Class-Harmony and Cofamily Community at the Dry Gulch Ecovillage

The School of Intentioneering • A. Allen Butcher • • Denver, CO • January 22, 2019

Merry Meet! I am founder of the Dry Gulch Ecovillage, a 4-unit apartment building in Denver, Colorado. In 2007 I purchased this property from a slumlord and have been improving the property ever since to save it from dereliction, and to make it instead into a nice place for people to live.

DGEcovillage’s location is especially good for non-auto travel, given the light-rail train line (going to various downtowns in the area, and on to the airport), bus line, and bicycle route just a block away. Train and bike trail run down the middle of the Dry Gulch to the Platte River.

Besides turning some of the lawns into gardens, the most ecological things we’ve done are to make this building much more energy efficient, with new windows, insulation, and a new super-efficient gas furnace. Hopefully soon I can afford to have solar panels installed.

For me the “ecovillage” idea involves not only the physical yet also the social environment, and it is the latter that is now my focus, having gotten much of the remodeling and updating done. Resident turn-over here at the DGEcovillage has evolved to where we have a good crew of people who are becoming more community-mindful. People come here looking for housing, then when they get here I emphasize the community aspect as a lifestyle amenity, helping to make the property safer, healthier, more productive (veggies and fruit), more beautiful, and more fun and inviting for social activities.

The question is just what kind of “community” is this? There are lots of developers creating “apartment communities” in which it can be hard to see much in the way of a community. While people, like myself having lived twelve years in communal society, generally tend to think that a property owned by one person can hardly be what we think of as a “community,” the fact is that about 15 percent of the U.S. listings in the print version of the 2010 “Communities Directory,” published by the Fellowship for Intentional Community, state that the property is owned by one person! Compare this with 10 to 12 percent identified in the directory as communal societies.

Since people generally do not see a property owned by one person as a “community,” we have been blind to this form of community while it has been hiding in plain sight. To help awaken people to this model of community I have given it a name: “class-harmony community.” This refers to the economic classes of property owner (capitalist class) and tenants (the renting classes: poor, working, or lower-middle class) living in harmony, as opposed to the Marxist-communist concept of class-conflict.

In the fall 2017 issue of “Communities” magazine (#176) a study of the 2016 “Directory” showed that a category of communities called “Shared House/Cohousehold/Coliving” totaled 31 percent (pp. 15-19). All three of these forms of community can be called “class-harmony,” and it is amazing that this is about twice the number found in the 2010 “Directory!” Evidently the number of class-harmony communities is growing, which suggests that advocating this form of intentional community could be very successful in attracting funding from people who want community yet who may not be ready to donate their wealth to a community. Over time a class-harmony community could transition to a community land trust, a cohousing community, a housing cooperative, or something else.

In that same 176th issue of “C” mag., in the article by Sky Blue and Betsy Morris titled, “Tracking the Communities Movement: 70 Years of History and the Modern FIC” the authors state that about 26 percent of the 2016 listings are of groups using the term “ecovillage.” My analysis of the 2010 “Directory” shows only 5 percent of the listings using the term, so the growth of the ecovillage movement in just six years as reflected in the directories is impressive! At the same time, other groups like Twin Oaks Community which earlier called itself an “ecovillage” no longer does so in its directory listing (although the term “ecology” does appear in its description). I will be doing a statistical analysis of the 2016 “Directory” listings later in 2019 to clarify and be more certain of these numbers.

Fortunately for us, property values and rents have climbed so high in Denver over recent years (property values doubled in five years, thanks to legal recreational marijuana!) that I have been able to grant rent discounts from the market-rate to all DGEcovillage residents according to their income level and how much they help with construction, maintenance, gardening, and such. I help residents in a number of other ways as well, from requiring low deposits, to loaning tools and storage space to one person who is starting a small construction business, and to another person doing furniture refinishing, to help my tenants make money to pay their rent.

I also practice “inclusionary housing” which means that I offer a couple sub-standard living spaces (a room in the Shop and an RV in the parking lot) providing heat and electricity yet no water, for which they must come to my or someone else’s unit for kitchen and bath facilities. So my rent discounts range from 20 to 50 percent for the apartments, and for the sub-standard spaces about 60 to 70 percent off the market-rate for a single room in a house or apartment.

Another aspect of the “social ecology” of DGEcovillage is a concept I am calling the “cofamily.” Unlike the term “cohousing” which is a specific legal and financial design, the “co” in cofamily refers to any of a number of different forms of intentional community, including: cooperative, collective, convoluted, communal, complicated, or any similar term other than consanguineous. I am using this term in my analysis of the “Communities Directory” for groups of from three to nine adults, in any type of community. Cofamily is a form of intentional community with fewer than ten adults and however many children. The unspecified form of community in cofamilies is helpful because small groups often change their structures over time, and so simply calling them a “cofamily” respects their shape-shifting.

Further, the term “cofamily” extends the list of types of families, adding to the common forms of single-parent family, nuclear family, extended family, and blended family, another form of family which is not based upon blood relations or marriage, instead upon the commitment of unrelated people to live together. Creating cofamily community is a method for replacing patriarchal culture with partnership, emphasizing mutual respect or equality-of-the-genders, although not in all cases. While a cofamily can be patriarchal, the egalitarian form may be emphasized.

Not all of us at the DGEcovillage are committed to the concepts of class-harmony, cofamily, and ecovillage, yet we are a community-in-the-making. To extend these ideas into the dominant culture I have begun planning to create a religion upholding these concepts, which I am calling “Partnership Spirituality.” In time, then, the DGEcovillage may add “spiritual community” to its identity. Blessed Be!


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