Friday, December 11, 2015

Foundational Community Questions

I'm in northern California this week, working with a spiritual community that's an enclave of about 250 devotees living in a concentrated area. While a small number of the total are living on community property, most are living nearby on private property, some of which is owner occupied and some of which is rented. A majority of the folks lost their homes in wild fires in Sept, and I have been asked in as a resource to explore what it would mean if devotees rebuilt to live more cooperatively.

Cooperative living offers two ways to leverage your time such that there is more available to devote to things more compelling than the mundane, including your spiritual practice (if you have one), which is expressly one of the motivations for the group I'm working with:

a) Economies of scale (it does not take 10x as long to cook for 20 as it does for two).

b) Through sharing assets each member of the group doesn’t need to buy things outright, which means chasing fewer dollars to have the same quality of life.

In addition, if the fundamental nodes of residential community are sized right and developed well, there is the potential for a substantial deepening in the quality of personal relationships which leads to a better sense of connection and mutual support.
While there are a number of factors that are peculiar to the spiritual group I'm working with (which I'll not examine here), there are also some general considerations when it comes to exploring the potential for residential community and that's what I want to share in today's essay. While the following list will not cover everything, it will reliably get you a long way in the right direction. Consider it a template for the questions starting communities might pose. The point here is not so much that there's a right answer to the questions below as that no answer is a predictable problem.

o  What’s appealing about cooperative living; being a residential community? What do you picture the benefits to be?

o  Going the other way, what are your questions or concerns?

o  How much do you intend to be in each other’s lives by virtue of being a member of this community?

o  To the extent that this is appealing, what seems like the right size?
Smaller means there are fewer variables to work out; easier personal connections; less structure; greater intimacy. Larger means a greater pool of assets; more stability; more support for side interests; greater pool of skills.

o  What do you want membership to mean (rights and responsibilities)? Hint: non-financial responsibilities may include maintenance (physical work), governance, and social. Can renters be members?

o  How does one become a member? What are the standards and what is the process? Are you asking for alignment around common values? If so, which ones? What qualities do you want in members (that might be used in screening prospectives for suitability)?

o  How will you make decisions? The big fork in the road is consensus versus voting.

o  How will you handle conflict?

o  Do you collectively have the will and the bandwidth to organize? Hint: even if you have what it takes to maintain community, there are additional start-up needs that will have to be covered for the project to succeed.

o  What model of leadership do you want (what qualities do you want in people filing leadership roles)?

o  How will the economics work? Income-sharing versus not. If not, will there will be dues, and how will they be set: square footage of house; percentage of income? Is there a fee to join? How will financial separation happen if a member leaves the community? How will inheritance be handled?

o  What will the common facilities be? What will be developed and owned by individuals or households?

o  Are there ways to test the waters prior to building permanent homes? Perhaps through close living in rented or temporary shelters. Perhaps by extended visits to established communities already developed along the lines you believe you want.

o  To what extent does the community embrace an outreach function: allowing (or even encouraging) others to visit for the purpose of understanding your model and being inspired by it?

o  How do you want this community to relate to other cooperative efforts in the area? Do you intend to create community mainly for the benefit of members, or is there an outreach mission where you intend to be available for others to witness what you're doing and be inspired by your example?

No comments: