Beginning in 1990 with the first cohousing community in the eastern US, I have helped dozens of cohousing groups across North America come together in a supportive atmosphere to define their visions, design their communities, and develop systems after they move in. Over the years, and with mutual inspiration from other community professionals, I have evolved a rewarding participatory process that helps groups come to decisions efficiently, effectively, and joyously.
While workshops can be tailored to each group’s needs, the most typical topics are: values and vision statement; programming and design for site, common house and individual homes; and setting up a work system for a new or existing community. Each workshop is preceded by an online survey, which serves to educate and engage, and which elicits responses that inform the agenda. We begin with a topical Friday night slide show, which typically doubles as a marketing opportunity to grow the group. Then comes a gathering of the membership on Saturday and Sunday, and the real action begins – discussions in the full group and breakout groups; various exercises to visualize the range of opinions and keep things dynamic; and the most fun, the block exercise where group members work together with to-scale building blocks to create a site plan or common house design.
But so much for the concretely describable portion. What is really important is not just efficiency, but supporting and nurturing the positive relationships that create the social community. While the refined workshop methodology streamlines decision-making, the key is really compassion. I have come to realize that what I bring to cohousers is not only a deep knowledge of cohousing and an effective participatory process, but also a way of holding the space – creating a safe environment in which people feel heard and cared for, and which enables them to proceed with comfort in listening to each other and expressing themselves. This is the greatest gift I can offer to future neighbors as they seek the transformation from group to community.