Collaborative Communities 101 and Lincoln Court

Boulder Senior Cohousing Communities

Click on the image of Lindy Cook and Alan O’Hashi and join the Lincoln Court facebook page. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post)

Baby Boomers have kicked the birdies out of their nests and downsizing from years of accumulating the detritus of life.

Millennials are finding it increasingly difficult to find low cost housing for themselves.

One lifestyle that’s getting some traction is that of living in a community whether it being a traditional retirement village or having housemates which are well known alternatives or in not-so-well known communities like cohousing.

While cohousing is far from mainstream, there is growing interest in intentional neighborhoods. Architects Chuck Durrett and Katie McCamant studied in Denmark and coined the term “cohousing.”

What if the six characteristics of cohousing were applied to an urban community consisting of not only housing but a mix of businesses and public uses?

A small group of cohousing, mixed use visionaries, including myself have started a 20 acre project on the urban fringe of Cheyenne, Wyoming called the Lincoln Court. We’re laying cohousing approaches over a high density, mixed use community anchored by a city owned and operated indoor ice rink and a proposed indoor sports complex. It’s a grassroots project that will come about as a result of a high degree of consensus among the future community denizens:

back-40-subdivisionCollaborative neighborhood process. Future Lincoln Court denizens will have a chance to participate in the design of the community so that it meets their needs. There will be a series of meetings as the project progresses to define them. Some collaborative communities are initiated or driven by a developer.  The Lincoln Court Collaborative Community is a combination of both with the developer playing more of a technical role making the community member vision real. This collaboration will result in a well-designed, pedestrian-oriented community that integrates with the adjacent West Edge community, as outlined in the city of Cheyenne Missile Drive Corridor Plan.

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Collaborative neighborhood design. Rather than a top-down approach with planners, architects driving the design, the physical layout and orientation of the buildings will be initially determined by a “focus group” of people who attend various informational meetings. The design process encourages a sense of community and facilitates social interactions from the get-go. For example, the private residences will likely be clustered on the site, leaving more shared open space; compatible businesses are planned to co-locate in the common house or on other common spaces. The goal: create a strong sense of community using physical design choices – walk-ability, live / work artist spaces, community and private spaces for public and private performance and art exhibits and classes, co-working spaces for residents.

garden-dayCollaborative common spaces. Common facilities will be designed for daily use, and for special community activities. They are an integral part of the collaborative community, and complementary to the private residences and businesses. The extent to which the private businesses and studio spaces are public will be determined. There will likely be an expectation that community uses and activities will be a part of the private business spaces. Participating in community life is optional – denizens may have as much community as or as little community as they want.  Since the buildings are clustered, the Lincoln Court may retain several or many acres of undeveloped shared open space for future expansion.

henry-facilitatingCollaborative management. Lincoln Court denizens will manage, to a great extent, the business of the collaborative community, and also perform much of the work required to maintain the property. The cohousing sub-communities participate in the preparation of common meals, and meet regularly to solve problems and develop policies for the community. A master Community Association may be formed to deal with issues concerning common spaces of the entire collaborative community, such as snow removal, open space maintenance, and managing community business relations.

ssv-sharing-circleCollaborative consensus. Leadership roles will evolve and based on how and when community members join Lincoln Court. However, no one person (or persons) has authority over others. As individuals, families, businesses and organizations join the collaboration, each take on one or more roles consistent with their skills, abilities or interests. Lincoln Court will make decisions by consensus or similar forms of consensus decision-making. Although likely will have a policy for majority-rules voting if the group cannot reach consensus (nuclear option).

cr-art-showCollaborative community economy. The community is not a source of income for its individual members. However, in the Lincoln Court, rental income from businesses, use of performance / exhibition space, studio / co-working spaces would accrue back to the community at-large to decrease homeowner / community owner association fees / reserve funds. It is possible that the master association or a sub-associations could contract with a resident / tenant to perform a specific task for compensation, but more typically the work will be considered that member’s contribution to the shared responsibilities. It is possible that community residents will earn income from rented studio or business location.

CFD-Production-5948Collaborative higher purpose. The envisioned community “higher purpose” is around arts, culture and fostering creative thinking in the day-to-day community functionality. The site has a great story. The original site was a part of a Homestead Act land grant at the turn of the 20th century. Historic Highway 30, also known as the Lincoln Highway spanned coast to coast in the 1930s. The Lincoln Court was built as a motor hotel which later evolved into the Hitching Post Inn. The Hitching Post was a legendary Cheyenne landmark. There are some great stories associated with the site which are big selling points for the project. Mine, for example? My first job when I was a 12-year-old was at the Hitching Post.

An introductory meeting is being planned for early December. We’ll provide some information about the project, about collaborative communities, cohousing, the arts and cultural higher purpose. We’ll ask those in attendance to “break ground” and help with some general land use concepts for the site. It will be informative and a lot of fun.

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Musings about the cohousing ‘Dealing with Diverse Personalities Retreat’

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Arcosanti is an urban laboratory near Mayer, AZ. The Dealing with Diverse Personalities retreat was held there with 40 participants from around the country in attendance.

“Forget Arcosanti, we’ll always have Mayer …’

Movie line maloprops from “Forget Paris” and “Casablanca” struck me when I started writing these musings.

Good memories.

Besides, I have to make some sort of movie reference since it was my  “Dealing with Diverse Personalities” retreat presentation theme at Arcosanti in Arizona which wrapped in early October and sponsored by Cohousing USA.

If you’re reading this and didn’t attend the retreat, you’ll likely note a bunch of “inside baseball” references and I don’t expect you to understand them, but maybe that bit of mystery will entice you to a similar workshop at your community.

It was a lot of fun for me. I get personal satisfaction as a facilitator when participants learn something – at least I hope something stuck with each of them! I try to appeal to all learning styles with visual, audio and hands-on approaches.

We had 40 people from around the country attend who I hope learned a little bit more about themselves and why self-awareness is important while interacting with others.

I hope all who were there are still at least a little jazzed up with the experience. A lot of stuff was crammed into a short  weekend. I’ll send out periodic notes to our retreat group to keep the creative juices flowing and keep everyone connected, even if it’s virtually by way of email.

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CoHoUSA is presented a retreat September 30 – October 2 called “Dealing with Diverse Personalities inn Community” at Arcosanti in Arizona.

Arcosanti is an interesting urban community laboratory – not easily forgotten – established in 1970 just outside of Mayer, AZ – which is a bit hidden away just past Cordiss Junction.

The unique venue proved an apt setting for the retreat about dealing with diverse personalities in communities.

The cafeteria food was okay, but mostly because I didn’t have to cook it. I like eating at places where none of the meal serviceware matches.

Sharing food with others is always a great chance to know people better – like whether they use their salad fork through the entire meal, if they like ice in their water or not, etc. – as well as a little about their lives.

A cross section of folks attended who currently live in community, are starting a community or just interested in community. Building a cohousing neighborhood is a daunting task and getting compatible people to live together in the same place is the most fulfilling, but maybe the most difficult part of the process. There were plenty of war stories told and questions asked about cohousing.

If you’d like to see my notes from the two sessions I facilitated, you can download them from this flip book. My presentation style is a combination of lecture and interactivity. I generally don’t like power point presentations, but I think they are necessary to provide details about content as takeaways. The activities are intended to be hands-on applications of the information provided.

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The vaulted area of Arcosanti is one of the unique areas of the community which was a great gathering spot for the retreat.

The upshot of the retreat was to take a different look at diverse personalities and seal-realize that we all are diverse in our own ways, with moments of being difficult, conciliatory, positive and everything in between.

Getting to know potential residents at the superficial level is part of the process, like if they are readers, or knitters, or hikers.

But what about the nitty gritty? Is getting to  know if a person is a chronic over achiever/slacker, or a control freak important/complacent or introvert/extrovert important?

I say, “yes.

Knowing “who” a person is turns out to be more important than whether or not they like to go to the movies.

Remember, your group will be managers of the day-to-day business of the community.

We covered some techniques as to get a handle on the nitty gritty.
The other higher level component is for communities which consist of members of all types of personalities to agree upon norms and expectations to create an atmosphere of accountability, rather than setting up a typical “victim vs perpetrator” norm.

It is up to each of us, as individuals, to take responsibility for our actions. It’s then up to the community to determine the level at which its members agree to intentionally learn about one another, particularly about past experiences and histories.

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Jeff Zucker is the resident Arcosanti architect and gave a tour of the place. Those spires are cypress trees.

I sensed that there was some push-back from this approach since it moved participants out of their comfort zones.

There were some who wanted more “practice” dealing with interpersonal conflicts between and among people who have personality traits that tend to rub people the wrong way.

The main drawback to “practicing” is, all scenarios are different, they occur at the moment, there are different people situations.

Practicing one set of variables will ALWAYS differ from what actually happens. My approach is for neighbors to better understand themselves and how they can monitor their reactions to prevent conflicts from happening in the first place.

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Cohousing USA President Jeff Zucker who lives in nearby Manzanita Village cohousing welcomes retreat goers at the Friday night mixer.

Nonetheless, the best way to practice is through interactive simulations. To get us all up and moving, my colleagues Mike and Jeff administered a self-evaluation form that classified us into various animal types, which was an interesting exercise and gave some insight into specific personality types.

Following that, a problem solving game was played with the upshot being that we all possess iterations of each of the personality types. Sometimes we play different roles in a group decision making setting.

I’ll likely be teaching a redux of the Arcosanti workshop, but entitled “Understanding Diverse Personalities” at the Cohousing Association National Conference in May 2017.

The Arcosanti content was received well, but I’ll tweak  the presentation for the May workshop. It will be new and approved particularly as it pertains to developers – so stay tuned.

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Does Arcosanti ring a bell?

I like smaller events like the Arcosanti retreat. I got to know some of my cohousing colleagues better and kindled some new friendships. I’ll likely return to Arcosanti, particularly since I forgot a piece of equipment there.

What will I remember?

I’ll remember scraping the under carriage of my VW in the dark of night. I have fond memories of the Cowboy Saloon in Mayer.

Whatever your experiences, I hope they are good ones, but keep in mind – “What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas!”

Cheyenne Frontier Days and the weekend I was a ‘Carny’

carny cfd

Carny Anise was my mentor many years ago when I worked at the Bill Hame’s Show during Cheyenne Frontier Days.Cheyenne Frontier Days is again upon us. It happens the last full week in July, and an extra weekend. I’ve been away from Cheyenne for many years, but still manage to make to CFD for at least a few days each July.

Cheyenne Frontier Days happens again next week. I don’t know if I’ve missed one. I’ll be coming back from a job near Thermopolis and will be getting some men and women on the street interviews with CFD volunteers for the Volunteer Crisis Fund tribute I produce each year.

I like to be a part of the action.

There are a bunch of locals who could care less about CFD and leave town during the busiest time of the year.

My mom was big into CFD. She used to sing in a group called the Dearies organized through her women’s club. They sang old time songs and rode in the parade, as did my sister and i. Later, we sold pop at the parade, which I’ll write about later.

Back when I was a newspaper columnist in Lander, I wondered what it was like to work in a carnival and decided to give it a go. I had a pretty good experience and can see how people get addicted to that vagabond lifestyle. Turns out that the TV and movie business is a lot like the carny life. This is my account of that weekend.

Pink Floyd’s “Money” filled the clear, still evening surrounding the double ferris wheel across from the balloon dart game booth at the Frontier Park carnival where I worked for the Bill Hames Show.

Running off to join the carnival was something I’d always wanted to try and there’s no better time than the present. Getting a stranger to hand you their money with the chance nothing will be given in return is entrepreneurship in its purist form.

It’s now 7:30 pm on a busy Saturday night during CFD and I met Wes who had traveled with the show for many years. He finished his supper and escorted me across the Midway where I was introduced to Dozier Simmons.

He and his wife, Angelyn, manage a half dozen games for Kelley’s Concessions out of Alabama and one of several companies affiliated with the Hames Company.

“Here’s a shirt and badge. This is Anice. Just do what she does,” Dozier said as I pulled the blue knit polo shirt over my head.

“The object of the game is to buy a dart for a dollar, bust a balloon for your choice of a small mirror. Five wins for a large mirror,” Anice explained.

“Mirror” is a misnomer since the prizes are non-reflective square pieces of glass with pictures silk-screened on the back.

“I’m just part time – a couple nights a week. I live in Englewood and work at a print shop in Denver. I share a motel room in Cheyenne with one of the other women and her boy friend. I used to work full time, but the guy I was with beat me up and I left the show a couple years ago. Dozier asked if I’d work for him again,” she said while tying a knot in one of the spare balloons.

The game is really rough on the fingers.

Each of the mirrors slips into a cardboard sleeve to protect the paint and prevent patron injuries.

No matter how careful, I still managed to slice little cuts where I never thought had any useful purpose like on the index finger cuticle which gets irritated each time a balloon stem gets tied off.

My hands bled the entire weekend.

Tonight there’s another woman working with us named Amber. “I’m trained as a nurse and working here until something opens up in town,” she said.

Amber was tenderly limping around the area in obvious pain. “It’s not my foot, it’s my back. I was shot in the abdomen and it hit a disc on the way out,” she pulled up her shirt and showed the scars. “I ruptured another disc moving a box of these mirrors and have to have surgery again.”

After I arrived, the counter was divided up into thirds, “Amber takes the first third, I’ll take the middle and you take the other end,” Anice said with authority, since it’s her joint. I was the newbie and was at the end of the lineup.

There’s an infinitely long imaginary line separating each of the sections, sort of like the invisible cylinder above a basketball hoop used to determine goal tending.

Common courtesy is to avoid cross-hawking. Taking a fellow carny’s business is counter productive. Anice advices me, “If you pull that stunt on one of the guys who’s traveling with the show, he’ll knock the hell out of you. I’m just telling this to you for your own good, if you decide to do this again.”

The dart game marks are pretty easy to spot: biker types wearing all black and mirror shades – “Hey buddy, I’ve got an Ozzy mirror that would go great with the Ozzy T-shirt you’re wearing;” pre-adolescent boys minus parents with their fists gripped around several one dollar bills – “Do you play Little League? Then this game is a cinch. Bust one and win a Bon Jovi mirror;” young touchy- feely couples – “Hey pal, why don’t you be a gentleman and win her another one of these cute panda bear mirrors;” grandparents escorting grandchildren too short to see over the counter – “Tell you what, I’ll let him stand on the edge here so he can  be equal to the taller kids.”

The Simmonses stop by to pick our money on their regular rounds. This time, Dozier has a swelled up eye and skinned up elbows. “Some college kid from Colorado punched him out over there. The police took him away,” Angelyn said in a scornful southern drawl.

The carnival business is tough. I didn’t run into any trouble.

Of course the dart game is pretty easy to win, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who miss.

Losers are bad for business.

As soon as someone misses, the crowd disperses as if in mass thinking, “Yes, this game is somehow rigged.”

The hours on your feet are long and the mental intensity high.

At midnight, there’s only one more hour to go and even Anice’s bark is complacent. The smiles become forced.

When you get busy, you have to keep up the endless personal chatter with everyone waiting in line while you’re locating the right mirror or putting up more balloons so they don’t leave. Everyone who plays is a potential return customer.

It’s closing time.

Dozier calls my name, “See you at 10 in the morning. We’re each paid a percentage of our individual take. I inflated 150 balloons today and my jaw aches.

Angelyn hands me $31.00.

It’s now Sunday, the last day of CFD and the crowd is much smaller. When the rodeo lets out, there’s a brief surge. No night show tonight, either. Tomorrow  is a work day for the locals and many of the tourists are either gone or out of money.

Amber called in sick this morning and arrived late in the afternoon. I noticed she’s working another joint across the way and worry that I encroached on her balloon dart game turf.

Anice and I spend the morning chatting between marks. It being Sunday, religion dominates the discussion. Anice is a born again Christian and feels carnival witnessing is part of her calling. There’s a Shroud of Turin mirror which is very popular today – both sizes.

A young drifter asks me if it’s okay to stow his bag under the counter. He’s looking for Dozier to ask him for a job. The next big stop is the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. We hit it off, probably because I didn’t rifle through his stuff.

He turned out to be real hard worker.

The food isn’t very appetizing and I chose to go without, which proved to be a mistake.

By nightfall the marks are getting tired and not as eager to play. Women and kids just ask to buy a mirror.

“No they’re not for sale. There’s more personal satisfaction in throwing the dart.”

Men try to get better terms and ask “How about three darts for a dollar, or two wins for the large mirror?”

At 10:00 pm the place comes to a screeching halt.

The air is finally quiet.

The neon lights stop flashing.

“Let’s get this place cleaned up. I want it to look like we were never here!”, Juanita screams to three kids in charge of sweeping the asphalt parking lot.

Juanita runs the joint across from ours in which softballs are tossed into a milk can to win a Spuds McKenzie stuffed toy.

The women who operate each of the joints are the informal lead workers supervising the “slough” which is the carnival dismantling process.

There are a dozen of us sloughing. All the prize stock is bagged and locked in the water race trailer.

The dart game trailer is hitched to the panel truck and hauled out.

The parking lot is empty.

It’s now 2:15 am.

Dozier hands me $50 and says, “We’ll see you next year.”

I earned enough to make a deal with another CFD vendor and ended up buying a pool cue from him.

Carnival inner circles are tough to break into and I felt like I gained a little respect among my fellow carnies by paying my initiation dues all the way through the slough.

Next time I do this, I’ll remember a pair of gloves – and eat more often!

I was an illegal worker in Mexico

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My business partner in Zacatecas Mexico Faustino Lopez Barajas.

I generally only write about things that I’ve experienced personally. I’m becoming more convinced with the recent flood of children crossing the into Texas, that the United States has the most porous border of any nation in the world.

Let me tell you about the time I was shaken down by soldiers with machine guns for being an illegal worker in Mexico. It was a very helpless feeling.

Maybe it’s that poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty by Emma Lazarus:

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Turns out, if you’re from a European country, this quote is more applicable.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Most other countries have largely indigenous populations that have lived there for centuries. The US, on the other hand, conquered the locals fair and square, and that was just over 200 years ago. 

I did business in Mexico for six years or so starting in 1992 when the North American Free Trade Act went into effect. Then US Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown held a bunch of meetings around the country, including one in Denver. I was working for the Northern Arapaho Tribe at the time in economic development and went down to check it out. At that time, the tribe was looking to sell its hay.

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Downtown Sombrerete

After all the speeches, there was a round table session with representatives from businesses in Mexico. Most everyone split and left all these business people sitting alone. I stuck around and sat down with a group of guys from a credit union based in a small town called Sombrerete in the state of Zacatecas. It’s located in the north central part of Mexico. We hit it off and they invited me down for a visit.

A friend and colleague of mine flew down to check things out. A couple tribal guys – Fred and Gary – and I started up the 600 acre Arapaho Farms. The Arapaho Tribe was big into sustainable agriculture at the time and was interested in farming practices in Mexico – like using a tree branch hooked up to a mule as a harrow. As it turned out the farming thing in Mexico didn’t work out.

Meanwhile I began consulting for a marketing company based in Boulder which had a manufacturing facility in Alamosa, Colorado. They made and sold hair accessories. The manufacturing costs, even in Alamosa were too high.

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Francisco at the Mexico City factory.

I mentioned that I had experience in Mexico and when I was down there before, I learned that some of the small towns would be devoid of working age people – mostly men – who went to the US to work – many illegally. I figured out that workers would rather stay in their home towns rather than leave, but there is no work in the middle-of-nowhere Mexico. The immigration policies favored US businesses wanting to create jobs there.

My idea was to recruit home sewers and assemblers in Sombrerete to make the hair accessories, rather than establish on the US – Mexico border, which is the generally accepted maquilla model.

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The factory in Zacatecas.

The operation called Luna Llena at its peak employed two shifts of 50 people. We had a bonded warehouse on the border in McAllen, Texas. The first shipment was a disaster, though. How the process works is simple. The idea is to send 10 straps, 10 beads and 10 feathers through customs in Mexico. Then the materials are assembled and the completed 10 pony tail holders are then shipped to the US warehouse.

The finished inventory didn’t match up with the raw materials list. After getting that workflow figured out, everything went smoothly.

One of the best things about Mexico is the time zones are the same as the US. I sometimes flew into Guadalajara or Zacatecas, but mostly flew into Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa, hung around the beach for a few days then took the bus to Sombrerete. “Papers? We don’t need no stinkin’ papers!” I traveled uneventfully on a passport and a tourist visa for five years.

In 1997 President Clinton and the President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo signed an agreement hoping to stem illegal immigration and drugs from flowing to the US.

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US President Clinton and El Presidente de Mexico Ernesto Zedillo

One of my business partners, Francisco,  was driving us from Sombrerete to Zacatecas in a beat up Toyota pickup with expired California plates. Just outside the town of Fresnillo we were stopped by an armed cadre of soldiers.

We were ordered out of the truck and handed over our papers. I had my US passport and the tourist visa from Mazatlan, which immediately caused problems.

Francisco and I were separated. He was worked over in Spanish and I was worked over in English. A third soldier emptied the truck and tossed my suitcase and repacked it. After an hour we were cleared to go, but not quite. My suitcase was again turned upside down and rechecked for contraband.

I was an illegal in central Mexico on a tourist visa from a coastal state.

They let us go.

I did go through the process to get a visa to work in Mexico. It’s not as big of a deal as it is in the US. I had to get a letter from my partner about the nature of our manufacturing work and took it to the Embassy for Mexico in Denver, pay $125 and I was granted a work visa.

There are plenty of isolationists, including Donald Trump, who want to close the US borders to immigrants – legal or illegal – who at the same time are against moving US jobs off shore.

I’m convinced that the best way to stem immigration from Latin America is for international companies from the US and elsewhere of all sizes to move there and create jobs for locals.

My gig in Sombrerete was good while it lasted.

What happened?

Francisco’s brother, Faustino, was the brains of the operation. He was the only guy among his group who spoke English and had a US visa. On his way to Colorado, he became very ill. Turned out he had cancer.

He moved himself and his extended family to Mexico City for better medical care and eventually died. Francisco moved the factory to Mexico City, which made a sense in a lot of ways and took the business in a different direction and sewed clothing.

I haven’t been back to Sombrerete or Mexico lately. Looking back, it was very isolating being the only English speaker for miles around. Communication was exhausting and I wore out a couple English – Spanish dictionaries.

I hear that Ecuador is now a big haven for expat Americans but I don’t think I’d want to live among them.