Guest Post: Charles Durrett - Do Your Homework Before Sitting Down to the Table

by: Sara on 06/23/2011
Posted in: Guest Posts

This just in from Charles Durrett author of Creating Cohousing, Building Sustainable Communities :

Last week, in Washington D.C., I was told about two cohousing neighborhoods that were successfully organized and built in the D.C. area.  I was then told that the same organizer (Ann Zabaldo) and developer (Don Tucker) recently tried to organize another cohousing development but couldn't get traction.  After six months of hard work the cohousing community, that had everything going for it, (affordable, team with a good track record, etc.) could not get off the ground and was abandoned.  I asked Ann, "What happened?"

I would think the third should be easier since there were two great local, and both prize-winning model projects to look to.  Ann said that the main difference was that in both of the early projects, everybody who came to the table had read the book.  What book?  The cohousing book, now called Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities by Katie McCamant and Charles Durrett. 

In the third project, no one who came to the table had read the book.  There was incessant explaining, backtracking, clarifying, and discussing.  People were always in different places on the understanding scale.  They couldn't coalesce, and when it became clear to some people, others were just starting and bogged the rest down.  People became frustrated and disappeared, until finally the project could not afford the dialogue necessary to get enough people moving forward at the same time with a predictable pace.  Predictable enough so that people didn't think that they were wasting their time.

Cohousing is more than a sound bite.  Nowhere on the internet is the story of why and how a cohousing community won neighborhood of the year in the USA in 2004, or a hundred other stories and distinctions of how these projects hold a vision and move forward in a deliberate fashion.  The internet is great for some things, but telling a story and having that story sit on the coffee table available to discuss with friends and visitors at a moment¹s notice because when they say "what's this," only a response with sentences, paragraphs, and complete thoughts will be fully understood.  It is sometimes beneficial to hold in your hands the whole story, or at least enough of the story for there to be a foundation to build from.  Web pages come and go in a matter of seconds in some people's hands.  Those first two projects were developed before the switch to internet-based communication, yet they were highly successful.  The internet has firmly established its place in our daily lives, but an email will never replace a good face-to-face with a friend, or a book.


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