The cohousing ‘Secret Sauce,’ affordability, inclusion and a new ‘American Way’

american-way

Superman’s “Truth, justice, and the American Way” is based on bigger is better than smaller; winning is better than losing; richer is better than poorer. What if that was refocused through a multicultural lens?

Cohousing Nation, by definition, lives a “New American Way” that balances the good of the community over that of the individual; accepts all people as different and all welcomed and valued; power and strength of a few are replaced by consensus and shared decision making among all.

As such, I’m convinced that cohousing communities – as well as other intentional communities like housing cooperatives – 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.

What if cohousers, turned out to 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 of diverse people will bring about more affordable housing organically as the dominant culture becomes more inclusive based on what I call, “c🕉munification” (cOMunification) that focuses 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 155-year history, at least on paper, since President Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation (1865 to 2020).

There has been social change, but reinventing the American Way won’t happen over night

secret sauce

Cohousing secret sauce can undo the Old American Way.

A part of that reinvention is cohousing, which is a market-based solution. Cohousing brings individuals together to form communities.

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 clumping intentional communities together as “communes” and “creeping socialism.

I’m not talking about over throwing out social norms or 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 c🕉unification.

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 c🕉unification, 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:

  • There’s balance between the group and the individual;
  • smaller and less are better but all share in abundance, that isn’t always about bigger and more;
  • decisions are by consensus giving a voice to all, including minority positions;
  • there is recognition that everyone is different and all are included as themselves

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 C🕉unification” secret sauce, soon available at a farmer’s market near you.

The cohousing ‘dog owner’ and ‘dog not owner’ conundrum

molly 3

Molly, the Corgi, was one of the many community dogs not allowed in the common house.

If you know anything at all about cohousing communities, members spend countless hours sitting around, talking and eventually make decisions by consensus about lots of routine stuff like who’s in charge of changing lightbulbs when they go out in the common house, or who’s bringing what to the pot luck dinner, or who’s calling the trash hauler because the recycling bin is overflowing.

But then there are the few decisions that take up the most time and energy because the discussions often get entangled trying to balance the “rights of self-interested individuals” and the “good of the whole.”

There’s been a lengthy thread on the Cohousing Association of the U.S. email listserv about one of those hot topics – dogs in the common house. Some dog owners take very personally any actions banning dogs from community spaces.

One of my cohousing friends and colleagues, Ann Zabaldo, lives in Takoma Village in Washington D.C. She wrote what I consider to be the best response I’ve heard about how to balance the dialectic between “dog owners” and “dog not owners” and writes:

“There are two kinds of people in the world: dog owners and dog not owners. I am a dog lover.

“When I first moved into Takoma Village some 19 years ago I lived w/ a dog. And I felt the same as you – torn between being with my dog or being with neighbors in the common house.

“I don’t expect “dog not owners” to understand this. Like you, Noah and I were inseparable. He was always at my heels. We were best buds. Sadly, within two months of moving in Noah died. Nineteen years later there’s still a hole in my heart.

“The professional advice upon the loss of a dog – New dog. Same breed. As soon as possible – has not yet manifested itself. Still too soon.

“Adapting to cohousing rules about pets is not an easy adaptation for dog owners to make. You are used to going places w/ your four-footer. They are “family members.” Now, after these years developing your community, you are confronted by the promise of having these relationships w/ two-footers but your four-footer is restricted.

“This is hard.

“Many people on this list have addressed the challenges and concerns of mixing pets w/ community life especially as it pertains to the common areas. I won’t repeat the concerns (If you’re on the listserv, read the email history here).

“I suggest: make the most of outdoor spaces. During warm weather consider organizing dinners or other meals outside. People love to BBQ or just bring dinner on a tray and sit w/ others outside. If you have the outdoor space, consider creating a dog run. It will be a lovely social space.

“If you participate in agility create an agility course. Put on a demonstration for your community. Have a dog show! Do fun things w/ your dog and invite neighbors to go w/ you even if just for a walk. Walking w/ a dog is never boring. Even in cool or cold weather gin up some activities w/ your dog(s) and the community.

“NOTE: Dog/pet owners can gain a good deal of Karma by scrupulously cleaning up after pets. You will still have the problems of folks who are afraid of dogs, who don’t like dogs, who are intolerant etc. You can do a lot to reduce hesitation about dogs in the community by sharing your dog.

“There may be kids or adults in the community who cannot own a dog for some reason but who would like the company of dogs. So consider including neighbors in the life of you and your dog.

“After Noah died, my neighbor brought her dog, Lucy, to stay w/ me during the day. That started my Doggie Day Care service. I had Lucy’s company all day. Lucy didn’t have to spend her days in a house by herself. The owner could relax and not rush home to walk the dog by 6 p.m. because I gave Lucy a comfort break every afternoon.

“If the neighbor wanted to stay at work later … I would feed Lucy. Perfect cohousing relationship.

“You may be able to work something out w/ your community about limited access in the CH proper. However, that may be a steep climb.

“So again … look for opportunities to integrate pooches w/ the community. Enjoy living in cohousing w/ your companion. BTW —For my next coho community I’m envisioning creating a community of dog lovers and Mindfulness Meditation practitioners.

Excellent combination. Bark! Bark! Ruff! Ruff! OM … mmmmmmmmmm”

 

2. The Day the Earth Stood Still

pearl-harbor.jpg

The 9/11 attack fanned xenophobic flames that were sparked on December 7, 1941 when the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

There’s a movie called The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) that stars Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. It’s about a flying saucer that comes to earth and warns the earthlings that unless humans quit fighting among themselves, the planet will be destroyed. As a demonstration of their cosmic abilities, the aliens neutralize electricity and offer an ultimatum that people better live in peace or face annihilation.

Not much explanation is necessary about what happened on September 11, 2001, other than it was a day the earth stood still. You likely know where you were and what you were doing that day. My unremarkable commute to work that summer morning is one I’ll remember.

When the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were hit by three commercial passenger jets, and a fourth that crashed in a Pennsylvania field, those terrorist attacks would fan the flames of racial and ethnic xenophobia in America that was sparked similarly when the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and drew the United States into World War II.

osama

Much like what happened after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, there was a high level of hysteria toward Muslims largely perpetuated by interpretations of U.S. government actions by cable TV news media.

After the attack on Hawai’i, in May 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) signed Executive Order (E.O.) 9066 that ordered, among other things, Japanese – particularly those living on the West Coast – to uproot themselves from their homes and businesses.

There was fear that there may be Japanese spies embedded within the general citizenry on the West Coast.

Throughout Beyond Heart Mountain, I provide some insight into the huge government bureaucracy established as a result of that national paranoia.

Parts of the federal government were reorganized, and new agencies established to manage somewhere between 112,000 to 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese descent who were sorted out in 15 assembly centers before being herded up and shipped by rail to one of 10 makeshift war relocation centers constructed in remote places within the interior of the United States.

To say that E.O. 9066 dug a cultural trench between Asians and white America is an understatement. While researching this story, I learned the American quest for cultural and racial homogeneity is nothing new.

It’s not like the U.S. government always propped up a xenophobic culture.

After the United States left Vietnam in the capable hands of Communists in 1975, thousands of “boat people” travelled to the free world, including the United States. The military set up detention camps at several army bases to temporarily house Vietnamese refugees.

The week before Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh City – fell, U.S. Navy ships and its air force evacuated 95,000 South Vietnamese. Later in 1975, another 125,000 refugees left South Vietnam and received at U.S. military bases in the Philippines and Guam before being transferred to other domestic installations where they were housed in preparation for permanent resettlement.

At the beginning of the mass exodus, there wasn’t a strong consensus among Americans around whether South Vietnamese refugees resettlement in the United States was a good idea or not.

Despite the split public opinion, the U.S. Congress approved the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act and signed into law by President Gerald Ford in May 1975.

The legislation allowed Vietnamese refugees to enter the United States under a special status and allocated $405 million in resettlement aid.

To prevent the refugees from forming ethnic ghettos and minimize their impact on local communities, they were distributed around the country, but over time, many coalesced in California and Texas.

Flash forward to 2019, there are thousands of immigrants and asylum-seekers who have crossed America’s southern border illegally and legally. Families are separated into sparse living conditions. In some cases, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security doesn’t know what kid belongs to which family.

There are some news pundits who continue to perpetuate America’s historic xenophobia and wont to preserve racial and ethnic homogeneity. The talking heads demonize the influx of newcomers as a “attackers” or “invaders.”

The earth is still standing still.