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 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.