Monday, February 14, 2011

My Perfect Community

Adam and I have been talking a lot recently about what our perfect community would look like. Its difficult to describe and even more difficult to visualize because some of the good things that we want simply cannot exist without the bad things that we don't want. Its all about finding that perfect balance.

For those of you that don't know, we currently live in a co-housing community in West Seattle. This means that our home is one of 23 homes that were all built around a common path. We walk this path to get to things like each others homes and the common house. The common house is a giant house in the middle of the community that serves as our social hub. We have meetings there, do laundry there, eat meals together there, and hold events there. It includes a play room for little kids, a giant kitchen, a giant dining/socializing area, a sunroom, a laundry room, a kids room (different from the toddler room), a bike storage area, storage, and an office. It is, essentially, the heart of the community.

In addition to participating in the social events at our community, we attend meetings, serve on various committees, and do work for the community.

Do I like it? The answer is complicated. I love it...sometimes. I hate it...sometimes.

Our community is broken. Most of the houses are for sale. Renters comprise about half of the people in the community and about 90% of the people that show up for social events. The owners have a lot of rules. A lot. There are rules for rules, and while I am sure that there are very good reasons for these rules, as a new member of the community, the shear number of rules is intimidating and overwhelming. If you inadvertently break a rule, people let you know it. Usually in a nice way...sometimes not. We have broken quite a few rules, including: parking two inches too far to the right, submitting a 10 day proposal that was not allowed to be a 10 day proposal, and walking up the ramp that lead to our house because it passed in front of our neighbors house. I imagine that rules are what has allowed this community to survive through a time that would have torn even the best of friends apart, but in my perfect community there would be less rules. Less rules and more open communication.

Despite all the rules and conflict, there is no way for people in my community to deal with conflict. No one to go to. No support. I attended a conflict resolution workshop at the common house yesterday and 6 other people showed up. 6 people in a community of over 50! Maybe that is the problem: too many people. No space to deal with conflict. In my perfect community, there would be fewer people - maybe 10 - and conflict resolution would be an essential part of that community.

UPDATE: I forgot the most important thing. Despite all the rules and conflict, apathy and estrangement, I LOVE MY COMMUNITY. I love my community because of the people. Some of the most interesting and amazing people live in my community. I love my community for the potential that it holds - the creativity of its members - the kindness and friendship that I have been shown. Its worth putting up with all the rules and tension, if for no other reason, than to be around these wonderful people. Most of them anyway :)

Adam thinks that his perfect community would live in a group house and share a common kitchen. I'm undecided. I like having my own space, but I also think that a common kitchen would encourage intimacy that doesn't exist in our community. People would be forced to interact and deal with each other. On second thought, I like the common kitchen idea. In my perfect community, there would be a common kitchen (though, if I'm dreaming of a perfect community, my family would get its own small kitchen just for us).

So, to sum up: My perfect community -
1) less rules more communication
2) conflict resolution essential part of interactions
3) about 10 people living in one house
4) everyone would be involved in everything - rule by consensus

OK, there it is. Who wants to join and buy a house with us - preferably something looking over the water - preferably you have kids Ilya's age or thereabouts? Anyway, there would be a lot of details to work out, but this is our dream. Who's in?

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