Creating a Life Together, by Diana Leafe Christian

Invaluable wisdom for community projects

This book is a must for anyone wanting to set up or join any kind of residential community, such as a cohousing group or back-to-the-land settlement. The author was editor of Communities magazine in the US for many years, and lives in a delightful ecovillage which I’ve visited. There are loads of books about community creation, but this stands out for its depth of experience and clarity of insights. It’s also very relevant for most kinds of community projects, not just residential.

You’ll probably be gripped from page one: the first chapter is called The Successful Ten Per Cent – and why Ninety Per Cent Fail. Diana gives a wonderfully clear exposition of what can make the difference, and the whole book is full of excellent, informative case studies. In Chapter 1 she describes the issue of ‘Structural Conflict’, and six ways to avoid it, including an agreed decision process that you all train in. She also urges projects to select new members on a basis of emotional maturity, which I’d strongly endorse.

The book has several chapters to guide you through the foundational stages, covering topics like recruiting members, vision documents, and handling power differentials between people. In my community projects, I’ve often found that money is a blind spot and a very emotive issue for many people, and Diana covers this well, including the vital issue of how residents cover their living costs.

Some of the details on topics like legal structures and planning regulations will be different in the UK from the US context of this book, but even here, many of the principles are valid. The section on site layout to create both togetherness and privacy is very insightful.

The last section of the book is called Thriving in Community – Enriching the Soil. It includes some brilliant advice on group dynamics: for example, she writes of ’emotionally-charged needs’ at the root of conflicts. Don’t be put off by her list of 24 common sources of community conflict: she also has excellent advice on ways to handle and grow through conflict.

The last chapter is all about selecting people to join a residential community. Talk of selection may feel uncomfortable, but I share her view that it’s absolutely crucial. Having a clear process helps, and she has a whole section on ‘Dealing well with saying no’.

Creating a Life Together has been indispensable in the two cohousing communities I’ve set up, and I hope it helps your community adventures too. If you web-search Diana Leafe Christian, you’ll also find her YouTube videos and online seminars.