Community is a Verb

I am about to move into a co-housing community here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is called The Commons.  Technically, I currently live in a co-housing community. However, by all accounts over the years, the one I’ve been living in these last two years has lost many of its co-housing aspects. One resident recently described it to me as being more like a neighborhood than co-houseing. The co-housing community into which I’ll be moving has been going since 1998 (building started in 1991). I’m looking forward to experiencing the community, including the business meetings which are run using consensus.

I’ve been told that it once took five years to get it agreed that they would create a clothes line for the shared laundry facilitates. How realistic and practical is it to cultivate consensus-based community?

Twenty eight homes share four and half acres of land. I’ve read that sometimes co-housing centers around creating affordable housing. This community doesn’t fall into that category. As far as I can tell, I’m moving into a predominantly White middle class community. Some might call it upper middle class, if you go by the average cost to rent or purchase these houses. I’m sure that within this broad umbrella of “What middle class” is a degree of diversity and I look forward to getting to know other residents and hearing their stories.

Co-housing, after all, isn’t for the faint hearted and is a distinct conscious living choice. Who are these people who have made this choice?

Presently, the community has plenty of elders and only a handful of children. Some children are in two parent homes, some are in single parent families. I know the community would like to see more diversity in age – more young families moving in, perhaps. I was told that once upon a time, the population was very international – in the sense that it had many residents from different European countries.

Twice a week, dinners are held in the communal dining area, cooked by residents who volunteer. Well, they volunteer as part of their commitment to doing at least six hours of work per month – work that serves the collective. I’m told that everyone residing in The Commons, including renters, commits to these hours. I noticed that in looking to rent at The Commons, prospective landlords were very keen that their tenants understood the ethos of co-housing and would participate actively in the community.

Communal space includes the kitchen and dining hall, a small exercise room, a children’s play room, guest rooms, a sitting room and laundry facilities (though most people seem to have washers and dryers in their homes). People in the community are encouraged to hold events in the common space – the dining hall can be space for a yoga class, an art workshop, a spoken word performance evening, a guest lecturer.

Community, as UC -Irvine Professor Michael Montoya says, is a verb. Yet, often we like to think that community exists outside of us and we walk into it to feel its warm embrace. We search for community. We crave community. This – as Parker Palmer observes in The Promise of Paradox -is subscribing to a myth. When we pursue this myth, turning to community for comfort, we often find ourselves disappointed. We enter into community wanting to be passive recipients of its benevolence. We seek solace in community.

Yet, community is a verb. We don’t stand there and receive it like we might a blessing from a priest. We weave it into how we be and do on a daily basis. Community is a continuous dance of giving and receiving and of negotiating.  I’ve been told that sometimes the people most excited about moving into The Commons are the ones who end up not liking it. I haven’t heard any specific stories to back that up, but I can imagine it. I can imagine people moving in with high expectations of pleasant gatherings, warm greetings as you open your front door and a sense of belonging.

They enter into community oblivious of the tensions that will inevitably arise in themselves and with others. As Parker Palmer explains, moving into an intentional community gave him and his family everything they had hoped for and the exact opposite of those very same desires.

I am moving into a tiny one room + bathroom house in The Commons. I’ll be using the communal laundry facilities. When the weather gets warm, I’ll likely be sitting outside in my tiny patio. I am unlikely to to hole myself up because I’ll want physical space and human connection. This will no doubt be a key determining factor in how I experience The Commons co-housing community.

What will I find? How will I experience being in this particular community? What will I bring to it? How will I play a role in cultivating nourishing community? You see, community is a neutral word – it isn’t inherently healthy or life affirming. After all, Jonestown was a community.

Community is a verb. I community. I commit to unity. Unity with whom? And in what ways? Questions. Questions. Questions. I’m looking forward to living into them.

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