Social sustainability has always been equal and complementary to the environmental goals at Earthsong, as articulated in the second of the three aims in our Vision Statement:
To develop and foster a living environment which uses clear communication, decision-making and conflict resolution guidelines that promote tolerance, safety, respect and co-operation.
A key concept from the beginning has been the balancing of the needs of the individual and the community to enable both to flourish. This has been incorporated in all aspects of the project, from house and site design to ownership structure and decision-making.
Robust social infrastructure, though less visible than the green architecture, site design and permaculture for which Earthsong is more widely known, continues to underpin the neighbourhood. Alignment to a strong shared vision and clear group agreements have been key elements in achieving the development of Earthsong, and continue to provide the bedrock of our ongoing community life.
Having clarity around membership has been an important part of that social infrastructure. Especially during the establishment phase, it was crucially important to know that those participating in consensus decision-making were aligned with the vision and committed to the project's success.
Our membership process is designed to ensure that an individual fully understands the vision and agreements of the group before choosing to become a member. It includes being assigned a "buddy" to answer their many questions, attending two or more Full Group meetings as an observer, doing some reading of Earthsong agreements and the Cohousing book, and attending social events and common dinners to meet other members. More information is available here.
A key step in this process is to sign our one-page membership document, the Initial Organising Agreement. A succinct, clear and easily understood legal document, the IOA defines the key elements of membership of the group, including the group's purpose, membership rights and responsibilities, and basic agreements about money and decision-making.
Having fulfilled the pre-requisites to membership, paid the $100 Associate membership fee and signed the IOA, a new member becomes a full and equal participant in consensus decision-making at Earthsong.
Full membership, achieved by paying a $2000 Full Membership contribution, denotes a higher level of commitment to Earthsong and is a pre-requisite to buying a house. In the rare case that consensus is not reached in important and urgent decisions, full members get voting rights in the 75% fallback voting process.
A significant aspect of our membership system is that we have never "selected" members; it is the individual's choice, not the group's, whether they become a member or not. Instead we have concentrated on building a robust culture and processes that can cope with a wide diversity of people and worldviews.
While our key membership and decision-making entity is the unincorporated body Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood, we also have a number of official entities that handle various aspects of our internal system and manage our relationships with the outside world.
The official development entity, formed in 1999 specifically to undertake the development of Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood, is a non-profit company called Cohousing New Zealand Ltd (CNZL). Shareholders are all full members of Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood. Cohousing Agreement.
Ownership of units within Earthsong is by Unit Title. Owners have individual unit title to their house and private yard, and shared ownership of the common house, common land and other shared facilities. All unit proprietors belong to the Earthsong Body Corporate, and pay annual Body Corporate levies to cover agreed common expenses. Body Corporate rules
The ongoing educational objectives are managed by the Earthsong Centre Trust, a charitable trust established in 2004, with trustees drawn from both unit owners of Earthsong and the wider community. The trust is co-owner of the common house with Earthsong unit owners.