How Cohousing can Unite a Divided America

I’m presenting an intensive at the 2017 National Cohousing Conference May 19th in Nashville. I’ve been struggling with the content.

It was initially going to be a redux of the “diverse personalities” retreat I led in Arcosanti in the fall, but after being a part of the Women’s March on January 21st, it came together for me as a workshop melding cultural competency, diversity and community activism.

The intensive I’m presenting is a little jargony, How Cohousing Can Bridge Socio-Economic Divides through Personal Change and Understanding the Untapped Affordable Housing Market. It’s scheduled for Friday May 19th from 8:30am to 4pm and the cost is nominal $25.

There’s been quite a bit of chatter among the TV talking heads, regular conservatives and liberals ranting internally on social media about the travel ban, Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Rex Tillerson, Neil Gorsuch, alternative/actual facts and fake/real news.

The right blames for the left for not accepting the POTUS mandate as a huge winner and the left yells at the right because the POTUS election was not a slam-dunk mandate.

America has always been a country divided. It’s just that the canyons are more apparent now. What are we going to do about bringing everyone together?

I’d say, people are generally uncomfortable about discussing personal issues and views around the American Dream, money, race, class, gender identity, sexual preference. But those discussions are key to forming strong and cohesive communities – intentional or not.

My hope is that my workshop attendees understand that while the bricks and mortar of cohousing are the buildings where residents live, the people who form a community are the most important aspect.

I live in cohousing and while, at least in my experience, it’s far from perfect, the intentionality brings neighbors together to work through tough issues – even though they may, in some cases, be on the petty side, they might as well be matters of life and death.

The upshot is, if there’s a community configuration that is suited to forcing conversations among divergent opinions it’s cohousing.

We’ll discuss why American social/dultural norms restrain the cohousing movement and then provide potential solutions for this problem.

My workshops are always hands-on and include a balance of simulation games, interactive exercises, video clips, discussion. We’ll work through the following:

The American Dream we learn about is bigger being better, we are driven to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, make a lot of money and be on top. We’ll talk about why cultural norms create roadblocks for the advancement of caring and interactive communities beyond what is familiar.

Cohousing communities, by definition, bring diverse people together. But the typical cohouser is, white, educated, high income, high perceived social class. We’ll learn and practice some ways that individuals can look at their personal histories and make changes so as to become more inclusive as opposed to just believing it’s a good idea.

There are institutional barriers such as city councils and planning boards enforcing dated rules and regulations. We’ll learn techniques that can help cohousing advocates create and maintain high-quality conversations and relationships personally, in community, and with city and county planners.

American culture of rugged individualism precludes cohousing from entering the mainstream as it has in other countries. We’ll look at the untapped numbers of people who are not the typical cohousing demographic and learn ways to approach that market.

The cohousing movement can become a catalyst for positive change including development of low income and diverse cohousing communities and bridging the gap between the left and right, the haves and have nots in the U.S. today.

Remember to bring a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer for a couple of the exercises. Sign up today for the 2017 National Cohousing Conference. There’s a little something for everyone.

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