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  • Writer's pictureAl Parrish

Is This Big?

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

Time for us to take the next big step. A really big one.

We are going to buy land and build a housing development. Yoiks!!

To that end, we have put out a request for proposals (RFP), to prospective project managers who can see us through this major challenge locating, designing, and building homes for 24 households, plus a common house and all the amenities and shared facilities we deem necessary, and that we can reasonably create, given the very real constraints of time, space, and money. On top of that, we want the whole project to be ecofriendly, with construction as ‘green’ and sustainable as possible.

What a daunting task! So we’ll bring in a Project Manager, an expert who can guide the process. This will include finding the right people – real estate vendors, designers, architects, construction trades, material suppliers, etc. – and coordinating their work to execute the various stages of the build. Our Project Manager will also act as a liaison between our community and various levels of government, help us understand the ramifications of the decisions we are making, and communicate clearly our wishes to those who will be executing them.

The person who takes on this overwhelming task will need to be invested in our approach, our vision, our philosophy and our style of decision making, as we create a physical, geographical community to house ourselves. That commitment is supremely important because this project appears to be the biggest one that our community has ever undertaken. You might say that this is the largest, single endeavour we will ever take on as a group.

Right? Maybe not. Sure this is a huge project, but is it bigger than anything we have done before or since?

Think of what we have already done together. We began with a Cohousing information session at the library. 130 people turned up wanting co-ops (not cohousing), communes (not cohousing), co-living (not cohousing), tiny homes, autonomous collectives, affordable housing, subsidized housing, rental housing, in short, many alternatives which are not cohousing. But we also found a core group of people who see cohousing as the right way forward. We have come to know each other better than many neighbours ever do. We have learned about our common interests and differences as we’ve heard about each other’s hopes, dreams, and world views. Together, we have been able to create a social and cultural community. That is no small feat.

We have had to make some very important, challenging, sometimes difficult, even painful choices. Thanks to our chosen method of self-governance and decision making, we have been able to do that. Early on, we chose Sociocracy which does not allow for the tyranny of either the majority or a minority: everyone has a voice. At first, it seemed like it might be slow and cumbersome. There were moments when we thought about skipping some steps of the process, but we didn’t. And that was a good decision, because doing it right is more important than doing it quickly. We continue to learn how to make this system work better. We all decide, together.

Sociocracy uses Non-Violent Communication to ensure that every member of the community is heard. Oddly enough, the result is that we are able to make decisions as quickly or even more quickly than traditional groups that run ‘democratically.’ The result is better decisions. There are no winners and losers. 50% +1 doesn’t rule. In fact, 66%, 75%, even 99% doesn’t ‘rule’. The community rules together. If a member has an objection to any proposal, we address the concern. In fact, we welcome objections; they make our decisions stronger. In the end, no one feels unheard, left out, or run over. Sociocracy makes perfect sense when you are using it, but it is way outside the traditional envelope.

If we can create a community, based on a complete shift away from the world of win/lose determined by majority vote, in a ‘my way vs. your way’ paradigm, then building a structure to house that community will be a snap! (ok well, not a snap...). Designing and building our physical structures won’t be simple, but it is very concrete. We will have to consider where it will be, what it will look like, how it will be built, inside and out, and how it will all work. With our decision making process and the help of a good Project Manager, we can do it. It will likely take a few years, but we have already worked for a few years on creating the social community of people who will live in these homes, so spending a few more years creating the geographical/physical community in which we will live doesn’t seem unreasonable.

So, as we review all the submissions we have received as the next step toward creating a place that will accommodate our growing community, that will last for generations, that will take climate issues into account, we will consider who can help us to: find the perfect piece of land (or close enough), get designers and architects with the perfect design (or close enough), make sure the zoning is perfect (or...), confirm that the municipal services will suit our needs, put shovels in the ground (maybe a ribbon-cutting ceremony in there, somewhere), build exactly the buildings we have dreamt of (or close enough) and, in the end, get us moved into our new homes. Together.

A great deal of time, thought, and effort went into creating the RFP because, while we are looking for a person who can manage a project, equally importantly, we want someone who will take an interest in our intention in this project. All of us would love to move into our new neighbourhood, our new community, our new homes as soon as possible. But doing it right is far more important than just doing it fast; doing it right is more important than simply doing it cheaply. Don’t get me wrong: we want this to be done as quickly as possible, and we want the lowest cost we can get, but we want a Project Manager who understands that, unlike many building projects, the guiding principle here is not to “Git ‘er Done fast and cheap”, creating as much profit as possible. We will have the kind of homes we choose, built to allow us to interact and function well, as a community. Together.

These are not ‘starter homes’, they are not ‘stepping-stone homes’, these are not homes to fix up or tear down and replace. We are creating a permanent home for our community. Our project Manager will ‘get it’, and we will build our community’s home, together.


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