Thursday, November 27, 2008

Passing the Baton : Founders in Cohousing

It often takes cohousing communities a long times -- years -- to get off the ground.

In the case of my cohousing community, a small handful of people were sitting around the kitchen table in one of their homes, and they started to have a "What if?" conversation.

From that point to this one, they've gone through a lot of steps, some of which I don't even know about. I do know they looked at many different pieces of land before they found one that met their criteria. They then had to apply to the City of Nanaimo to get the land re-zoned from single family residential to medium density, multi family residential.

They and their friends invested their savings and took out second mortgages so that they could buy the land and take on the many expenses that are involved when a group acts as its own developer.

Then there was all the research, the visiting of existing cohousing communities to see what worked best, the identification of what the initial owners wanted this cohousing community to be like, the hiring of architects, the application for a building permit and on and on.

By joining the group when the building already is under construction, I have had it easy by comparison. When I joined Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, I found all of the existing owners very welcoming towards me. Since I wasn't new just to their community but also to Nanaimo, they went out of their way to tell me about things that were going on in town, to invite me to events they were attending, and to invite me to their homes.

I felt warm and fuzzy, and thought, "What a lovely group of people." But I didn't stop to analyze it until I read something in one of Diana Leafe Christian's books. I can't remember if it was in Finding Community or in Creating a Life Together. In any event, in her writing she discussed The Founders.

She said that, as new owners joined the project, the founders needed to walk a fine line. Yes, the founders certainly were a great resource, because they knew the history of the project. Consequently they could provide insights into the reasons for early decisions, they could tell newcomers where they could find this or that piece of information, and so on.

But DLC (as people in the chousing movement call her) went on to say that there could be a temptation on the part of the founders to hang onto control. An individual founder or a small group of founders might refuse to accommodate the ideas and wishes of new owners.

It was only then that I became aware of how fortunate I was. Yes, the long standing owners of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community had been very friendly and hospitable towards me. But there was more to it than that. They also had welcomed me onto committees, and had been open to my suggestions.

Although all of the existing owners of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community have been like that, I think Susana embodies the attitude of openess to an extraordinary degree. She is one of the people who participated in that very first "What if?" conversation. She has spent years working towards this dream.

Yet she repeatedly has thanked me for contributions I've made since I've joined the group in Nanaimo, and has complimented me on my ideas and suggestions. Susana is an example to me. I hope that, as more people buy into our project, I will be as gracious to them as Susana and the long standing members of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community have been towards me.

No comments: