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The CoHousing Solutions Book Club: We Built a Village by Diane Margolis

Diane Margolis cofounded Cambridge Cohousing, where she has lived since 1998. She has made major contributions to the cohousing movement in North America, including cofounding the Cohousing Research Network and serving as a former member of the CohoUS Board of Directors. Most recently, Diane released We Built a Village, a memoir.

In We Built a Village, Diane details Cambridge Cohousing's tug of war between the market and the commons. Diane's community went from their first meeting in 1995 to moving in 1998 — an impressive but impossible timeline in today's market. Though much has changed since 1998, many of the issues Diane explains are relevant to current forming groups. For example, Cambridge Cohousing received positive coverage in the Boston Globe and The New York Times, but one journalist reported one resident as 10 years older than her real age. Journalists will probably never get 100% of the details right, but we always appreciate the free press!

Diane beautifully explained her discovery that even revolutionary cohousers are only human. When given the chance, some neighbors organized secret unit customizations, even though their gain extended the construction timeline. Sometimes Members simply failed to communicate at great cost to the project. As consultants, this reminds us of the importance of structure, but it also serves as a warning to blindly optimistic groups. At the end of the day, people are just people, and we all need systems to keep each other accountable. We Built a Village takes an honest look at the victories and follies of building community.

We've all grown up with indoctrination about the American Dream: a nice big house, with a big fence, 2.5 kids and a dog named something like Max. Cohousers fight for a different kind of dream, but they don't have it all figured out at move-in. It's really important for freshly constructed communities to remember no amount of preparation can prepare you for the cohousing learning curve. Diane's honesty on the subject was quite refreshing.

Current forming groups benefit from additional resources, which were greatly lacking in the 90s. Over 170 communities have been built since Cambridge Cohousing moved in, after all. Despite the growing number of cohousing communities in the United States, people are still susceptible to development mistakes, especially with a niche housing model like cohousing. We Built a Village is a great read for established communities, forming communities and professionals who want to minimize the learning curve.

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