USA: 'Ganas' Brings Cooperative Housing to New York (1995)

  ------------------------------------------------------------
   This document has been made available in electronic format
           by the International Co-operative Alliance.
  ------------------------------------------------------------

   Inter-Press Service (IPS) Wire Reports on Co-operatives

    --------------------------------------------------
      'Ganas' Brings Cooperative Housing to New York
    --------------------------------------------------
                      Farhan Haq

New York (IPS) ) For some New Yorkers, 'cooperative housing' is
simply a group pooling its resources to obtain affordable living
conditions. But for the more than 80 people participating in
Staten Island's 'Ganas' cooperative, the ultimate goal is a huge
community where people share and debate virtually all their
experiences.

"It's a very, very large family," Ganas co-founder Mildred Gordon
says of the cooperative. "One Chinese fellow who sees us simply
calls us 'the big American family'."

The half-dozen people who founded Ganas merely wanted to find a
place to live together since they were very close friends, Gordon
said. After moving around through New York, Arizona and
California, they settled in 1980 in Staten Island, the most
pastoral of New York City's five boroughs.

"We just liked each other a lot, so we moved in together," Gordon
says.

Now, the group has swelled into what its participants call an
"intentional community". That community includes 12 houses and
four cooperative stores, where members recycle goods and sell
arts, crafts, jewelry, books and records.

The profits from the cooperatives' stores, including the
15-year-old Every Thing Goes store, are shared among Ganas
members, Gordon says. Members also can choose to share their
income, although only a third of the current membership has
chosen to do so.

Other members simply choose to live in the community while
maintaining separate incomes and outside jobs, paying some 400
to 500 U.S. dollars a month for room and board.

The stores and the housing are all run on the same principles:
members contribute what they can, although they participate only
to the extent that they feel comfortable.

At the same time, they share common living quarters and common
meals provided at four kitchens. Gordon says the community is
modeled on Israeli kibbutzes, except for a greater degree of
closeness due to shared living quarters.

Members of a Ganas 'core group' live even more closely,
conducting discussion sessions in what the group's founders call
Feedback Learning.

In an article in the Spring 1995 issues of 'Communities'
magazine, Gordon described Feedback Learning as an "indispensable
day-to-day guiding experience" in which members of the community
provide feedback - helpful criticism - to each other.

Through daily discussions of every community member's behaviour,
she wrote, members can learn about themselves and their
motivations, gain from hearing unpleasant truths, and "accept
negative information with the excitement of discovery."

Only members comfortable with that process engage in Feedback
Therapy, while others are free simply to go about their lives and
jobs and share expenses and duties with the other Ganas members.

But the unusual aspects of Feedback Learning have sometimes
caused outsiders to question whether Ganas is a cult.

"First we thought they were Moonies," neighbour Diana Turner told
The Village Voice a year ago. "They're a very odd group, very
transient. Oh, every time I see them, my ire goes up."

Gordon denies the group is a cult like the People's Unification
Church of South Korea's Rev. Sun Myung Moon, dubbed "the
Moonies." Nor has the U.S. Cult Awareness Network received any
complaints about Ganas, according to experts there.

Rather, the only problem former Ganas members ever describe is
the large time commitment of so much community interaction. For
some former members, marking off more private time or obtaining
more space for family needs meant leaving the cooperative.

But many more members - even those who leave after a few years
- describe Ganas as a valuable community.

The Ganas collective has brought together peoples from around the
world, including Russians and Eastern Europeans, Indians and
Pakistanis, Latin Americans and Spaniards. The name for the
community itself comes from the Spanish word for motivation.

The group also provides learning projects and workshops,
including courses in English as a Second Language (ESL), a
standard U.S. language programme. Gordon says Ganas is also
planning to run a summer learning centre at a small hotel in the
Catskills Mountains, a popular New York resort.

The growth of "intentional communities" throughout the nation has
mirrored Ganas's rapid expansion. A Directory of Intentional
Communities says there are now 500 such entities in the United
States, as well as some 50 more in other countries.

Gordon says many of these groups have a religious or spiritual
basis, although she says Ganas does not include itself among
them.

Some observers trace the new intentional communities back to the
socialist living experiments of the 1800s, when many small
collective communities sprang up in the United States.

Ken Norwood, founder of the Shared Living Resource Centre in
Berkeley, California, says that such communities are bound by a
common ideology. At a time of smaller families and households,
he says, there is a resurgent interest in a larger, more communal
way of life.

Gordon agrees that there is a "phenomenal" desire for groups of
people to share their experiences together. She also chalks up
Ganas's success to its limited rules. Save for restrictions
against violence and drugs, she says, people in her community are
free to live, and to come and go, as they want.

Ganas, she says, proves that "it's possible for very different
people to get along on a daily basis."   

                                       September, 1995