Lilac Cohousing - Leeds

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Andre Pusey and Paul Chatterton on Creating a co-operative urban commons:

"Lilac is a cooperative cohousing project in Leeds in the North of England, whichc omprises 20 homes based around the central common house, all constructed from strawbales timber. Lilac can give is insights into the functioning of the urban commons on three levels - the institutional, the interpersonal and the spatial. At the institutional level, Lilac is legally a cooperative society, which exists for the benefit of its members. This kind of legal form embeds the idea of mutualism. Mutualism is a rich historical traditionen meshed in the 19th century philosophical that states that the association that emerges from interdependence can be beneficial and increase wellbeing. As a doctrine, it outline show people can conduct relationships based on free and equal contracts of reciprocal exchange. It is based on a passionate desire for people to govern themselves and not have authority imposed upon them. From the nineteenth century onwards through a strong cooperative movement, mutualism provided a strong intellectual bulwark against the rampant individualism of the fast-expanding free-market capitalist economy. For Lilac, this legal co-operative framework creates fertile ground for creating practices of commoning and identities as commoners. One particularly notable strand is the use ofdeliberative democracy to ensure that everyone has a voice and decisions are made equally between members. Consensually made ‘community agreements’ are used in areas of community life in the Lilac such as use of shared spaces, food and pets. Members contribute to the self-management of Lilac through various task teams ranging from landscape and food to finance maintenance, while a governing board made up of voluntary participating members overseas the legal and financial aspects.

The second level that we can explore Lilac as an urban commons are through the kinds of interpersonal relations that it promotes. A significant focus of Lilac is on building a strongsense of community and interpersonal ties. In Lilac, residents have a different relationshipto their housing tenure. Rather than being owner occupiers of private property, residents inLilac are members of a co-operative society and lease their homes after paying a member charge set at one third of their net monthly income. Through this regular payment, members can accrue equity in their housing. But the key difference is that the value of thisequity is linked to national earnings rather than average house prices. Therefore, housing in Lilac is not a speculative commodity that can be bought and sold, according to the vagariesof market conditions. Instead, it remains affordable in perpetuity for future generations. This is a significant shift, as it adds up to a housing commons to increased stability in localhousing markets and reducing tendencies towards volatile casino-like local economies. While money certainly does still circulate within Lilac and the project does depend onmuch debt financing, it has attempted to embed less marketised forms of financial and social interactions.

The third aspect of Lilac as an urban commons is the physical layout. What we see in Lilac is a fascinating interplay between private, public and common spaces. One of the key principles of cohousing projects is to combine private self-contained homes with shared spaces. Residents have to continually negotiate the boundaries between the private and theshared as they navigate through their daily lives. One aspects of this negotiation relates to openness and availability in public spaces. The site has been designed to increase natural surveillance and neighbourly encounters, and therefore residents have to set their own boundaries and tactics for moderating levels of interaction with residents and others who might visit the project. Moreover, the boundary of the site represents the gateway to the broader public realm and here access with the general public has to be mediated. While thegrounds of Lilac are private, the general public and not discouraged from entering, which blurs a traditional boundary between public and private, and sets it apart from the rapid growth of privatised housing estates. While Lilac has not fully resolved this issue, there is a greater desire to allow the housing community to be open to the public to reduce concerns about becoming a gated community. What this raises is a key question a further exploration in terms of how each commons mediates its own boundaries between public and private and shared." (