In the discussion around cohousing and new forms of collective living, one aspect tends to be pushed into the background despite being at the centre of it all: the people that share a particular project. Although the idea of “community” is cited everywhere in designs and advertisements, the specific and highly complex dynamics of creating such a community are not often addressed. This is surprising, given how essential the social dynamics are for the success of a project, particularly in its early phase – initiatives that break apart tend to do so in the first 3 years.
To bring this issue of community back to the centre, Gabi Bott of Ökodorf Siebenlinden and Dana Köhler, formerly of Tamera, hosted a discussion and question round based on their long experience of living in communal groups. The main idea that emerged from this fascinating insight into these dynamics was that community should be understood as an inner attitude, not as a concept that can be defined by external criteria. It is the relationship between individual and group that matters – community not only as being together, but also as finding one’s own place within. Both commented on the intensity of the group processes, which necessarily touch on personal issues and can at times be very difficult. At the same time, going through such processes with the help of tools and facilitation – methods such as the forum or quiet time – means that one can learn to see beyond superficial traits and appreciate the full story and qualities of oneself and others. This means showing oneself to the group, taking in what is mirrored and learning to empathize.
The groups almost acts as a canvas here, as a platform where exciting things can happen but which needs care and attention. Allowing group processes to happen over time and with respect also means becoming more creative as an individual: being able to explore more connections, and becoming more secure in one’s own place. The most essential concept behind all this is trust, which is something that has become increasingly absent from modern life. To re-learn how to trust others is therefore one of the most essential requirements, but also the greatest opportunity, of communal life. New groups will have to deal with this, learning from others and appreciate the full depth of human relationships.