About Whole Brain Thinker and Creative Problem Solver

I’ve been involved with community journalism since 1963 when I wrote for my elementary school paper, the FairView, through high school and college and then writing for the Wyoming State Journal. I put aside my newspaper pen and began Boulder Community Media in 2005 and Wyoming Community Media in 2007. There wasn’t much community journalism opportunity, so I resurrected my writing career as a screen writer. My first short screenplay, “Stardust”, won an award in the 2005 Denver Screenwriting Center contest. My newspaper forte’ was column writing about just about anything. I’ve been doing some recreational column writing on my facebook page. My friend, colleague and web guru Peter Wayne suggested that I move my facebook notes into a blog which will improve my search engine optimization (SEO). These notes are random thoughts about random topics – sports politics, personal experiences, movie stuff … As for current projects, I recently received some funds from the Wyoming Arts Council and Wyoming Humanities Council to make a documentary about some of the New Deal artists who created work in Wyoming. In the summer of 2013, I coproduced a SAG indie narrative movie “Mahjong and the West” which premiered at the semi-important Woodstock Film Festival in October 2014. Over the years, I’ve produced directed, filmed and/or edited several short movies, “Running Horses” (Runner Up – Wyoming Short Film Contest), “On the Trail: Jack Kerouac in Cheyenne” (Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival, Top 10 Wyoming Short Film Contest), “Gold Digger” (Boulder Asian Film Festival), “Adobo” (Boulder International Film Festival), “A Little Bit of Discipline” (Rosebud Film Series), and two feature length documentaries “Your Neighbor’s Child” (Wyoming PBS and Rocky Mountain PBS), and “Serotonin Rising” (American Film Market, Vail Film Festival). He also directed and produced the award winning stage play “Webster Street Blues” by my childhood friend Warren Kubota. Wyoming Community Media and Boulder Community Media are non-profit production groups dedicated to democratzing electronic media on the large and small screens, printed page and stage by providing sustainable and community-based content. I mostly work with community based media producers, organizations, and socially-responsible businesses to develop their content via – the written word, electronic and new media, the visual and performing arts in a culturally competent manner – I’m what’s commonly called a niche TV and movie producer. Along with all this is plying my forte’ – fund development through grant writing, sponsorship nurturing and event planning.

The Andrew ‘Yang Gang’ – Boomers and Millennials are natural allies

month modern

Month of Modern sponsored a panel discussing “Are Millennials Killing the Suburbs?” The panel was moderated by Jill Grano.

Turns out Baby Boomers and Millennials have more in common than they think.

The other night I had a big “AHA” moment about presidential candidate Andrew Yang after listening to a panel discussion called “Are Millennials Killing the Suburbs?”

Yang is the Millennial guy who caught a bunch of flack from the mainstream cable TV talking heads for wearing an open collar during the first candidate debate.

He went on to own that criticism and there haven’t been any comments about it since.

I’m working on a co-living project that consists of co-op and cohousing on a very small site that encourages alternative transport modes like walking, bicycles, and mass transit. My colleague and I – we’re both Baby Boomers – were interested in what a panel of  Millennial architectural and design professionals would have to say about, not only their housing choices, but also their lives.

The panel discussion was organized by Month of Modern.

The suburban home has served as an important cultural icon in this country since its inception post WWII. It has held its place as an aspirational staple of the American dream. However, as millennials enter their peak home buying years, they are becoming homeowners later and at lower rates.

  • How has growing up in the 21st century affected this generation’s idea of the American dream, its desirability, and its achievability?
  • As the largest generation in US history, how will this affect our cities?
  • As designers, how should we rethink our work as well as and the structure of our workplaces? Baby boomers and Generation X have undeniably propelled the profession into the 21st century, but millennials will soon set the prevailing culture of both the workforce and built environment.

There were frustrations expressed by the panel members about the American Dream. They have chosen to redefine the American Dream and live in smaller spaces closer to their places of work. Those criteria were high priorities, particularly because, while all had pretty good jobs, were faced with other expenses like college debt and consumer debt – having to pay for food and rent with credit cards.

Enter entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Yang is the only non-politician who has gained enough traction to stay on the Democratic candidate debate stage. Now I know why he is gaining so much traction.

andrew yang

I didn’t get Andrew Yang’s Universal Basic Income plan to distribute $1,000 to everyone over 18 years old, until I heard a panel of Millennials discuss reinventing the American Dream.

Yang’s plan to provide a monthly stipend to everyone 18 or older wasn’t particularly named during the discussion, but one Millennial panelist said that an extra $1,000 per month would be a welcomed hedge to help make ends meet without having to take on another part-time gig.

I didn’t quite understand Yang’s guaranteed income plan until I listened in on this panel discussion about how times are changing.

Here’s what Yang says, “By 2015, automation had already destroyed four million manufacturing jobs, and the smartest people in the world now predict that a third of all working Americans will lose their jobs to automation in the next 12 years. Our current policies are not equipped to handle this crisis. Even our most forward-thinking politicians are unprepared.

Demographics of Debt

These data are a little dated, but show how Yang’s Freedom Dividend will level the playing field as the size of the middle class continues to dwindle.

“As technology improves, workers will be able to stop doing the most dangerous, repetitive, and boring jobs.

“This should excite us, but if Americans have no source of income – no ability to pay for groceries, buy homes, save for education, or start families with confidence – then the future could be very dark. Our labor participation rate now is only 62.7 percent, lower than it has been in decades, with 1 out of 5 working-age men currently out of the workforce.

“This will get much worse as self-driving cars and other technologies come online. This basic income, funded by a simple Value Added Tax, would guarantee that all Americans benefit from automation, not just big companies.

“An additional $1,000 a month would provide money to cover the basics for Americans while enabling us to look for a better job, start a business, go back to school, take care of loved ones or work toward our next opportunity.”

Getting too far down into the weeds about funding and so forth will divert away from the premise and the needs that arise from the changing economy.

What do Baby Boomers and Millennials have in common? In 2012, data show that both generations have the highest debt loads – over 65 years, $9,300.00; and 25 to 34 years $10,400.00.

Both generations are trying to get by on less. Baby Boomers have the most accumulated and inherited wealth largely tied up in big suburban homes that they can’t sell as they downsize and enter the last third of their lives. Millennials are downsizing also, but out of necessity largely because of high levels of debt and untimely cash flow.

Some can’t afford to move out of their parent’s basements.

Boomers and Millennials should be natural allies. Andrew Yang may be the guy who can find that common ground.

1. Where were you?

ground zero 2001

The Yankees hosted the Arizona Diamondbacks for games 3 to 5 in the 2001 World Series that was delayed because of the attacks on September 11th, a little more than a month earlier. I went to two of the games and visited “ground zero” in October 2001.

It was an unusually hot day in September. I must have been in a hurry because I didn’t bother to turn on the Today Show or the Morning Edition on Colorado Public Radio while getting ready for my commute to work in Denver.

This particular morning I took the Regional Transportation District (RTD) route 205 bus from the stop near my Boulder condo to the RTD Walnut Street station in downtown Boulder.

The bus stop was next to the convenience store where I stopped most days for a cup of coffee.

“Looks like it’s going to be a good one out there,” I don’t think the dark-skinned clerk understood a word I said about the great weather predicted for the day. He grinned and handed over my change. I clunked a couple cents into the plastic leave-a-penny take-a-penny tray on the counter and cut through the gas pumps to the bus stand.

From the downtown Boulder bus station, few passengers waited to catch the B Express bus to Denver. There’s no free parking. I was okay with transferring from a local bus downtown so as to get the seat of my choice, which was one with extra legroom toward the middle of the cabin a couple rows ahead of where a wheel chair would be parked – similar to the exit row seats on an airplane.

By the time we reached the last Boulder stop at the Table Mesa Park ‘n Ride, the seats were filled with commuters rattling their morning papers, cramming for college classes at the Auraria campus, reading books, listening to music on iPods, catching up on sleep.

This was well before laptops internet hot spots and smartphones. I was one of the few who had a cell phone. It was the size of a small box of Velveeta cheese. I didn’t think to call anyone.

“Did you hear what happened in New York,” the guy sitting to me asked. “No, I hadn’t heard anything.”

“An airplane crashed into one of the Twin Towers,” he said. “No, I hadn’t heard. What kind of plane?” The guy shrugged.

Other passengers murmured about the news and I overheard, “It was a small plane, like a Cessna.” Hmmm, small plane, nothing to see here, folks, and soon we all returned to being immersed in ourselves.

The bus pulled up to a stall in Market Street Station. We disembarked and made our ways up the stairs and escalators to the 16th Street Mall.

My connection on 17th Street was for the eastbound RTD 20 bus that dropped me off near my work in a converted single-family home in an older neighborhood.

I walked up the steps and creaked open the wrought iron screen door before winding my way up the stair case towards my office.

“You can go home if you want,” my boss greeted me at the top of the stairs. “Two planes hit the World Trade Center. There isn’t much more information but all the air traffic is grounded.”

“There was talk on the bus about a plane hitting one of the towers,” I said.

My colleagues had all gone. I had the longest commute to and from Boulder and the last to hear.

I walked back to the bus station and noticed the eerily quiet streets – no car engines, no airplane noise, not many people out and about. When I stood waiting for the light at Broadway and the 16th Street Mall, I glanced up at the Denver World Trade Center that I later learned was a similar target as its namesake in Lower Manhattan.

The bus back to Boulder was a-buzz with rumor, but I didn’t engage.

Braceros, Traqueros: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

reagan quote immigration

Ronald Reagan signed immigration reform into law in 1986 that was sponsored by former Wyoming US Senator Alan Simpson. The law gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented people.

For the past 150 years, the US government, railroads and agricultural industries welcomed immigrant workers from Mexico. How did they end up coming to the United States in the first place?

Rather than keep immigrants seeking asylum detained, why not give them all temporary visas and put them to work. That’s why they trudged hundreds, if not thousands of miles to America.

I heard there are upwards to 50,000 asylum seekers currently being held around the country awaiting court hearings.

They’re fleeing danger in their homelands, need local sponsors and something to do once they are granted asylum. Anyone who thinks they are going to take their jobs, that’s just hyperbolic race-bait ranting.

What work needs to be done? Here are a couple ideas:

  • Rebuild crumbling roads and bridges
  • Building affordable housing

For the record, I’m not in favor of cutting illegal immigrants any slack. I was an illegal alien and kicked out of Mexico in 1991 for working in Zacatecas on a tourist visa from Jalisco.

My business partner and I were stopped by the federal police, held at machine gun point in the middle of nowhere between a small town of Sombrerete and Fresnillo.

One soldier questioned me in English, my partner in Spanish hoping we would give conflicting stories.

They tossed our pick up truck, groped through my luggage, put everything back and searched again. I think they were looking for drugs. Around this time, the United States and Mexico agreed to stifle cocaine and marijuana traffic. Zacatecas is just south of Colorado.

Luckily for me, they let us go.

I was caught using a Mazatlan tourist visa, but actually working in Zacatecas. I ended up getting my paperwork together and made formal application, along with $97.00 USD and obtained the equivalent of a green card.

A year or so ago, I listened to a presentation by Lu Rocha at a workshop organized by my grad school Center on Domestic Violence at CU-Denver.

She gave a history of the Latino/a/x/ labor force in the United States that dates back to the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the 1800s and propping up the war efforts between 1942 until it’s repeal in 1964.

Immigration issues have been in the news lately. There’s talk of expanding the number of immigrant detention centers in Texas reminiscent of the three war relocation camps set up during World War II to detain and intern Japanese mostly from the West Coast.

daca sign

POTUS 45 repealed DACA put in place by President Obama in 2012 as a stop-gap measure to protect kids of undocumented residents.

The Reagan administration signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 which heightened border security but also granted amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants. This was a bi-partisan effort led in the US Senate by Wyoming’s Al Simpson.

Red and Blue presidents and congresses failed to act on immigration reform until Obama in his lame duck term issued the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrives (DACA) executive order which cut some slack to kids brought to the US by their undocumented parents. It was a compassionate Band Aid.

POTUS 45 used his bully pulpit, but failed to overturn DACA. Congress continues to be at a standstill, more so now because the House flipped Democratic in 2018.

Immigration reform is a wedge issue for Republicans. They are against immigrants, generally, because of they supposed are “taking of American jobs.” Are all Republicans cleaning toilets, picking beans, or loading dishwashers over at Denny’s in fear of losing their jobs?

At the same time, American business is reliant on immigrant laborers who perform low-end work that regular Americans won’t do which is a throwback to the transcontinental railroad construction and World War II worker shortage.

traqueros

The Transcontinental Railroad was completed by laborers from Mexico.

Traqueros In 1881 Governor Luis Terrazas of Chihuahua drove a silver spike completing a rail line linking Mexico and United States which allowed immigrants transport to the United States and coincided with the West’s construction of the transcontinental railroad.

Mexicans were the dominant immigrant labor laying track in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite low wages compared to their native born coworkers and discrimination, immigrant Mexican laborers became permanent residents, not by law but by fact. By the time of the Great Depression, workers moved to the cities in search of other low-skill work.

Bracero Program

The US Department of Labor and the Immigration and Naturalization Service collaborated on the Bracero Program at the start of World War II. Braceros were allowed in to the US to provide help on farms during wartime.

Braceros The bracero program (Spanish for manual laborer) began in 1942 and operated as a joint program of the State Department, the Department of Labor, and the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), as it was known then, in the Department of Justice.

Laborers from Mexico were promised better living conditions in camps, including housing, meals and toilet facilities. They eventually were paid a minimum wage of 30 cents / hour. The pact also stated that braceros supposedly would not be subjected to discrimination and exclusion from “white-only” areas.

During World War II, the bracero program intention was to fill the labor gap, particularly in agriculture. The program lasted 22 years and offered employment contracts to 5 million braceros in 24 U.S. states—becoming the largest foreign worker program in U.S. history.

The bracero program caused problems on both sides of the border with labor shortages in the northern states in Mexico and resulted in illegal immigrants who remained in the United States. Millions of Mexican Americans attribute their roots to their fathers and grandfathers who crossed the border as braceros.

DACA MASS WALKOUTDACA Circle back to DACA kids. They are the modern day traquero/a/x and bracero/a/x. They are people who arrived in the United States under the radar as children.

Like the braceros and traqueros, while they should have returned to Mexico, those families have remained – while looking over their shoulders – without documentation and became productive members of their communities.

The DACA kids ended up with high school and college educations, contribute to society in professional jobs, have families of their own with kids in local school systems. They pay taxes and volunteer in their communities.

DACA kids aren’t Manson women who ran underground and assumed new identities.

When the Bracero Program was ended in 1964, the positive outcomes were better working conditions for farm workers thanks to advocacy by activists including Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta. There were no immigration laws that turned traqueros back to Mexico.

DACA was a short term fix when Obama acted because Congress didn’t. The immigration issue has come full circle from 1986.

Whether Congress and POTUS 45 get their acts together on immigration reform will be a defining moment for the Republicans like it was for Republicans and Ronald Reagan.

Until then let’s figure out how to engage asylum seekers in useful ways while they awaiting their hearings.

simpson reagan signing“We have consistently supported a legalization program which is both generous to the alien and fair to the countless thousands of people throughout the world who seek legally to come to America. The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.” Ronald Reagan on November 6, 1986 upon signing the Immigration Control and Reform Act.

 

 

 

 

 

When you can prove ‘obstruction’ get back to me, will ya?

fox news muellerI watched the Fox News analysis after Special Counsel Robert Mueller was grilled on Capitol Hill, “Nothing to see here, let’s move on to the work of the ‘people,'” and the MSNBC after words, “Throw him out, Throw him out!”
I didn’t watch much of it, but the snip-its I caught, both the Reds and Blues were trying to put words in Bob’s mouth, but he wasn’t biting.
Some Reds and Blues used their five minutes to grandstand for good sound bites that would resonate back home.
His “performance” was panned because Mueller hadn’t memorized the full 487 page report.
If the Blues want to kick POTUS out of office, they need way more than Mueller’s report.
If lying about blow jobs is a “high crime and a misdemeanor,” ‘then “not exonerated” hits that low bar.
If POTUS quits or gets kicked out, it will be because of actual crimes and misdemeanors, not political ones.
In 1973, U.S. Senate Republicans finally came around when Nixon’s actions made it “perfectly clear” he committed felonies.
The nation’s founders had a bad taste in their mouths after colonists were pushed around by their totalitarian British over lords. They wrote the Constitution to give the criminally accused the benefit of the doubt – innocent until proven guilty.
The government has to meet a very high threshold to throw someone in the slammer.
msnbc muellerWhen the Republican-controlled House impeached Clinton, he came back with a vengeance and eked out his re-election in 1996.
He won by a 49.2 percent popular vote plurality over Bob Dole.
If it wasn’t for third party candidate Ross Perot, who garnered 8.4 percent of the vote, Clinton may not have prevailed.
Turning the table, U.S. House Democrats have the votes to make a political statement, but not to fulfill their ultimate goal.
Let the voters kick him out.

The ‘New American Way’ and cohousing

 

american-way

Superman’s American Way can be updated by applying cohousing secret sauce.

Cohousing Nation, by definition, lives a “New American Way” that emphasizes the good of the community over that of the individual; accepting that all people are different and all are welcome and valued; power and strength are replaced by consensus and shared decision making.

As such, I’m convinced that cohousing communities have the potential to bridge cultural divides that continue to plague our country today.

The average cohouser has at least some social justice blood running through their veins. I think change will have a better chance of happening by efforts by cohousers.

Why?

The data define a typical cohousers as having these characteristics: high perceived social class, high income, highly educated and 70 percent of the time a white women – pretty much a typical member of the dominant culture.

What if cohousers, who largely are members of the dominant culture, and can be gatekeepers who work together and become allies with marginalized groups, rather than marginalized groups trying to break through the glass ceiling, with few allies there with a hammer.

Inclusion will happen organically as the dominant culture becomes more inclusive.

I’ve been presenting diversity and cultural competency workshops and trainings for 25 years for a variety of public agencies, nonprofits and most recently for cohousers.

My approach has evolved and changing again, this time into: “c🕉munification” (cOMunification) training that has a focus on cultural and societal power and privilege dynamics and how only personal change can balance those out.

Remember the old 1950s TV show, The Adventures of Superman? The narrator told my friends and me to model Superman’s can-do behavior because, “he fights a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American Way.”

Superman’s “American Way” is based on rugged individualism; cultural divides narrowed by assimilation; and quests for power and control.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with the “Old American Way,” I think it needs to evolve along with society and one way that can happen is through a collaborative approach that results in truth, justice and a “New American Way.”

I continue to believe that racism, as we know it today, began in 1526 when the first people from Africa were enslaved to work at a short-lived settlement in South Carolina.

Public awareness of differences among people, particularly since 1964, enflamed simmering racist attitudes that continue to exist today.

I think people want to change and do what’s right, but based on the audiences I’ve met over the years, most people don’t know how to go about it. Personal change doesn’t happen over night and like anything else that requires better skills, it takes practice, and letting go of personal privilege isn’t exactly something people are too crazy about.

lincoln emancipation

It’s been just 154 years since Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation.

The current political climate didn’t create racism, it makes it socially acceptable to reveal previously hidden beliefs that oppression of the weak was what, historically, made America great.

Considering America has a 339-year history enslaving people (1526 to 1865) that’s more than double the 154-year history, at least on paper, since President Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation (1865 to 2019).

While I think it will take a couple more generations, there have been small steps forward in recent years that will continue, but I doubt there will be any giant leaps.

First, some background. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, United States citizens – primarily African Americans – were legally “more equal” than they were in reality. It soon became clear that attaining actual equality among people had a long way to go.

That transition led to Affirmative Action in job hiring that provides quotas for racial diversity. After workplaces changed complexions, a need arose about how to better understand diversity that brought about “diversity training” to define the various cultures with the hopes that more information meant better acceptance by the dominant white culture with no systemic changes.

As the population, and subsequently the labor force, has become more multicultural around race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation, diversity training that defines demographics is evolving into “cultural competency” training, which is more about understanding one’s self and changing personal perspectives about others, as opposed to getting other people to be like you.

Why I think social change will take a couple generations is because there is a long-standing national culture that’s advocated for racial homogeneity dating back to the United States Naturalization Law of March 26, 1790 that limited naturalization to immigrants who were, “free White persons of good character.”

eo 9066 big

FDR signed Executive Order 9066 that forced Japanese to register and be sent to relocation camps in 1942,

In recent times, rampant American xenophobia was stoked after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the round up of 112,000 Japanese who were herded into 10 “relocation” camps; and the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing that seeded the current Islamophobia epidemic.

The current political climate continues to fuel a growing fear among 30 percent of the U.S. electorate that the country will soon lose its 1776 version of American cultural identity.

Current events around over-crowded detention centers for illegal immigrants and those seeking asylum are indicators why we need to become better cultural change managers, rather than controllers of cultural change.

secret sauce

Cohousing secret sauce can undo the Old American Way.

Cohousing is a market-based solution to the immigration crisis that has beset the United States since at least since the Immigration Act of 1924 that had as its unsaid, but expressed purpose of maintaining the racial homogeneity of the United States.

What does that solution look like? Cohousing brings individuals together to form a community.

Housing is housing, but what differentiates cohousing from other housing configurations is the “secret sauce” that mixes several ingredients. The recipe can be altered to meet differing tastes:

  • Relationships – Neighbors commit to being part of a community for mutual benefit. Cohousing cultivates a culture of sharing and caring. Design features and the neighborhood size are typically between 30 and 40 homes that promote frequent interaction and close relationships.
  • Balancing Privacy and Community – Cohousing neighborhoods are designed for privacy as well as community. Residents balance privacy and community by choosing their levels of community engagement
  • Participation – Decision-making is participatory and often based on consensus. Selft management empowers residents, builds relationships and can save money.
  • Shared Values – Cohousing communities support residents in actualizing shared values.

A certain ilk of the citizenry, mostly Baby Boomers and older, who experienced the Cold War, will try to reposition the conversation by calling intentional communities “creeping socialism.” Granted, this is a lifestyle that’s not for everyone.

I’m not talking about over throwing the government, but rather reacting to how the general market is changing because it’s basically less expensive to live more collaboratively (higher density neighborhoods) and sharing resources (five households don’t each need a lawnmower).

The rugged individualist and free-market capitalists are unwilling to share their wealth and as such, the market reaction is toward cOMunification.

Student Loans

As of June 2018, Forbes reported that total US student debt was $1.52 trillion and that 44.2 million people owed debt. The average student debt is $38,390.

My observation, Millenials and GenXers who are a generation or two removed from World War II are more accepting of individual differences and more supportive of the collective good out of a need to survive.

Being saddled with the the national debt of their parents, grandparents and great grandparents; forced into a college tuition system that will keep them under the thumb of Wall Street until they are old and gray are two reasons why young people are de-commodifying the American Way.

The tenets of a New American Way would say a home is where we live, not an investment. The only time a house should be commodified is when it’s time to move.

Rather than saying, “The yard needs more trees because it will increase our property values,”  The New American Way perspective is, “The yard needs more trees because they will improve the places where kids can play.” As a side benefit, property values may increase.

The cohousing brand of community development is also a hedge against unchecked gentrification, which is one of those jargony terms that get thrown around and used in various contexts.

I define gentrification as what happens when people or businesses look for real estate deals, purchase urban property that may or may not be distressed and update them without much collaboration with existing neighbors.

The data are these.

Cohousing communities consist of members who predominantly liberal, highly educated, high income Caucasians women with high perceived social class who, I think, are a more open to bridging cultural divides by “undoing” the Old American Way from within.

That is to say, members of the dominant culture who live in cohousing, have agreed among themselves to change their perspectives towards a New American Way.

Communification logo-1

“Om” is sanskrit that basically includes everything – past, present, future; beginning, middle end; emotionally and physically.

The end result of cOMunification, by definition, is an attitudinal paradigm shift by members of the dominant culture who have agreed to increase cultural diversity in the wider culture, one cohousing community at a time.

This doesn’t happen by public policy but by community-based societal change:

  • The group is more important than the individual
  • smaller and less are better
  • decisions are by consensus giving a voice to all, including minority positions
  • there is recognition that everyone is different and all are included

While the tenets of cohousing are noble, they are easier said than done since the American Way is pounded into our heads from the moment we pop out of the womb.

melting pot boiling

The melting pot is no longer a relevant metaphor.

In the 20th century, the United States was metaphorically characterized as a “Melting Pot” in which races and ethnicities would learn English and assimilate themselves into homogenous Americans.

That was true during racial segregation when the pot contained white cheeses like swiss, edam, gouda, and feta, they blended together to make a mixed pot of white cheese.

Immigrants from Europe who all looked like each other, had the old American Way ahead of them after they learned English and otherwise assimilated.

These days, the country has become racially and ethnically multicultural as a result of immigration and can be a part of the New American Way.

Today, the blended food metaphor would be more like a “Tossed Salad” consisting of separate fixings like frijoles, cassavas, napa cabbage, and all kinds of lettuce that are unified with a common dressing.

In my mind, that common dressing is the cohousing cOMunification secret sauce, soon available at a farmer’s market near you.

My last meal won’t be cold pizza

black ice tie siding

Blowing snow over black ice near Tie Siding outside of Laramie.

I spend quite a lot of time on the road traveling around mostly to other towns in Wyoming and haven’t had any death-defying driving experiences nor any really close calls other than a couple 360 degree black ice spins and sliding off the highway after winter weather closed the road behind me.

Recently, I took a drive to Laramie for a meeting. I overnighted in Fort Collins.

There was snow in southeast Wyoming. I was undecided if I wanted to make the trip, in the first place, but figured if I got on the road fairly early in the morning, there would be plenty of daylight if I had to turn back.

Do Mother and Father Nature plan for weather to drastically change at the Colorado / Wyoming state line?

After an uneventful Saturday drive through Fort Collins and north toward Wyoming, the trek suddenly became very eventful at Virginia Dale.

Early-morning sunlight glistened off 30 miles of the black ice encrusting the highway. Blowing and drifting snow buffed the icy road surface to an opalescent sheen from the state line to Laramie.

I didn’t eat anything before I left thinking I would get something along the way. Based on these road conditions, that may not happen. “What if my ‘last meal’ was nothing,” I thought to myself. That reminded about a drive from Riverton to Laramie that I made in November 2015.

What’s your “last meal” – you know the one you’d snarf down if you’re on death row and your fateful number finally pops up.

It was a typical November fall day in 2015 when I was driving back from Riverton. The weather was pleasant with the skies a little overcast and the outside conditions requiring a light jacket.

As is my routine I made a stop in Rawlins for a gas and a pit stop. The clerk informed me that I-80 east and west were both closed due to snow and blowing snow.

What gives?

IMG_2696

I-80 was officially closed when I was driving back from Riverton recently. White knuckle driving is an art form in Wyoming.

It’s calm, sunny and warm in Rawlins. The options were to turn around and return to Riverton or backtrack and go way out the way to Casper and Interstate 25, which would likely be worse. I stuck it out in Rawlins.

It was early and I decided to get a room before the truck traffic started to back up.

I didn’t want to give an arm and a leg for a nuisance stay-over and took a room at the Econo-Lodge. Even as Econo-Lodges go, this one was stark. It’s nestled up against the northside of a bluff where it didn’t get much afternoon sun.

Might as well make the best of it.

I cruised around downtown Rawlins. The streetscape has drastically improved over the years. Before Rawlins created its Downtown Development Authority in 1991, it was a declining business district. The year I drove through, Rawlins was awarded the coveted Great American Main Street Award.

alan i80 topo chico

I stopped at this Tex Mex place in downtown Rawlins. I was impressed with the offering of TopoChico agua mineral.

I prefer local joints to the chain restaurants and tried a chili relleno at a small Mexican place called Rose’s Lariat. The meal was pretty good especially when I could wash it down with Topo Chico fizzy water, which is my go-to agua mineral when I’m in Mexico.

I made my way back to the room, if that’s what you want to call it. The Econo-Lodge was more of an Econo-Fridge. The heater hadn’t been on for quite some time. I flicked it on. The heater parts banged and clicked and finally started began to whir and spit out heated air.

While the room warmed up, I’d always wanted to take a look at the “Frontier Prison.” It was the old state penitentiary that was abandoned in 1981, but now a tourist attraction. As a kid one of the parental threats when I was scolded was, “You don’t want to end up in Rawlins making license plates, do you?” The prison made money from inmates stamping out car tags.

I pulled up to the now historic sandstone block building. By this time, it was snowing again and the attraction was closed, probably because of limited “winter hours.” It was getting late in the afternoon and I headed back to the room for good.

Closed roads are a growth industry in Wyoming.

The Department of Transportation closes the interstate because there are no more parking spaces along the route to accommodate any more trucks, let alone passenger cars. All the cities lining the road sell out motel rooms from Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Wamsutter, Green River, Rock Springs to Evanston.

Pizza Hut advertises on the plastic room keys. Bored, I decided to order my “go to” Canadian bacon and mushroom thin crust with extra cheese. I was able to eat half of it.

Rawlins has pretty good cable. There’s not much to do here on a school night in the dead of a snow storm.

I dozed off with the TV on and at 2am, the “REEEEE REEEEE REEEEE!” screeched out on the TV speaker. The roads were open. I would still wait to get out around 10am when the sun is higher.

After waking up, I gobbled the rest of the cold pizza and downed a warmed over cup of yesterday’s coffee before getting on the road.

It was a bumper-to-bumper parking lot from Wolcott Junction to Laramie. Traffic was stopped by an accident on the westbound lane. It took three hours to go 90 miles.

Wyoming winter driving takes practice – more like baptism by fire. If you can successfully drive in Wyoming during any small snowstorm, you can drive anywhere.

Riverton, like most other Wyoming communities, is centrally isolated from just about every place else when the weather gets nasty. There aren’t any places to stop. In the event of road closures, there are lighted barriers like at a railroad crossing that prevent traffic from passing and drivers are required to turn back.

wreck on i80

Roads can be treacherous, even when there isn’t much snow.

I grew up in Cheyenne and let me tell you, if you’ve never experienced a blizzard in southeast Wyoming, it’s quite the experience. During certain times of year, it’s so windy, there’s no Final Net hair spray on any store shelf.

I always felt lucky about living in Lander and now Boulder, Colorado along the Front Range foothills.

IMG_2750

Icky John C’Hair explains the traditional Northern Arapaho bison uses to Wind River Reservation students.

It’s so nice to wake up, look out the window and notice that the snow has fallen into neat little piles on tops of fence posts and not rudely strewn about in seven-foot-high drifts.

I’ve met several people in my travels who have been to Wyoming.

Besides having visited Yellowstone Park, the second most frequent comment is, “Oh, yeah, one winter during the War, my train was stranded in Cheyenne at the depot while going to California.”

The Battle of Okinawa was probably a more pleasant memory than their winter experience in Wyoming.

eggs verns

Last Breakfast – Eggs over easy, bacon and hash browns from anywhere,

I was in Riverton to document a traditional Northern Arapaho tribal bison ceremony.

This was my third trip to the Wind River Indian Reservation in three weeks. It takes a while to come to consensus.

It was a successful hunt and traditional ceremony. I was anxious to get back on the road but didn’t think to check the road reports.

Hmmm.

Under most circumstances, I’m a calm and collected driver, but when the interstate suddenly disappears in a puff of white, the highway turns into the “Snow Chi Minh Trail.”

pork noodles 20th street

Last lunch – Pork Noodles at the 20th Street Cafe in Denver

Luckily, I didn’t get stranded on the interstate this time. When that happened back in the days before cell phones and GPS, travel could get problematic. The seasoned drivers keep on plowing ahead since the weather will likely get worse before it gets better.

Back in those days, cassette tapes played music mixes through the stereo that soothed me while my car pounded through invisible snowdrifts and crept around 18-wheeler convoys near Elk Mountain.

White knuckles.

This time, the roads were open but barely navigable. Espying disgruntled travelers examining their jack-knifed u-Haul trailer and contorted semi-truck silhouettes in the highway median made me realize how out of control these drives can be.

I couldn’t imagine being killed by a wild and crazy trucker or freezing to death knowing my last meal was cold pizza and day-old coffee.

My romanticism has me eating bacon, eggs over easy with a pancake for my last breakfast at the Luxury Diner in Cheyenne; Japanese-style pork noodles from the 20th Street Café in Denver as my last lunch; and a good steak from just about anywhere for my last dinner.

verns prime rib

Last Dinner – Prime rib at Vern’s in LaPorte

Black ice covered the roads right into Laramie. It was a relief to negotiate slushy roads in town.

By the time my meeting was over around 4pm, the sun had warmed the pavement and dissipated the ice.

Just another winter drive in Wyoming.

I pulled into the parking lot at Vern’s Place in LaPorte for a well-deserved prime rib dinner, hopefully, it won’t be my last.

Affordable retrofit cohousing

plains dairy trip

Baby Boomer neighborhoods were tight knit. Parents knew each other because kids knew each other.

I remember growing up in a neighborhood where the kids all hung around together and the reason our parents knew each other was because bands of kids charged through one another’s houses.

Garage doors were always open and lots of neighborhood birthday parties happened on the weekends.

Those were the golden days of suburbia. After World War II the American Way was to live in a single family home outside the urban core. After 60 years, that lifestyle is now getting tarnished.

There are some estimates that up to two-thirds of renters across the nation say they can’t afford to buy a home. Since home prices are rising at a rate twice that of wage growth, saving up for that down payment is an even bigger challenge.

Millenials and GenXers with high student debt are in this boat, as are some older folks who for one reason or another were unable to build any extra savings.

High-density communities are seen as one way to provide affordable housing to owners and renters. One such configuration is “cohousing.” The cohousing model originated in Denmark in the 1960s. Architects Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett brought the concept to the United States in the 1980s.

Boulder Senior Cohousing Communities

Lindy Cook and Alan O’Hashi pull weeds from the garden of the community with other residents. The active adult cohousing community for those 55 or older is setup like a usual condo community with every person having their own place, but the sense of community is what is unique. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post)

In the traditional cohousing neighborhood, residents own their homes, but agree through a shared vision and list of values to maintain and operate their community through participation in activities like mowing the lawn, weeding the garden and shoveling snow, while enjoying each other’s company at shared meals a couple times a week.

The fact is, traditional cohousing can’t be built fast enough nor inexpensive enough to meet growing demand, particularly for the aging population. There are 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day through at least the next decade.

If you can’t afford to buy a home or your rent is too high how can cohousing meet your needs?

I’ll introduce you to a couple alternatives to “stick-built” cohousing communities.

Remember, housing is housing and what differentiates cohousing from other configurations is the “secret sauce.”

Research points to a variety of cohousing benefits. The most often mentioned benefits relate to reducing social isolation. The cohousing “secret sauce” provides for intentional socializing, neighborly support when under the weather, sharing chores, sharing expertise, and having neighbors who share similar interests.

What is cohousing “secret sauce”? Cohousing has certain basic characteristics. They are fairly broad, but include:

  • Relationships – Neighbors commit to being part of a community for mutual benefit. Cohousing cultivates a culture of sharing and caring. Design features and the neighborhood size are typically between 30 and 40 homes that promote frequent interaction and close relationships.
  • Balancing Privacy and Community – Cohousing neighborhoods are designed for privacy as well as community. Residents balance privacy and community by choosing their levels of community engagement
  • Participation – Decision-making is participatory and often based on consensus. Selft management empowers residents, builds relationships and can save money.
  • Shared Values – Cohousing communities support residents in actualizing shared values.

Three cohousing configurations: Over the years, the traditional cohousing model has been evolving. I live in Boulder, Colorado where microbreweries are part of the economic base. What are the types of cohousing microbrews?

  • Cohousing UltraLite – “Burning Souls” transform an existing neighborhood or repurpose a building or build a community among members who don’t live in the same location. This is the most cost effective and quicker approach and allows for more rental housing.
beacon hill village

Beacon Hill Village consists of 500 neighbors who agree how to support one another.

Architect and real estate professionals play supportive roles. Residents of retrofit cohousing in one place include more young people, full-time students, renters, racial minorities, single householders, and households with fewer financial assets. When applying the tenets of cohousing, “retrofit” can also be a community of people who don’t live in the same proximity.

Housing is housing, but the cohousing culture is what makes the community. The Beacon Hill Village is an existing dispersed community of 500 seniors who agree upon how to be active and supportive of one another rather than reliant on others to “take care” of them all the time.

They provide neighborly support with one another and coordinate outside social and physical care giving when necessary. The Beacon Hill approach would be appropriate to multigenerational communities as well. Since all are aging, it seems like people don’t get around to planning for their life care until it’s almost too late.

A group in Traverse City, Michigan is forming their community ahead of time. They have their eyes on an existing building that they are planning to retrofit into their physical community.

big bang eating

The apartment house “Big Bang Theory” community routinely share meals together in each other’s apartments.

There also is “accidental cohousing” as is the case of the “Big Bang Theory” apartment house setting where Sheldon, Amy; Leonard, Penny; and Howard, Bernadette; live and the elevator has been out for years.

They use the stairway as a common area where they have conversations every show. They share common meals in their various apartments.

Their decision making is by consensus, with majority often having to compromise towards Sheldon’s minority position.

In real life, a couple in Flushing, New York built an accidental community in their apartment building.

  • Cohousing Lite – The project is architect and real estate professional driven. The “Burning Souls” may or may not be recruiting community members. The development is less time consuming since there is less customization. It is also less capital intensive since the developer is responsible for the development and homeowners only have to obtain financing for their home.
bloomington coho

Bloomington Cohousing is a great example of Coho Lite. The developer is building spec housing as the community forms.

An example is Bloomington Cohousing in Indiana. The developer, Loren Wood, is financing and constructing the project designed by an architect who worked with the “Burning Souls” to come up with some basic floor plans. The community is being organized concurrent with the project development.

Another example is Genesee Garden in Lansing, Michigan. The neighbors transformed an existing area rather than building from the ground up. As homes become available for purchase, the community purchases them. One was converted into the common house.

  • Cohousing Stout – Traditional community structure. “Burning souls” partner with an architect and other real estate professionals. Projects are very capital intensive with the developers and future community members share the risks of the entire development. In addition to finding like-minded people who want to live together, they must also have the financial resources to invest in land, design and construction, patience to decide on countertops and landscaping and have the time to wait while all this happens.
garden-day

Where I live is an example of cohousing stout. It was built from the ground-up.

I live in a  stout community consisting of 16 condos. It is representative of the characteristics of the broader segment of the wider Boulder, Colorado community, in that it tends towards the extremes. The project was heavily subsidized to encourage socioeconomic diversity.

The community has six permanently affordable deed-restricted houses that are 800 sqft in size and priced at $160,000. Those are contrasted with 10 houses that are “market rate” and range in sizes from 1,000 to 3,000 sqft and have values in excess of $800,000.

This ground-up process often takes three to five years or more with potential members coming and going and mostly accessible to people and families who have inherited wealth or adequate disposable savings.

Who is the typical cohouser? There are significant differences among the residents who live in the various cohousing configurations, with coho ultralite residents being the most diverse:

  • Coho Stout and Lite – Caucasian, liberal, high perceived social class, high income, high education level, 70 percent of the time a woman
  • Coho UltraLite – More racially diverse, liberal, middle class, moderate income, high education level, more singles and single parents

What are the three steps to building a cohousing community? In a retrofit situation the community development steps are the same as for a traditional cohousing community. “Burning soul” advocates and other group members may or may not live in the same building or community. They may decide to move into the same apartment or condo complex, but would follow a typical cohousing development process such as these three steps:

Feasibility study

  • Discuss and agree upon community values and perhaps, a higher purpose, which would fill the need to walk their community values talk while participating in service projects;
  • Whether you’re three or thirty people, come up with a name and “elevator speech” identifying the community. Referring to yourselves as a “bunch of housemates” doesn’t tell about your community story;
  • Community cohesiveness could be built around a higher purpose of community service that binds a community together.
  • Once you kick the can down the road a few blocks, check your state laws about homeowner association regulations. You will find they set up HOAs that do not mirror cohousing very well – lots of centralized power and control, lots of voting. Save this until later, because conforming cohousing declarations with state laws is a chore.

Develop budgets

  • There likely will be common expenses that relate to community activities, coordinating transportation, common meals, intra-community communication and a fee structure to pay for all or part.
  • Community values and mission are implemented through the budget by teams – overall steering team equivalent to a board of directors, social events, managing building and grounds, proceed and governance, finances and legal matters,
  • The entire community approves by consensus the budget or any action for that matter, and the steering team ratifies the action also by consensus.

Design and Construction

  • If you’re sharing a big house, there will be design issues about designating common spaces and storage. Some design and construction in retrofits may be necessary if you’re in an existing condo community or apartment building is adapted. This may include renovating an existing dwelling unit into a common space with a guest room and common kitchen which was the case at Boulder Creek cohousing in Colorado;
  • Identify resident needs, how the “site” functions – if it is in an existing physical development like a condo association, apartment complex, or households dispersed within a given boundary;
  • Determine what are considered “common spaces” which may not be literally common, but function in common. These may be in private homes for shared meals and meetings, civic spaces, churches, libraries

Looking for a few cohousing retrofit pioneers. There are plenty of individuals who are interested in cohousing. Some of you may have managed to form into group that has begun the traditional cohousing process but you’ve bumped into obstacles including lack of money, no suitable land available, professionals such as architects who are only willing to give so much upfront service, group members who can no longer wait for the community to get off the ground. There are well-documented war stories.

I want to prove the concept. I’m seeking one or more people, preferably in the Denver-area to organize a retrofit cohousing community and facilitate you through the process.

  • Maybe, you don’t need a place to live or have bumped into some community development obstacles, but want to create connections with other like-minded people as a hedge against loneliness and living in isolation;
  • Maybe you live in an apartment building and your neighbors are interested in a more collaborative lifestyle;
  • Maybe you are affiliated with an existing assisted living community and want to adopt appropriate cohousing principles

There are varying opinions about whether what I describe is actually cohousing, but regardless, I want to hear from you. Email adoecos@yahoo.com

Alan O’Hashi is the incoming president of the national Cohousing of the US board of directors.