Monday, June 13, 2011

Porch Crawl in New England

I've just finished a weekend of process consulting at Mosaic Commons, a recently built cohousing community in Berlin MA. My work with them was a quid pro quo for their hosting the FIC organizational meetings last November. They didn't charge us for room accommodations for our out-of-town entourage and graciously surrendered control of the great room in their common house for three days. In exchange, they got a weekend of free consulting. Barter arrangements like these ease everyone's pocketbook, and we all get to know each other better. It's a pretty good deal.

Mosaic had the misfortune of building all of their units smack in the midst of the mortgage crisis and they still have eight or so units unsold. This unintended circumstance creates a substantial financial burden for the folks on the hook for development costs, as the carrying charges on the borrowed money are not disappearing fast enough and are spread across too few backs. (Cue up Janis Joplin, circa 1968, "… and it felt just like a ball an chain.")

Despite being dealt some low cards, I'm quite optimistic for this group ultimately holding a full house, because of their robust joie de vivre. They like their community and (mostly) enjoy living together. Sure they have the typical array of community issues, and I was hopefully able to help them see how tightening up the way they function together could be enhanced, but the main thing is that they're spunky and laugh a lot. That's gold.

Nothing exemplified that better than their second annual Porch Crawl (picture a pub crawl where you never actually go indoors), which I was fortunate enough to be present for last Saturday evening, 5-8 pm. While the weather was unseasonably cool (think jackets) and threatened rain, nothing dampened the flow of spirit (or spirits) as members wandered casually up and down the community pathway munching on hors d'oeuvres and imbibing exotic drink options (slightly lethal for the adults and just fruity for the kids). I do not care to contemplate the crazy conglomeration of comestibles and concoctions that was commingling in my corpus when the crawl concluded.

Everything was served on porches, with each participating household offering up at least one finger food option, one spiked drink, and one that was defanged. We started at one end of the community and casually worked our way around, visiting porches in clumps (typically three at a go, so that there was enough room for everyone to stand and still feel part of the mob—you couldn't reasonably pack 30+ people on one porch—and have easy access to the hospitality. The evening was a constant flow of convivial conversations in ever-changing configurations.

While I never saw anyone miss a porch step or actually crawling, I had the definite impression that it was a good thing that no one needed to drive home.

This is a community that seriously enjoys having fun together. While that does not substitute for having great meetings, in my book it counts every bit as much.

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