This past weekend I attended an outstanding conference, one at which over 350 intelligent optimists gathered to advance a movement that is at the forefront of transforming our world. The 2009 National Cohousing Conference is the national conference for those who already live in cohousing, who are currently seeking a community, and professionals serving cohousing communities to learn new ways to "grow community." I attended as a neophyte, a newcomer with a desire to learn about cohousing – exploring the idea of living in community.
Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods. More importantly, active participation requires that people work together and working together is a key ingredient to ‘community glue’, an ingredient that binds individuals together and enables them to achieve a higher purpose. In many ways, the product of community glue is social capital. ‘Social capital’ makes communities better places to live. It is mutually respectful relationships, connectedness and trustworthiness among people. It’s also networks and involvement. The term social capital was coined by social scientist James Coleman to describe community ties, and Robert Putnam furthered popularized this research in his book, Bowling Alone.
My primary interest in cohousing can be summed up in two words; missional sustainability. I’m increasingly convinced that climate change is a health issue affecting billions of people, not just an environmental issue about polar bears and deforestation. The impacts will largely be on the poor and not in the distant future. We will experience the affects within my lifetime and extreme affects in the lifetimes of our children. Climate change will have its greatest effect on those who have the least access to the world’s resources and who have contributed least to its cause. Without mitigation and adaptation, it will increase health inequity especially through negative effects on the social determinants of health in the poorest communities. Couple climate change with ‘peak oil’ and I clearly see the need to get serious and ‘work’ to transform the consumption based and individualistic culture I have so easily become a part of. Since it is clear that I contribute to the cause and that I have the ability to take personal action, doing nothing creates a high degree of cognitive dissonance in my missionally shaped mind.