas of family a little; a lot of thinking about relationships, nuclear families, feminism, heteronormativity, and the homonormativity of ‘marriage equality’…
Lots of what people seem to long for in the current moment is ‘community’. It covers a lot of sins, that term, and sometimes it can refer to some horribly formal and right-wing model that is more about excluding people. But given that there seems to be a longing for closer community, the question for me has always been ‘what’s standing in people’s way?’ And it’s only really in light of some of my thinking about the whole ‘marriage’ thing that I’ve been able to pin-point it.
We tend to understand ourselves as individuals first and foremost, and usually as developing within a family and then becoming independent, and then developing our own family (and I agree with Jadey’s concerns over here in this respect). But ‘family’ here is a fairly limited concept, involving biological forms of kinship, and usually, ideally, a nuclear family. And actually, lots of these ideas about nuclear families bring with them some fairly conservative ideas about mothers who are at home to sustain the household (the private sphere), fathers who venture into the world (the public sphere), and children who are being raised in their image. This isn’t a reality that lots of people are living, but it remains a touchstone for lots of imagining of family. And as Bluemilk’s post, the comments, and the original article she is discussing, all point out, it’s not really doing anyone many favours.
There are lots of kinship groups which extend beyond this, of course, but houses aren’t really built with them in mind (nor are marriage laws, or insurance schemes, or superannuation, but I digress). I used to think that the reason we didn’t do other ways of living, where community was an everyday thing, was because it was impractical. But as I wondered about how marriage, biological kinship and the nuclear family got naturalised, I realised that I hadn’t even thought about whether these alternative forms of community were realistic at all; I’d just assumed. And that is the very definition of something that’s been naturalised: it appears naturally-occurring, even though it’s highly contingent. And I knew that, because I knew how housing had changed historically! So! It was time to think some more about this.
I started looking into other ways that people were doing their living arrangements. There were what I think of as ‘hippie communes’ you see sometimes on television series, usually associated with some cult or religious organisation. I found lots of examples around Byron Bay, unsurprisingly. But then I found mention of a whole bundle of other forms, usually grouped together under the title ‘intentional communities,’ which as the Fellowship of Intentional Communities describes, includes ‘ecovillages, cohousing communities, residential land trusts, communes, student co-ops, urban housing cooperatives, intentional living, alternative communities, cooperative living, and other projects where people strive together with a common vision.’
So I kept reading, and discovered cohousing, which I liked because it combines private space (and, thus, pantslessness) with easy, local community. Most existing cohousing communities were purpose-built on land the group bought together, and some of them can look like little villages, minus the commercial aspects that ecovillages can sometimes bring with them (like cafes and shops etc). They tend to involve some shared space, usually a house with a large living-room style area, a dining area, a kitchen and a big veggie patch or similar. This house is for everyone to share in, but everyone also has their own house, separate from the others, in which each family or household live. In purpose-built cohousing arrangements, the houses are usually less cut off from each other than in regular housing, and there are often carless shared areas where kids can play. Usually cohousing involves regular community meals or events, but it also involves lots of everyday contact.
Cascade Cohousing is perhaps one of the more well-established Australian versions, and it does look amazing. The group basically bought the land and purpose-built all their houses. Which is of course one of the problems I’ve noticed about lots of intentional communities: whilst many involve a sense of responsibility towards the larger community, they’re usually groups of middle-class professional people, with the resources to put towards buying land and building. And of course, these are the people who are already buffered by precisely the money that they have.
And this leads me to some of my ambivalences about cohousing. Why is it that these need to be intentional communities? Why can we not work towards developing community out of the accidents of those we live near? When I dream about the cohousing block of flats I want somehow to afford to buy and house some of my lovely friends and some lovely strangers, I then sometimes wonder why I only know two of my neighbours’ names, even if I grin and wave at most of them. There are lots of answers to this, of course, and one of the most convincing is that in cities where you know so many people, you are already selecting your friendship circles and communities, and it’s not so extraordinary that they would be the people you would want to spend time with. But I also wonder whether some of the longing for community both comes with and arises from an inability to create community with those we don’t choose first.
But there are lots of positives about cohousing. And so, my dream… When I dream, I dream big. I dream of a block of flats (actually, I found the perfect block of 8×2-bedroom art deco flats, and they’re going for less than 3 mil, so if you’ve got a few spare, kick ‘em my way, yeah?). I dream of me being able to have one, maybe shared with one of my siblings if they come up to Sydney, but otherwise with a library in the other room, complete with guest bed. I dream of my sweetie and their child living upstairs, of that child being able to run downstairs and knock on my door to play for a while or tell me stories about fun things or hard things. I dream of my sweetie’s significant other being able to share their flat with their long-time co-houser, and shared cocktails and beach trips. I dream of my friends who are just thinking of marriage and babies being able to move into another, so that when I say ‘’Let’s do dinner,’ it doesn’t need to be a big deal for anyone involved, or when they need some space, one of them can come past for a visit. Of my newly-parental friend also being in the same block, so that I can pop by on the way home to say hello and ask if I can throw her washing in with mine, or stir dinner while she does the bath thing, or bring her over some ice cream once the kidlet is sleeping, or arrange for her to have a Saturday morning kid-free. Of crossing the hall with a bottle of wine and knocking on someone’s door just in time for Doctor Who. Of coming home from horrible days at work and being able to sit on a couch with someone else and grizzle into a cup of tea until it’s sorted or out or I’m giggling again. Of being able, with others, to provide cut-rent housing for students or people on the dole or families that can’t afford the nightmare rent of Sydney anymore (assuming ownership here, but hey, it’s a dream!). Of allocating units for people with disabilities who might otherwise have to be in some kind of formalised residential care arrangement. Of cooking and eating together. Of ripping up the bricked-up backyard and putting in a veggie patch. Of summer evenings drinking beer and playing music and singing along out the back. Of garages in which bikes and cars can be fixed, and the building of who-knows-what can be done. Of sheds repurposed as community meeting and workshop spaces, with couches sagging into nothingness and old trestle tables daubed in paint.
Some of these really are dreams, as in I don’t believe that they’ll ever come true. And I certainly don’t think that these kinds of arrangements are all happy-happy-joy; I’ve done enough community and political organising to know that community definitely isn’t about utopia! There’ll be music that is too loud, someone who says something offensive (probably me!), disagreements about how much veggie patch is really necessary. But some of these dreams are, I think, not actually impossible. They’re just unusual. And they’re really only unusual because as a society we tend to accept the lines drawn around nuclear families by law and leasing practices and convention and, yes, the shapes of our housing. There are more and other ways to do this stuff.
(With many thanks to my beta stars, Ariane and Mim)
Categories: gender & feminism, Life, parenting, Politics, relationships, social justice, Sociology
Yep, still want to live in your dream. Someone else can grow the veggies, I’ll cook them for everyone.
🙂 Yep, each time I come back to it, there’s only more to add to those dreams, not less… 🙂
I do wish it were a bit more affordable to pull these things off. I’ve been thinking about writing some more about alternative communities (maybe a series) and how they get funded, because in certain places and at certain times, there is actually government support for the set-up, which can make the whole thing way more possible for more people. But as it stands in Australia, it’s mostly private. Which is frustrating, because it ensures that unless you move far outside the city, it’s just not affordable for most people, especially those who would most benefit from extra community/support (for example, those who have to work full-time in order to survive, but do not make enough to pay for assistance with child-care or cleaning or whatever). And the government is unfortunately making housing co-operatives more complicated in NSW, ensuring that only community service organisations have the financial resources to set them up.
But it’s not just governments. In other countries, there are lawyers and bank loans and developers and such that specialise in supporting alternative communities. But that hasn’t happened here, and it makes private organising much more difficult.
My dream is like your dream. Before I got pregnant all I think was “Why do we put ourselves in the little boxes, two by two, and separate world from our friends & family to bash away at parenting alone?” Now I don’t think about it (how I might need help) coz nothing will change for another 18 months.
Some of our happiest times were at uni when we sharehoused, spread over four houses and three streets (and shared one happy big dog). No one was ever home alone – but we weren’t each other’s ‘guests’ either, we’re just around, for company. Now our friends are 20, 30, 50 mins drive away, family even farther. What for? Why buy/move anywhere if the people we want to see aren’t near?
Our pipe dream is totally complementary to yours. Our uber house plans are for somewhere out of Sydney, with individual houses arranged around a shared central kitchen/dining/lounge area. There would also be guest quarters. I’ll swap you and your co-housed, weekends in the country for weekends in the city. 🙂
Since this Twitter conversation, I’ve talked to other people who have been involved in some form of co-housing. Interesting stories. One of my kid’s friends lives in a co-house with 4 families. It’s based on religion, which is certainly not my kinda thing, but I suppose it makes it more likely that people have similar world views. My son loves going there and playing in all the outside space. He’s not so keen on the moral values the people share (for a 9yo, this runs mostly to an objection to electronic toys). It’s an interesting question how much overlap you’d want/need between the folks sharing the space. I’d like to think I’d be happy to live and let live, but I suspect in reality, there would be lines I couldn’t deal with being crossed.
Another friend was telling me they’d lived with a bunch of people in 3 rental properties in the same street. She said it was a total blast, but eventually enough people had played pass the partner to doom it long term. I think such a community needs to be anchored by people who are reasonably settled in their lives, irrespective of how they are choosing to live them.
I suspect our uber house will never come to pass, as much as I’d love it (partially because what I really want is several acres in the inner west rather than outside of Sydney, which is NEVER going to happen), but it’s a little more likely that we may buy another property nearby as an investment/step towards more communal living. But it’s just another example of middle class folks being more able to control their world with money.
Oh, I think about this a lot. So very, very much. Especially now that I’m getting ready to leave school and enter a workforce that is currently willing to pay me a living wage and then some. As someone who makes claims to be critical about capitalism, I want to live in a way which challenges the accumulation of individual wealth, but I am also deeply ambivalent of many existing charity/donation schemes (even for good charities) which seem to reinforce the same economic system. I would like to contribute to an alternative way of living entirely – for economic, political, and personal reasons – and do so in a way that allows me to live but not excessively benefit from the fact that I’m disproportionately valued in a capitalist society over people who are just as important but disproportionately under-valued. The difficulty there is to break down expectations and assumptions and power differentials that go along with having people with vastly different economic resources going into the same community, and learning to re-value other skills and contributions. (and oh man I could talk forever about the things I think might need to be done to address this, but the truth is I’m still pretty ignorant and uninformed about it all anyway)
So I’ve been dreaming about co-operative living and co-housing too, and your dreams sound very familiar! 😀 I also dream of dance and song parties. But one of the things I keep running into when I look into such communities now, in addition to what seems to be a class bias as you noted, is a lack of clear anti-colonialism and anti-racism as well. Especially given the issue of purchasing and building on lands in a country that is still being actively colonized. That’s a huge sticking point for me and something I’m always on the look-out for someone who has taken a better approach to that. I’m always sad to look at websites for some of these communities and see statements about the environment, but none about accessibility, anti-colonialism, etc. (It probably stands to reason though that the types of communities which have the time and interest in putting up websites are perhaps more likely to be the middle-class sort of “intentional” communities? There are plenty of people living in “non-intentional” communities of survival who are probably a lot more experienced coping with issues of marginalization out of necessity.)
There’s a woman, Dr. Gordon Nembhard, I’ve just started looking into who does research on co-operative housing among Black and Aboriginal people in the US and Canada. I know there’s a lot out there happening on this scale, and I really hope I can find a way to contribute constructively to it myself.
It’s a great point, Jadey, and one of my concerns too. I actually have no investment in ownership, except insofar as it can be used to pass on certain kinds of benefits to others through, for example, reduced rent. One of the examples that I’ve been thinking about talking about in the maybe-series this might become here on HAT, is Community Land Trusts, a model that comes out of the UK and the USA, and which to me could bring with it some really really interesting and potent ways to centre Aboriginal sovereignty in engagements with land, *even* in urban spaces where that has been rendered almost impossible by the ridiculously hyper-caveated forms of property like Native Title.
The only presence of CLTs in Australia is as hypotheticals, just now, and any attempts to make them real do seem to be primarily white and middle-class (partly a testament to the ridiculous reality that is housing prices in Sydney), although there are some academics around who are also trying to orient that otherwise in terms of class, but are also trying to emphasise commercial benefit probably to make it sale-able to government and private investment (which makes me grimace a lot, because it’s so much a part of what I’d want such things to resist.) But it does look like a model that might have waaay more space for a recognition of indigenous sovereignty, which would be pretty exciting, I reckon. Maybe I will write to some of the CLT academics and planners and see if they have already thought about this.
Would people be keen to hear more about these kinds of alternative housing ideas?
I remember reading a few months ago that Kevin McCloud (of Grand Designs UK fame) has been working on a housing project centred on the idea of environmentally sustainable community living: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2011/nov/19/kevin-mccloud-housing-triangle-swindon
Although this project lacks some of the features of what you describe (communal kitchens, for instance), it is designed to facilitate mutual support between members, and one thing that I really like is that it’s very much designed for people who may not have huge amounts of economic privilege.
In terms of how this stuff would play out in practice — I have similar dreams to those expressed here, and similar reservations too, I expect. I think my biggest fear with something like this is the extent to which people need to be “like minded” to make it work. Because there do need to be a shared set of goals/values to a certain extent — but at the same time, in most communities I’ve encountered, performing the values of the community becomes more important than the values themselves, and I could see this becoming particularly toxic in the context of living arrangements.
To that extent, I sometimes thing that such housing setups might actually work better if people of all different beliefs and backgrounds were thrown together randomly, and everyone had to compromise a bit — excepting for the fact that usually in “compromise” situations, the people expected to do the most compromising are those with the least amounts of social/political/economic power, and… that takes us back to the shared values thing.
*waves hands* Me, me, me! 😀
My brain’s not awake enough to articulate thinky thoughts much, but I just wanted to note that I love this post, and totally love your dream. Been having similar conversations about similar housing styles would be awesome, mostly in the context of poly relationships, but it’s an idea I’ve loved even outside of that scenario.
I always had this dream of (in the if I was ridiculously wealthy fantasy) being able to buy houses and rent them to my friends on the understanding that once they’d paid the house price in total rent, it was theirs, and eff interest and mortgages and whatnot. It started whilst a bunch of my friends were going through a run of renting places that got sold from underneath them and having to move, and kinda grew from there.
I love thinking about concepts like this, thanks for sharing.
My dream as well. I remember being impressed with many of these ideas when still at school. Now that we have a child, the “it takes a village to raise a child” thought just brings home to me how wonderful this could be.
I’m looking forward to browsing through the links.
Someone mentioning nursing homes on Twitter made me realise that that is the closest that many of us will get to this type of living.
It’s true, Mindy, although there are lots of these kinds of projects which are designed as cohousing for elderly people (which means that they have more control over their environment than is usually the case in nursing homes) which is sometimes possible because people have existing houses to sell, or savings, or support of government. Also many cohousing communities really underscore the benefits of having a broad generational cross-section within the community, too, and cohousing would certainly make less usual kinds of care arrangements more possible…
And the thing is, these kinds of arrangements do take work, that’s for sure, and many of the successful communities that already exist emphasise that you have to be committed for the long haul – that it can take many years to organise these kinds of things. But at the same time, I’m struck by the fact that lots of the people I talk to about this are really profoundly moved by the idea. That’s not the same as committed, I know, but it makes me hopeful 🙂
And Jadey, I’ll consider that three votes in favour, shall I? 😉
Mindy, my experience with nursing homes bears no resemblance to WP’s vision. Co-housing implies some kind of independence. Sadly the places I’ve seen look more like day centres you can never go home from.
Gratuitous facetiousness aside, I get what you mean. It’s kinda sad really.
Ohh, all your talk of these perfect-sounding housing groups sounds so lovely… I am currently having major share-housing issues. No-one doing their share of chores and dealing with someone who mansplains/border-line gaslights whenever someone tries to bring the issue up. *sigh* I like the idea of having your own house, but that house being inside a close-knit community. But I could only see it working if everyone had pretty much the same worldview.
As a parent of a fairly small and (at times) rather challenging child I love this idea! The concept of being able to pop across the hall and share a glass of wine with a mate while our kids tear it up sounds lovely!
My dad grew up for most of his childhood overseas in a large family house – 4-5 related families in the one building. He said it was great in that he always had someone to play with, but as an adult I think it’d be my version of hell 🙂 You’d need to find people who have pretty similar parenting styles.
My immediate family is all within the same suburb or adjacent which I think works really well. Easy walking or cycling distance so its not a hassle to meet regularly and in emergencies is no problem at all. But far enough apart that I still have a reasonable amount of privacy – its not just about having private space, but also not having the feeling of being watched by people you know all the time. I think my daughter would love to live next door to her cousins though!
Jo, I’ve definitely been there done that! Share housing can be great, but it can be awful as well. I lived with a man who believed himself a committed feminist, and claimed to only not clean because he ‘didn’t see dirt’, including, apparently, on his own dishes ;-P It was very frustrating, and in the end I and another woman left. So I do definitely sympathise.
And Jo and Beppie, you’ve both talked about the issue of shared values/worldview, and, well, I come and go on how important this would be for these kinds of cohousing arrangements. Sometimes I think that everyone would need to be pre-existing friends in order to ensure that there was some shared level of commitment, but sometimes I think that the expectation that everyone would be friends would be more likely to lead to conflict, because there would be a little less of the ‘oh well, you do your thing, I’ll do mine’ kind of vibe going on – more expectations that you ought to agree, y’know, and more potential for conflict when you don’t? But I remain ambivalent on that point. Ideally, I think, for me, a cohousing arrangement would involve both people I already knew and those I didn’t know that well, partly because, to be honest, I really think that unless a community is continually addressing differences and dissent, it stagnates and becomes less flexible, dynamic and open than it otherwise would be (and can wind up not making enough space for individuals changing, let alone new people).
Thanks everyone, I loved reading this post and all the comments. Its so refreshing to hear this concept being discussed in a local Sydney 2012 kind of way! I’m another of those with this dream of living in community. For me, its definitely about having friends nearby (which I currently do not have and the past year has been particularly difficult because of this) but also about sharing material stuff and reducing waste. For me there would have to be shared values around sustainability issues – I couldn’t support people in my community using harsh chemicals or not recycling for example. In other aspects I think diversity would work best – gender, culture, race, religion etc as long as there is a notion that the community embraces difference and respects what is of deep importance to the other.
I’m keen to be part of any movement to explore this concept in Sydney 🙂
Haven’t had a chance to read it but glimpsed this today: Single mum is lonely no more, thanks to neighbourly initiative
Sorry to fob off the actual reading but wanted to share just in case. 🙂
My boyfriend’s dream is to have a long row of terraced houses, with one big shared backyard…
Alison, I’d heard about that project, but no real reports on it, so it’s great to hear something about how life in the community is working out.
Weaver, there’s a group of people interested in cohousing communities in Sydney (none actually set up yet). Not sure what’s happening with that group, but they do seem to be occasionally doing things…
And Deird, I knew a family who lived in an arrangement like that in inner suburban Melbourne. It wasn’t set up as a cohousing community, I don’t think, but it nonetheless provided some extra neighbourly interaction 🙂
Jo, I also meant to say – one of the nice things about cohousing is that usually there’s some kind of conflict resolution procedure which is written down and committed to by the group (which also developed it), and which new people sign on to. I know some people like to demonstrate their commitment to organic community by not doing such things – as if the writing-down prevented future conversations ;-P – but I suspect it would be a useful way of addressing these kinds of difficulties… but yes, share-housing comes with some strange and unspoken expectations a lot of the time, which are hard to address partly because, at least in my experience, they often remain implicit.
The problem is, what happens when those “lovely strangers” (or “lovely friends”) turn out to not be so lovely? Maybe they seemed like the kind of people you wanted to live with/near — until they moved in. Or maybe they change over time. There’s a special kind of Hell in having to live in close proximity with people with whom you have irreconcilable conflicts.
I’m not sure that “shared values” help, either. I would describe my values as progressive, but a lot of the time, progressive people turn out to be judgemental and intolerant when I get to know them well, even when I basically agree with their principles.
Basically, the idea of “community” doesn’t have the same positive aura for me that it seems to have for other people in this thread. My experience of communities when I was growing up (neighborhood, school, church) was of people being hostile to me, for no obvious reason except maybe just that I existed, and it didn’t really improve until I grew up and was in a position to control who I interacted with and under what circumstances. (And could move to another part of the country.) I really appreciate having my home (my refuge) in a neighborhood where the people don’t know me well enough to hate me.
I do like people (well most of them), but I also find them exhausting. I appreciate having the option to walk away, go home, close the door and not have to deal with them until I am ready to deal with all their complications.
FWIW, I have lived in group living situations at various times, and mostly successfully, I think, but I can’t say that it’s something I’d want to do again. I also have two kids, who I love dearly, but I’m also grateful when they’re off at college or their mother’s and I can be alone and be with myself.
I can really understand this position, because even though I’m classically extroverted, find people energising and not exhausting, love the idea of community and love knowing my neighbours at least to say hello to, there are days and times when I find those sorts of interactions a PITA. In fact, the exact same things I would look forward to in a co-housing type arrangement would definitely irritate the proverbial out of me on some occasions. Especially when I’m running late, or even just on time, so a quick polite “what’s been going on” conversation will throw out my schedule completely.
I *think* that I’d enjoy the company and community more often than I’d resent it, but I can totally understand why you, AMM, and others might resent it more than enjoy it.
When I was at AdaCamp Women In Open Culture unconference in January a few folks (I won’t say where from, because I didn’t ask for permission to share this story, but the concept I think is pretty open) were talking about their idea for an “introverts commune”, which basically seems to consist of a bunch of Open Culture types deciding to live in the same part of the same suburb close by a particularly nice (and not too large) public park. These particular folks are all Open Source and Open Culture geeks who are into a Green, Whole Food, Slow Food and mostly vegetarian to vegan eco-lifestyle, and they want to establish a community garden as part of what they’re doing. This sort of looser coalition could perhaps avoid some of the pitfalls AMM mentions.
I’m seeing two camps emerge in this discussion: those who would love to try cohousing of some kind, and those who have some experience with cohousing/sharehousing and have discovered it’s not always a bed of roses.
I grew up near Byron, and in fact have moved back to the region, so these discussions are always interesting for me because I see this kind of housing as just another form of housing, not special or quite so revolutionary, because I grew up knowing people lived this way.
I really enjoyed living in a residential college when I was at uni, which is very similar to what some people are saying they’d like here, BUT it gets very tiring and fishbowl like, especially if you’re introverted. I live on my own now after years of sharehousing because I got completely sick and tired of people turning weird after they moved in – I’ve had some good housemates over the years, but you just can’t negotiate your space/household behaviour in a sharehouse like you can with family or a partner, and it’s so awful when it’s like that AND you don’t get on.
I do like the idea of separate houses close together, but I’m cool with my current situation too, which is living in the same suburb/town as various friends and family, some within walking distance (so good!) and some a short drive. My (new) boyfriend’s house is 7 minutes drive from mine and we like that (and we both live on our own, lol). Whenever you have shared space it requires negotiation and I think the key is that you probably have to know all the people quite well for it to work long term. If you’re just going to have people come in randomly over time, inevitably you will be dealing with someone who wasn’t completely honest or whose behaviour changed or they just aren’t that considerate about cleaning up the common area. And honestly – people you know very well can change too.
It’s a lot worse than a PITA if those neighbors — or those you share living space with — are unfriendly or hostile.
Even if they aren’t unfriendly or hostile, if you feel (for whatever reason) that you have to always watch your step, lest you give them a reason to be hostile, it is pretty wearing. The advantage of urban anonymity, where your social interactions are mostly with people you don’t have to see every day, is that if it blows up, you can simply withdraw (either until you’ve fixed things up, or, if necessary, permanently), without having to change your name and move to another (USA) state.
Having spent my formative years among hostile people who I couldn’t get away from has made me sensitive to this possibility.
Yeah, fair point. That must have been hell, and I can see why you’d always want an escape route.
I spent some of my childhood in a country town, and we were never welcome and always under scrutiny – except my father who was a native son of the place and was accepted totally. I think my ideas of this kind of community would involve a certain amount of selection to avoid that, but I accept that may be optimistic at best. Possibly why I haven’t actually done it, despite it being just about theoretically possible for me in the particular form I desire.
Ah, I can so relate to this discussion!! thanks for it!
Actually, no, Hendo, I don’t think the division falls out nearly as neatly as you’re suggesting. I’ve done various forms of share housing over many (!!) years, as well as a college arrangement (in my experience quite different to cohousing), so it’s not just me being naive about how cohousing could work, as you seem to be implying. And many of those up-thread who think that cohousing could be good are those who have moved from share-housing of various kinds to individual, family or couple-based housing, and would like some of the benefits of share-housing back, with a clear awareness of some of the problems. I’m risking dreaming the positives as well as the negatives, but this post was mostly about the positives, partly because the majority of people are familiar with the positives of solo/familial housing. As I’ve suggested, I personally do think there’s a pretty interesting politics to housing, one which is usually obscured. I don’t think that that interestingness is just a result of my unfamiliarity with cohousing – though that may be part of it, obviously! – but the result of a developing awareness of how and why certain forms of housing are supported and made easy to access, and others are not, in ways that are bound up with heteronormativity and capitalism, amongst other structures. In that sense, I wouldn’t say that cohousing is revolutionary, but that it can engage quite differently with those kinds of structures.
AMM, most of the cooperatives that I am aware of have some selectivity for inclusion – which is mostly what I imagine when I think of ‘lovely strangers’. Of course there are bound to be conflicts, which is why, as I mentioned, so many cohousing arrangements have explicit ways of negotiating conflict and hostility (something that share houses very very rarely have). But in addition to that, one of the things that I suppose I bring to the idea of cohousing is something derived from discussions of poly: that just because something doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it wasn’t good, and important, and significant, and worth doing. Most successful cohousing groups have core participants but also others who move into and out of the sphere of the group, and that’s pretty much okay with me – I don’t think that people should put up with situations that don’t work for them. Stability is important, but for me it’s not so primary a concern that other things like a pleasant home space should be sacrificed for it! Hostility is obviously bad, especially where you live, and to be avoided. I’m very sorry, AMM, that you have had experiences of not feeling safe where you lived and being unable to escape – that sounds truly awful, and I can understand that it would orient you towards other forms of housing. I’m certainly not suggesting that this is for everyone, just that it’s a possibility that seems foreclosed for lots of people who might want it, on the basis that other forms of housing are normalised.
I dream of very loosely organised co-housing, also. Not the kinds of co-operatives where everyone eats in a common area and everyone donates X amount of work hours to that area; that wouldn’t work for me, not being necessarily able to commit to and do those hours (I’m guessing some of these co-ops have some allowance for PWD, but how many do this willingly for “but you don’t look sick!” folks, I don’t know, and it’s not really worth the risk to me to find out).
But – we live in a lovely friendly cul-de-sac neighbourhood. People smile and wave, and know each other’s names, and look out for each other’s kids (who roam from house to house after school and in the holidays), and look after each other’s cats and plants and mail on holidays, and babysit, and lend cars in emergencies, and donate eggs to each other, and have a collective Easter Egg Hunt. At times, though, I wish we could take it just one step further, particularly in the realm of co-owned property: I’m thinking mowers and trailers and so forth.