So You Want To Create Cohousing... You've just heard about Cohousing and you know that its for you. Now what? Well, if there isn't a Cohousing group in your area that meets your needs, you can always start your own. All it takes is a lot of desire (or is it passion?), perseverance (or is it stamina?), a bit of luck (or is it fate?), and a lot of help from those who have already been where you intend to go. Forming a Core Group Your first step of course, is to find other people interested in creating cohousing in your area. Contact your regional umbrella organization (See Information & Resources on the What Is Menu) and/or the CoHousing Company (510-549-9980) to see if they can put you in touch with other persons interested in forming a group in your area. While talking to the CoHousing Company, you may wish to order one of their slide shows which are excellent for explaining the concept of cohousing. A cohousing information meeting, featuring a slide show, is often very effective for generating interest. It can be held in a home, a community center, a church or just about anywhere you can amass people. Advertise with posters in local bookstores, health food stores, night classes, fitness centers or anyplace likely to attract the pro-active, take-control-of-their-life kind of people who are drawn to cohousing. Approach local media, as they are often interested in stories about person who are trying something new or unusual. Place a small ad in appropriate local papers - these have been fairly successful for many start-up groups. Next you follow up informational gatherings with organizational meetings. Many new core groups find they initially attract a lot of people. Over time groups find their balance as individuals sort out their true intentions. Core groups will often settle out to somewhere between 3 to 7 families. This collection of individuals will take on the role of founding members and become the nucleus around which the larger group eventually takes shape. As the process progresses others will join, especially after land has been purchased. Location for a group is actually one of the forces that weeds out some members and attracts others. The impact of purchasing land is not to be underestimated! Learning and Delegating Once formed a core group needs to begin establishing a structure within which to operate. What is it you want to create and how do you plan to do it? Formally agree on meeting frequency and clarify how meetings are run. How is the agenda set? Will you have one facilitator or two and should everyone take a turn at facilitation? What role does the facilitator take? What decision making process will be used and what constitutes a quorum? Who can take part in decisions and take part in meetings? What time and financial commitments are required? In addition, it is wise to consider setting a project time line to help create a sense of progression and continuity while giving group members a bigger view of the task and effort ahead. Your group will most likely need to learn about group process issues such as running meetings, decision making, conflict resolution, personality types and orienting new members. There are also many aspects to doing a development project that most members will require familiarization with. Site acquisition, zoning requirements, legal structures and issues, finance and budget issues, the design, development and construction processes all have their own peculiarities. Not everyone has to know everything. It is best to start by identifying topics of concern or interest and creating committees whose purpose it is to focus on the different tasks and responsibilities. These smaller task groups can then report their findings to the larger community where final decisions are made. Using Outside Resources This process can, at times, get a bit overwhelming but fortunately, there are an increasing number of resources available. Talk to, and/or visit other core groups, both those who have completed their communities and those who have been at it for awhile. Read books such as Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves by McCamant and Durrett and Collaborative Communities by Dorit Fromm. Subscribe to the national Cohousing Journal and get back copies on topics of interest. Talk to building professionals such as architects, developers, builders, Realtors, bankers and cohousing consultants. Talk to planners and politicians in your local government. As you consult with other groups you may want to ask for copies of their documentation. There are two things to remember 1) you neednt reinvent the wheel and 2) dont worry about getting immediate answers to all your questions, but focus on what questions need to be asked. Create and identity At some point your group will be required to clarify its identity. Everyone from new members to local lending institutions will want to know who you are and what you are planning to do. You will begin to identify many characteristics about the project such as - location (urban vs rural), number of units, housing type (detached, cluster or town home), and target price ranges. Then there are questions like: What development methods to consider? Is there a spiritual focus - an ecological philosophy - some sort of overriding philosophy? Will there be subsidized units? Should pets, guns, wood stoves or pesticides be allowed? Usually these issues are explored in a discussion under the broad ranging topic of values both individual and shared. And, because we all start out as individuals who are drawn to the community process, discussions take time to evolve from individual values towards a more common set of values the whole group can identify with. Perhaps most important is that you take time to learn about each other. Cohousing is really about people connecting with one another. The success of a cohousing project is very dependent on the ability of the group to coalesce and create a bond that will carry them through the more difficult and often lengthy stages of the development process. A group that learns to trust and to care about one another can surmount the difficulties and become a true community. Schedule fun time, share with the children as well as the adults. Do things other than work or process together, organize socials, potlucks, and recreational activities, creatively schedule in down time. The process of creating cohousing should be every bit as rewarding as living in cohousing! If you follow these first steps you will have begun the process of drawing together and bonding a group to realize a dream. You should have a core group of people who share common goals, who have acquired some knowledge about what it takes to make cohousing happen, and who are clearer about what it is that they want to create. Usually this process takes about six months depending on how often the group meets and its sense o urgency. The group will then enter a whole new phase of commitment as they choose a site and commit a substantial amount of money and subsequently time to each other. If you really want to do cohousing you need to realize that, though you've already put a lot into it to reach this stage, there is still much ahead to be accomplished. If the foundations is strong the group will have an excellent chance to persevere through the next several phases. These phases in reality can take anywhere from 2 to 3 years to complete. All the while the group will continue to build on this base it established in the early stages of formation. Each group will have its own tales to tell - its own image to project. And, over time, each group will evolve as level of commitment deepen. But, remember that it must start somewhere if it is to start at all. So, now is the time to start putting up those posters; and may the cohousing gods be with you! This article by Fritz Radandt was first published in the Cohousing Journal in the Summer 1993 edition..