Monday, February 29, 2016

Getting the Work Done

People often ask how we are going to get our community tasks done, once we are all living at Prairie Hill. It's a good question. And of course even now, in the development stage of our cohousing community, there is plenty of work to be done. We have divided some of this work among various committees: the finance and legal committee, the membership committee, the marketing committee, the building committee, the land committee. Much of the day-to-day business at this stage gets done by the five members on the board of managers. And sometimes we have all-member workdays.

Roxane heading uphill to a workday project

 Membership Committee members in action

Once we actually move into our new homes at Prairie Hill, we'll need to get organized about taking care of the daily, weekly and monthly needs of the community. Some of us learned how other cohousing communities do this when we attended the national cohousing conference in Durham, NC last year. We definitely benefit from all the experiences of others in this area! One of the systems that appealed to me most was what Pioneer Valley Cohousing has adopted. A list was made of all the tasks and how many hours each would take per month. Then they divided the total of these hours by the number of adults in the community, and came up with 6.5 hours per month per adult. Then, instead of assigning tasks to members, they developed "affinity teams" for each area of work, with members choosing what appealed most to their own interests and abilities. Sometimes a person was on more than one team. People could choose where to spend their 6.5 hours of work this way. And the teams became knowledgeable and skilled at their own focus. 

Here are some random points about community work that I picked up from the conference:
  • Appreciating people for the jobs they do is of prime importance. This helps us be more observant, validates each member, and builds community
  • Children can have specific jobs, like clearing the tables at the end of the meals.
  • Being a member of a Community Support Committee that kicks in when someone is in crisis could be part of a person's job.
  • Each area of work can have a "replacement reserve" of funds to be used when things break or need to be replaced.
  • Gardens are a big part of many cohousing communities. Some have individual gardens as well as a community garden. Some even grow produce for sale. Coordinating gardening could be a job.
  • Commonhouse committees can handle anything from cleaning the kitchen, organizing meals, scheduling events, or keeping track of guest room use. Clearly there need to be some sub-committees under commonhouse committee.
  • Pioneer Valley Cohousing has 6 general workdays each year. One workday is for deep cleaning the commonhouse. One job during workdays is to prepare food for everyone else.
If you're like me, these little tidbits are enough to make you wonder about many other things in the life of a community. We're very grateful that in the cohousing paradigm, the future residents are also the creators of the development. Not only does that mean that we are choosing what we think is best, but we are building community among the membership before we even move in! This is another reason why, if you are considering the possibility of joining a cohousing community, it is good to join during the development stage. You can have a voice in decisions, can engage in the excitement of creation, and can gradually get to know your future neighbors.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Life-Changing Link!

Here's an article found by Gloria, our newest Prairie Hill member, this past fall. It focuses on how hard it is to find community in modern cities even though as humans we truly need that friendly supportive context. And it mentions cohousing as one of the best ways to provide meaningful community. As Gloria says, she read the article, discovered Iowa City Cohousing, and the rest is history!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Making Decisions in a Community

When I am excitedly describing the benefits of a cohousing community to someone, it is not uncommon to run into resistance about the prospect of consensus decision-making. Since I grew up a Quaker, consensus is part of my culture. But for most folks, it can sound confusing and difficult. We're used to settling differences by voting.

However, if you really think about it, voting automatically castes the voters into two groups. One group gets the most votes and wins. The other loses. It tends to polarize a population, at least on certain subjects. And with simple voting, the whole group never gets a chance to hear the thoughts of each of its members. Even if there is discussion before voting, it is easy to hang onto your own opinion. In consensus, in contrast, the objective changes. Instead of voting for your own preference, you look for the choice that most benefits the community as a whole. For this outcome, you need to listen to everyone, try to understand from the perspective of people other than yourself. This process strengthens relationships and promotes a thriving interaction and acceptance among members.

discussion at an all-member meeting last month

Cohousing communities in this country and abroad have been using consensus decision-making for most of their decisions since the beginning of the cohousing movement. I imagine that is because community is one of the most important concepts in cohousing. Friendly and comfortable relationships with your neighbors is a priority, and anything to encourage that is a plus. We at Prairie Hill can benefit in many ways from the work that has gone before us, and community decision-making is no exception. At the National Cohousing Conference last May, a number of our group attended workshops on decision-making. We've also sent a delegation to Arbco, a cohousing community in Madison, to attend a consensus workshop. We've drafted our own process of decision-making, and so far we seem to be doing fairly well when we have decisions to make. 

One of the popular ideas in cohousing circles at the moment is governing a community by the principles of "sociocracy". It is a fascinating system in which everyone is of equal importance, everyone has power within their own domain. The aspect of sociocracy that most caught my attention is that when decisions are made, it is for a certain length of time (1 month, 6 months, a year...), at which time the decision is re-evaluated and changes can be made. I love this! It is a bit like a sailboat, tacking with the wind, continually adjusting to the changing environment. 

The good thing is that we have lots of resources out there as we develop our own unique way of living in our own community. It is an exciting process, and we can take it a step at a time.

Nan Fawcett

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Home GR/OWN – The Role for Urban Gardens

Check out this event! 

February 4 @ 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM

Our own organic garden educator Scott Koepke of New Pi Soilmates will be part of this event about how city vacancies and neighborhoods can be transformed with healthy food access and greenspace developments! Open to the public: