Property Tax Exemption Explained
By Doug Robnett
I wanted to take the opportunity to try and make as simple as possible the City of Spokane’s Multiple Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) as it applies to Haystack Heights. What follows is my best understanding of how the exemption applies to our project. Please keep in mind that these things can get tricky and I am not a tax lawyer or a city planner – that is my disclaimer.
The area we are building our homes in is designated a Multiple Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) zone. What this means is that new construction of dwellings with four or more units are exempt from city taxes for eight years. As such, this exemption will apply only to newly constructed homes and not the existing spaces in the Haystack Building. The exemption is based on the assessed value of the “housing portion of the property.” The city has told us that the home value includes the shared value of the common house. This means the exemption will be on the assessed value of the home. It will not apply to the land value.
The calculation is pretty simple: for every $120,000 of assessed value there is a $1,600 tax savings. This exemption has a life span of 8 years. So, if your home is assessed at $360,000 (round number for ease of calculation) then you tax savings will be $4,800 per year. Over an eight-year period, your savings on property tax would be $38,400.
If you would like more information please check out the city’s web site page on the MFTE.
Sarah Conover, blog and newsletter editor: as we have a number of families in Haystack Heights, some with teens and some with families whose children are headed to adolescence, I thought I'd feature an article by my friend, Evelyn Messinger, who I can always count on to see any situation in unexpected ways.
My twins Sam and Kate are teenagers now. I’m grateful that neither of them are manic or theatrical children. They are not likely to show up one day as members of a religious cult, or with tattoos on their faces. Nonetheless, at 15 years old, they tend more and more towards the classic sullen teen archetype. Dinner table conversations evaporate. Information is withheld.
It all happened very suddenly, after an early adolescent golden age during which they actually thought their parents were cool. Now they have pushed their little dinghies off from the parental cruise ship, rowing against the fearsome swells to escape. Whether we like it or not, we won’t prevent them from sliding over the waves, hell-bent on mastering adulthood.
They demand that we no longer treat them like children, even though they act like big babies. We hear less and less about their exploits, even as they venture further and further from home. Of course, they don’t drive themselves to these adventures—oh no. It is still I, mom, who spends uncountable hours driving clusters of girls or boys hither and yon. The girls mutter incomprehensibly to each other between fits of irritatingly raucous laughter. The boys play video games that we can’t comprehend, but suspect might be bad for them.
They don’t cook much, or clean up without prodding. They do come to the dinner table when called, to consume massive quantities of food that have been lovingly prepared for them. So my drudgery goes on: all that food is purchased and lugged home, cooked and consumed, the leftovers discarded and the dishes washed–mostly by us.
But here’s the surprise: this situation has led me to see the great secret of the battle between teens and parents that characterizes the modern age. Truth is, the kids are getting a bad rap. It’s the parents who rebel against their teenagers.
As the most onerous aspects of parental indenture fall away (think diapers, glitter, and broken keepsakes), parents begin to remember what life was like before the great child-raising task began. We find ourselves considering our own needs, long deferred. We hit a breaking point; we demand that our teens be more responsible for the family enterprise. “You are old enough to take some responsibility!” means: I am done being your slave!
That is when we become entrenched in a kind of domestic sectarian warfare, where retaliation can escalate to punishment. “That music is awful,” I scream. “How many times have I told you to use headphones? I need to listen to the news on NPR and it wouldn’t hurt you to start paying some attention to the real world. I said, HEADPHONES! Be careful, I am about to take that phone away…wait, wait–since when are you a fan of Lamar Kendrick—I mean, Kendrick Lamar?”
Imagine how this looks to the kids, their whole lives until now bathed in the tender love and attention of childhood. My sudden demands must feel like a form of rejection, even abandonment. And their reactions look like rebellion, but may be closer to confusion. Because after all, I’m the one who wants more now–more time to myself, more interesting food, more engaging entertainment. They just want what they have always had: unconditional praise and affection.
This is embarrassing for a parent like me to admit. How often have I imagined myself the better parent–better than my husband, my own parents, the parents of my kid’s friends, the parents of the future shoplifters, hackers and dropouts who lurk just beyond the horizon of my protection? But how can I be a good parent when the only positive outcome of parenting is that my children leave me? Does the “good” parent buckle them into their lifejackets and set the engines of the mothership in reverse? Or am I “good” when I hold the prow of their rowboats in a frantic grip and insist that they’re not going anywhere.
I’m only now groping towards understanding this problem. It has something to do with mutual respect, and with a parent’s role in maintaining civility. If I ask them to grow up as well as to continue to love me, I should be prepared to be grown up too, or more precisely, to stay grown up. At least until they graduate from high school. I have a feeling it doesn’t actually end at that, but I’ll let you know when we get there.
Eveylyn Messinger is the television producer of www.thisplanet.tv
Interview with Haystack Heights member Carol Bryan
by member Sarah Conover
Sarah: What does community mean to you these days?
Carol: Well, right now it means my neighborhood. It's taken me 17 years to feel like this is my community and it's changed because of the meditation group that I began and hold at my house every morning.
Sarah: Can you tell us about that? You started it how long ago?
Carol: About a year and ¾ ago. We meet at, theoretically, seven in the morning. We go about 40 minutes. Our plan is we have 10 minutes of a guided meditation and then 10 minutes of silence. Then we spend time afterwards going around the circle and we pass a stone. We take turns and we share what responses we had to the meditation that morning.
Sarah: What initiated this, why did you see the need for this? Was it a vision that a meditation group would bring your community together?
Carol: Oh No! My motivation was that a meditation group would help me meditate! I needed support. I needed the group support. And that's why I did it. I had thought of this for maybe six months because I was going to the Monday night meditation group at the Unitarian Church and they kept saying, “practice every day” and I just wasn't doing it. I thought about it, and was going to do it, but I didn't do it. Then I went up to Sravasti Abbey for the New Year's retreat. I came home on January 1st and went upstairs and typed out this little half sheet of paper on my computer. The weather was good, so I went outside and passed them around to my neighbors that very day and said, “It starts tomorrow.” There wasn't any room to change my mind.
When I went around to my neighbors, I was astounded at how polite people were, how friendly. Many of them said, well, I can't come because I work, but I love this idea. The next day 11 people showed up and I was just flabbergasted.
Sarah: Did you know all of them?
Carol: No. No. I didn't know them at all. I’d gone to some “meet your neighbors” and I knew them to some degree, but not very much. Not the degree I do now. Some of them couldn’t keep coming to meditation because of jobs transfers—they moved away, this and that, you know. Some said, “I already have a meditation practice, so I'm not interested.” It astounded me, frankly, how many had a practice and were already committed and had their routine.
The rest of us were all floundering and just learning. It was just the start of me belonging here. I had tried various things for 17 years—I have gone to neighborhood meetings up the Yin Yang and I've been working on neighborhood projects and I still do all that. I've had a lot of adversarial situations around my shared driveway and I have 17 rentals in a circle around my house, closer than most people have to their closest neighbors. I've had every, almost (I haven't had any murders), just about every situation to deal with, more than I could have imagined.
Sarah: Do your renters come to your group?
Carol: They're always invited, and some come. Some don't.
Sarah: I'm going to ask you again, what does community mean to you now? I hear you say that it means a sense of belonging, but what else?
Carol: It means mutuality. I help you. You help me. And even if we don't call each other for help, we have a sense that there is someone we can call. I notice this at cohousing as well. I think people enjoy contributing when they know how to contribute. I get a lot of positive feedback for the meditation group. I'm not living in isolation. Even if some come just for Friday mornings because we do treats. We usually have a few more people on Fridays, and most people admit, eventually, that they come on Fridays for connecting with neighbors, not for the meditation.
I really never know who's going to show up. It’s taught me some trust and patience and self-acceptance. I've just gotten a lot of positive feedback and appreciation and…love. Really. I mean we have such an assorted group. I would say my best friend in the group is an ex-heroin addict who lives on disability. I was afraid of her. She was afraid of me. Now I think she might be the kindest, most sensitive person I’ve ever encountered. When I was passing out papers that January day, I just thought, well, I guess I'll give her one. And I did. I thought she’d never come. But she came and I played this “Welcome to the New Year” meditation, all our welcome here, regardless of religion, regardless or sexual orientation. She kept coming back and she invited other neighbors. And this Mormon woman, who I just love dearly, blew my stereotype of Mormonism.
Sarah: Has anyone had to go through some really, hard personal stuff during the time you’ve been together and talked?
Carol: Not yet. Not yet.
Sarah: Can you see how what you’ve learned might carry over to cohousing?
Carol: Oh, absolutely. There are people that are interested in getting together in many different ways, and I'm assuming there will be people who have their own meditation practices at cohousing but others who might like to explore it with me. I will certainly be offering it in cohousing and hopefully some of my neighbors here might come over there, and some of the neighbors around our project may also come. It won't just be co-housing, it'll be a little broader community event daily.
Sarah: Well, you have a daughter, a son-in-law and a son involved in Haystack Heights cohousing. Why did you make the jump into co-housing as well?
Carol: I read in the newspaper that I'm going to be living at Haystack Heights.
Sarah: Is that really how you ended up with us? Otherwise, your previous plan had been to age in place here? Oh, please tell us the story!
Carol: I was never going to leave my home. I mean, I was considering co-housing because my daughter was involved, but I really hadn't decided until I read it in the Spokesman Review and people kept coming up to me at church: “So when are you moving in with your daughter?”
Sarah: I’m assuming it was an article in the Spokesman that featured your daughter, Mariah!
Carol: Yes. So, then I decided I would try it and get to know more people. I think a turning point for me was going to Portland to the National Co-housing Conference with our group. I noticed every time I saw somebody from Spokane cohousing, I just felt elated and it was like seeing a long-lost family member. It was so fun, and I thought, wow, I am more interested in this and committed than I thought! And when I saw all the different ways that people do co-housing and all the possibilities and all the joys and all the perils and pitfalls, it just seemed like a grand new adventure. And that's when I really got hooked, thinking of it as an adventure in life, and fully living while I'm alive.
We now have pretty firm unit pricing that we have communicated to members for feedback. As this is happening, we are also working on clarifying the process for unit selection. The Process Team needs to do some small tweaks, but we are looking at having an on-site meeting on August 3rd or 4th (stay tuned for a Doodle poll on specific dates) so that people can get a concrete sense of building placement. We anticipate that we can make final unit selection at the next LLC pot luck and meeting on Friday, August 9. We encourage you to be at the pot luck promptly so that you can make your unit selection.
UD+P has pre-applications out to potential lenders for the project, so that aspect of finance is also moving forward. Katie McCammant, our cohousing consultant, is creating an investor template for private investors. We are awaiting some additional information from the lending institutions and then we will be ready to move forward with the investor package.
As a regular feature in our monthly newsletter and blog posts, we are going to highlight some of the rich experience, talents and skills of our members. Cohousing tends to be a magnet for bringing together people intent on improving the world around them through a variety of ways. Be on the lookout: we’ll have plenty of community voices to share with you in the future. Sarah Conover was the interviewer.
Sarah: I happen to know that you grew up in a large family, so let’s start with that—your very first community and what you learned about community in that context.
Michaele: I grew up in southern California desert in a very rural area, a really small town called Pear Blossom. Nobody's ever heard of it, but it was on the main road at that time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. My parents ran a gas station and right next door was the old motel that had been associated with the gas station. We lived in it—the bedrooms were upstairs, four bedrooms numbered one, two, three, four. So that's where I was raised, and I had ten siblings. We were a big Catholic family.
Highlights of my childhood were a strong sense of community instilled by my father. I have few memories of my mother before my father died because he was a very dominant personality. I think we children learned a lot about caring for each other and that the group always comes first. Others come first before you. That was a big, big part of our teaching. The downside of that was that others came first, right? So, it was definitely two sides of the same coin! I remember having no sense of private property as a child—you are a kind of defacto communist. Everybody shares everything. But the other side of that is a child gained no idea of, or respect for, what it's like to have a treasure, something that can't be taken away from you. I would say that in almost everything in our little family community, the upside and the downside went together.
Sarah: What do you remember from that period that you took forward into life later?
Michaele: I would say that the other huge community influence from my childhood was that I was raised five miles from a Benedictine monastery. Unlike many Catholic families who went to parish churches, I went to this monastery for mass every Sunday. And I think that was a huge influence in terms of, again, another communal model. This monastery influenced a lot of my early formation around what community is and isn't—values and spirituality and all those other things that go along with that influence.
Sarah: Can you say a little bit more about what community is and isn't and what you saw that you took to heart?
Michaele: Well, community isn't perfect.
Sarah: Oh, that might be a good place for us all to start with in terms of expectations in cohousing.
Michaele: Community isn't perfect. It isn't always good at balancing conflicting values. So that can become quite difficult. Especially as a teen where hypocrisy is so huge and your radar for hypocrisy is on all the time—I was very aware of that piece. I remember in eighth grade, those of us who had good grades had the honor of cleaning the convent for the nuns. And I'm dusting things and vacuuming the floors. In those days, the nuns had this beautiful Hifi stereo. I did not have new clothes until I could buy them myself when I had a job. So, the hypocrisy of these people who took vows of poverty and lived in a way that certainly I didn't, and most people I knew didn't, those things got to me. You have communities that have vows or certain commitments and then you sometimes see them not live up to them. Now I have a much kinder disposition about that sort of thing because I know my own hypocrisy. I'm a grown up. So I would say mostly that community is imperfect and that's okay.
Sarah: And from your story, it sounds like what we're really saying is people aren't perfect.
Michaele: Exactly. Well, people are community, right? A collaboration of people. We can keep our expectations; we can have expectations. It's just learning to be kind with ourselves and others when we’re disappointed. I think we're going to have disappointments and we’ll work through them. And hopefully, with as much honesty and integrity as you can, honesty about your experience.
Sarah: You graduated from high school and went on to college?
Michaele: I went to school at Loyola Marymount, which was a Jesuit University.
Sarah: Then I heard that you got involved in the Catholic Worker movement.
Michaele: Yes, the Catholic Worker that was started in the 1930s by Dorothy Day. She converted to Catholicism and was most drawn in by the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church. They opened up soup kitchens during the Depression and houses of hospitality. I think I got quite radicalized social-justice wise in that community. The seeds were already there, but, you know, that those were the days of protests and and the occasional arrest and those sorts of things.
Sarah: Where were you living?
Michaele: In Los Angeles. I can't remember why I went to the Worker movement, but I showed up and we got three bucks a week and a place to live and food. Room and board and three bucks a week, which we all spent on beer. It was really pretty fun. The cool thing about being in the Catholic Worker movement was that we got to visit a lot of different Catholic workers and they weren't all the same.
Sarah: What did you do specifically in your job?
Michaele: We ran a soup kitchen. You cooked and served. In the summer it might be 300 meals a day. In the winter it was over 1,000 meals a day and it was every day except for Sunday. Every day we served coffee and bread in the morning and then a meal around noon or one. You got up at six and you were working all day and then after work you were putting up the newspaper or you were organizing a demonstration.
Sarah: So, you were there for two years, and then what was the next community thing you did?
Michale: Then I moved up here. I just needed to get out of LA. And I had a sister who lived here, my sister Mary, who in my growing up family was probably the closest thing to a nurturer I had as my mother was so busy after my father died. Some friends from Catholic Workers moved up here and I wanted to start at another house of hospitality. When I grew up, my parents literally were always taking in waifs. If someone came through the gas station down on their luck, or needed a place, my father welcomed them. Now, once he died, that happened somewhat less, although if my sisters met someone at school who was bounced from foster care to foster care, they were brought into our home. In some ways, starting a hospitality house was in my blood. I did that in Spokane for some years. I got involved at St. Anne’s Church in Spokane, and met my husband, Mark Iverson. Eventually, I went back to school and got my pastoral ministry degree and I became a pastoral minister at that church, one of the roles lay people could have in the church. I worked there for six years.
Sarah: And what was your learning from that?
Michaele: That's a really good question. I love the people, you know. It was very good experience of community but maybe that's not always enough. Community's not everything. After my mother died, I had this visceral experience that nothing could catch me or hold me. I just fell into an abyss. Community wasn’t enough. I shouldn't say it's not enough. It's not everything. It's not going to be everything for you.
Sarah: How did that experience then shape your trajectory?
Michael: I left the church and I got my counseling degree. I had wanted to be a counselor in my twenties, so I became a therapist and loved it. I think I was born for it.
Sarah: Now your kids are gone, did you think you and Mark would just age here in this house?
Michaele: I don't know if we thought about it much! We had been thinking and talking about a retirement cohousing community. So that kind of preceded our encounter with Haystack Heights and then we ran into you at a retreat and had also read about Haystack Heights. It was kind of in the back of our minds. And then it was sort of realizing how nice it would be to not have to create this from ground zero! Especially after being in this project for a year and seeing how much work has been done and continues to be done. We really love the people. We really do.
Sarah: Have you had doubts?
Michaele: Yeah—doubts do come up but I have to say that for us, every time we're working with the Haystack community it feels okay and right. At the end of our last Haystack LLC meeting, Doug, the facilitator, asked, “What feeds your heart in cohousing?” and I said: involvement. Every time I'm more deeply involved it really feeds me. That's the energy that happens and I can recognize it. It can be anything—like gardening (which I don’t usually like), yet I love going there and working with people in our garden. Whatever it is, even if I don't like it, such as anything to do with marketing. But at the Women’s March I was at our booth and it was fine and fun because there are other cohousers there with you. It was really fun. So, anything I do, it's not the specific task, it's being with our community. It makes every task kind of lovely and changes everything. Involvement sustains me.
On the first weekend of June, twenty-two cohousers from Haystack Heights attended the National Cohousing Conference in Portland, Oregon. It was a sold-out event that also offered two pre-conference days (if a very full weekend wasn’t already enough to fill hearts and minds). From the feedback of our group, plenty was gleaned from speakers, workshops and tours of the cohousing communities in Portland.
The theme of this year’s conference was Community For The Health Of It, highlighting cohousing as an antidote to the epidemic of loneliness here in the US and abroad. Helen Jarvis, whose research was one of many bundled into the United Kingdom’s appointment of a Minister of Loneliness in 2018, was the opening speaker. Learning and workshop tracks were available for all stages of cohousing from planning a cohousing to issues relevant to already mature communities.
Many “Haystackers” participated in one or more of the workshops on conflict, power, leadership, and facilitation. Laird Schaub, who has lived in an intentional community for forty-one years and is Executive Secretary of the Foundation for Intentional Community, was a favorite among all. Some of the take-aways from his presentations were: a community needs to have a system to deal with feelings in order to acknowledge and defuse conflict; leaders need support and self-evaluation tools and term limits need to be in place; a community needs to continue to build an evolving shared vision so that later-joiners do not feel like 2nd-class citizens; communities should schedule a retreat away from their home yearly to help one and all recommit to the group’s values. Some Haystackers attended forums on diversity, classism and racism. One takeaway from those forums is that these issues should be transparent, and ongoing discussions should provide a safe space for everyone to be heard.
Our group learned some practical tips such as the use of a web-based subscription service software called “Gather” to organize internal jobs and more; people are quite happy with induction stoves; rainwater collection is a good idea; experiments are in process at some cohousings for work equity for those unable to put in their time; cohousing communities need to have a line-item budget for on-going workshops and speakers to maintain community harmony.
Abbey Roose, on our Construction Interface Team, said that the conference organizers allowed plenty of time for coffee breaks and networking. She says that it was almost impossible not to meet people getting from one session to the next. From meeting so many fabulous and enthusiastic cohousers (and a very full plate of offerings starting at 6am yoga, ten sessions each morning and each afternoon to choose from as well as keynote speeches), she came away with a rosy glow.
Watch Grace Kim’s Ted Talk on Loneliness. Ms. Kim co-chaired the 2019 cohousing conference.
Read the full article, including an interview with Haystack Heights co-founder Mariah McKay, here
By Doug Robnett, Haystack Heights Member and CIT (Construction Interface Team) Member
On Monday members of the CIT Team met with our architect, Charles Durrett; UD & P Development Manager, Leslie Louis; a representative from our contractor, Yost Gallagher; and a variety of engineers in a marathon day. UD&P is pushing hard to move the project along, so lots was accomplished.
This was with our Civil engineer, Scott. Molly Phillips and Abby Roose on the CIT Team were present to take it all in. This is a critical front at this time as we really need to make the outdoor space not just work in terms of ADA accessibility, water mitigation, etc., but it also needs to be a beautiful and a functional living space that connects and transitions with the buildings. Most of the basic structural elements are in place. The details need to be worked out. Now we move forward with making sure we maximize the opportunity the redesign has provided (more green space) to make places where we can play outside, and which emphasize the aesthetics.
Afternoon Meeting #1
We met with Cory who did the original design on the district heating system (a network of insulated pipes from a central or building-by-building location) to provide radiant floor heating. The plan is to price out the units using some form of electric heat (not you parents’ baseboard!) and tasking Cory to design the two systems. One is a revised district heating system that may be more feasible now that the buildings are closer together. The other is to find a place in each building (architect magic) where we could put a boiler. This would allow radiant heat in the floors at least on-grade in B and C units and in each A unit. We will get the delta (which I now know is the difference in price between the electric and boiler systems) and bring it to the community for a decision.
Afternoon Meeting #2 - Sprinkler Designer
Who knew this would be such a thrilling topic? We met with the sprinkler designer. He was really happy that we are talking with him at this point in the design. Lots of money to be saved if we can connect into the domestic water supply instead of running dedicated water lines (that is usually is the default). Chuck is going to have to figure out how to use the Special Theory of Relativity to make space inside the walls larger that the space outside the walls, but he seems up to the challenge. This was a very positive meeting.
Afternoon Meeting #3 - Structural Engineers and Framers
Another thrilling meeting to end the day! Lots of in the sticky details such as type of sheeting and what to do with rafter tails. Leslie is really good at always pushing for ways to do things that don’t compromise quality but push prices down. Probably the most significant change is that they are going to design the B and C units to be able to structurally handle gypsum on the second floors, so if we go to radiant heat we don’t need to redo the engineering. The team was quite impressive in terms of knowledge and commitment to cost discipline.
There will be another meeting next week on the 28th with Leslie, Chuck, Yost Gallagher, and engineers. Timelines are tight and Leslie is pushing hard so stay tuned!
As a regular feature in our monthly newsletter and blog posts, we are going to highlight some of the rich experience, talents and skills of our members. Cohousing tends to be a magnet for bringing together people intent on improving the world around them through a variety of ways, so we’ll have plenty to share with you in the future. In this vein, we happen to have (at least) two experts in the arena of community building who also happen to be married to one another: Bob Stilger and Susan Virnig. Bob is the founder and president of the nonprofit, NewStories, launched in 2000 because it seemed pretty obvious to Bob that we needed new stories about how to live well on this planet. “What do we do when the future we thought was before us disappears?” is a guiding question for his work. Bob’s book, AfterNow: When We Cannot See the Future, Where Do We Begin? published in 2017, is available at www.AfterNow.Today and on Amazon. It is “an invitation to go ahead and create the lives and communities we want - NOW.” We thought starting with Bob, drawing on his many years of community facilitation, would offer us all important insights into successful community cultivation. Sarah Conover was the interviewer.
Sarah: What is your “elevator speech" when you describe your work to someone?
Bob: I help people remember how to listen to each other, to trust one another, and to co-create new possibilities in a rapidly changing world.
Sarah: Do you consider your skills to be that of a community organizer or something different?
Bob: I am a witness, a steward of knowledge, a host of generative conversation and a guy making my way, one step at a time.
Sarah: How would you define “community?”
Bob: Community is a nested system. I am community. We are community. The larger world around us is community. We are distinct and we are inseparable. We are one and we are many.
Sarah: What are your educational degrees vis a vis community building?
Bob: I have a PhD in “Learning and Change in Human Systems” from the California Institute of Integral Stories. My deepest learning, however, has come from literally thousands of conversations with people around our little planet who are discovering how to make a difference that makes a difference.
Sarah: What got you interested in community building and process? What life experiences?
Bob: People got me interested in community building. This sea of difference we call humanity which, at is core, is often the same. When I was ten, I started work for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland and I worked there until I was twenty-five. Science was our focus; community was our ground.
Sarah: Can you give us some examples in which you’ve played this role in the past? Presently?
Bob: I am involved in many things. They range from co-hosting an annual learning journey to Fukushima for Japanese people, to being part of the facilitation team for a global first people’s gathering on climate-forced displacement. I am working in the fire disaster areas of Northern California to pioneer regenerative approaches after disaster. I am in constant dialogue with amazing people everywhere on our planet as we find a way forward in a time of disaster, collapse and possible extinction.
Sarah: Can you give us some specific anecdotes and examples of successful community building from a few of these experiences?
Bob: One of my favorite hidden stories is the story of Onagawa, Japan. A beautiful fishing village of 10,000 people in NE Japan that was totally destroyed in the March 11, 2011 tsunami. They have managed to reframe it as a once in a thousand-year opportunity and come-together to create a new vision for how they will live together, keeping beauty and safety at the center. You can read more about it in Chapter 9 of my book - AfterNow: When We Cannot See the Future, Where Do We Begin?
Sarah: Can you give us some ideas of what frays a community’s strength?
Bob: Lack of listening, lack of trust, a rush to get things done, and putting off the hard conversations for another day. Community takes time. You can spend it building community, or you can spend it dealing with the fallout.
Sarah: What are some of the obstacles communities like ours—a new community—can expect to run into?
Bob: Too much to do and too little time. A shirking away from the obstacles. A loss of a sense of humor. An insistence on certainty when uncertainty and ambiguity are the rules of the day.
Sarah: What are some basic ground rules for a healthy community, and how does a community hold itself to these rules?
Bob: For me it is more about principles and values rather than rules. Principles and values that are returned to when things get rough, as they always will. Values that I invite into the center of any community — be it the temporary community of a workshop or gathering or the long term place-based community — are respect, curiosity and generosity.
Sarah: Can you speak a little about “trust” in maintaining a healthy community? What does that word mean to you in this context?
Bob: Trust is something that grows over time. What’s most important is having enough trust to take the next step, and the next. Trust is not an absolute or a universal, it comes in parts and pieces at first. It is essential in building community, but not monolithic. Within our community it is often most present in different groups who find enough trust there to have a willingness to trust the whole.
Sarah: Can you speak a bit about the human need for “belonging” and how that plays into a community’s vibrancy?
Bob: A sense of “I belong here” is the core of any community. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of Beloved Community which is, at its core, a community of belonging. It is the sense of all of who I am is welcome here.
Sarah: How have you facilitated both trust and belonging in your work with groups?
Bob: I work a lot with people’s stories, inviting vulnerability and intimacy. I avoid ice breakers—the ice is fine, thank you very much — and invite people into the conversations and explorations of what their hearts yearn for.
Sarah: What’s a counter-intuitive aspect of community building that no one would have expected? Can you give an example? For instance, our son told us that if a person moves into a new neighborhood, they will connect to neighbors much more readily if they ask them for a favor because people like to be generous and it opens something between them.
Bob: One of the tribes of Vancouver Island has a core principle in their worldview: “It is unkind not to ask for help.” I guess I don’t really have a sense of what is counter-intuitive. In some ways, I don’t have much perspective here.
Sarah: Is there anything important about community building I didn’t get at with these questions, and if so, what?
Bob: We just need enough — enough clarity, enough trust, enough confusion, enough of a sense of direction. We make the path by walking it, one step at a time. We each need to discover what we will stand for and then find enough courage and clarity to step into the unknown. We need each other. We are not alone.
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