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October 24, 2002 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2002-10-24

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The joys of cooperation

Nifty neighborhoods

The years I've spent in coopera-
tive housing have been the best of my
life. Like a dorm dweller, I've made
friends through the intense intimacy
resulting from close proximity. Like a
Greek, I've helped to host enormous,
exciting open houses as well as inti-
mate, in-house social functions. Like
a renter, I've performed duties that
make a residence not merely livable
but hospitable. A co-op has benefits
seemingly unique to each of these liv-
ing options, as well as one no other
housing alternative can boast: Mem-
bers own their co-ops. I define this
collective ownership and the resulting
economic democracy as socialism.
My co-op is the less than cheap, more
than fun, always educational living
experience of practical socialism.
I've been living in Robert Owen
Cooperative since Fall Term 2000.
Any generalizations I make about
co-op living apply only during the
Fall-Winter, and only to the Central
Campus houses governed by the
Inter-cooperative Council. The two
North Campus co-ops, the ICC man-
aged apartments, and the independ-
ent co-ops all offer experiences
different enough from mine that this
commentary doesn't apply. In a co-
op, a democratic power structure
oversees every job, from porch clean
to president. I've had to take sides in
countless arguments about house
and ICC politics. These struggle ses-
sions have broken the rosy lenses of
some of my idealistic friends, leav-
ing them almost as cynical about
collectivism as former Soviets. Their
disillusionment has biased my view
on the ICC's governance. Consider
these disclaimers as I discuss co-
operative life.
When I first moved into Owen, it
would have been impossible for me to
know all my housemates before my
lease went into effect. To avoid mov-
ing in almost blind, I focused my
myopic vision of membership by col-
lecting information. To make an
informed, educated decision, I asked
co-opers where they wished they'd
lived and chose my house according-
ly. As for the kinds of houses, a crude
comparison offers an unfair analogy:
There's socialism akin to Cuba or
socialism akin to Sweden.
A Cuban house provides a nice
place for wild parties, but the stan-
dard of living is relatively low and
the crime rate is relatively high. A
Swedish house provides a safe,
bountiful environment where people
still say, "Skoal!" but the waitlist for

residence is often long. If interested
in a more Scandinavian situation,
move quickly, as the nice houses fill
up the fastest. Bring this co-op-ed
piece to the ICC office on William
Street, show this paragraph to who-
ever's signing contracts, and ask for
directions to Stockholm. If looking
to live in Havana, sign a contract
only days before moving in, and ask
about the house named after what
Peter Fonda passes to Jack Nichol-
son in Easy Rider. The prospective
member chooses a community, and
the nature of a co-op's benefits and
the extent of a co-op's drawbacks
depend on this choice.
One particular misconception has
disenchanted more working class
heroes than any other: the contention
that low cost is the primary benefit
of co-operative housing, or should
be. When I scrutinize the apparent
financial incentive of my living situ-
ation, I conclude that cost is at best
a marginal benefit. Two years ago,
my mom asked me if my two room-
mates and I were really paying
$1,155 for one room. I reminded her
that food was included - we only
paid about $825 to share one room.
A year ago, a friend's mom asked
him if he and his roommate were
really paying $832 for one room. He
reminded her that food was included
- they only paid about $612 for one
room. "In the Fall/Winter, singles in
the houses are given to returning
members," according to the ICC
website: www.icc.coop/about. This
year I pay roughly $306 for my own
room, but I've been living here since
Clinton was in office, so I get an
exceptional deal in a house full of
marginal savings.
Nevertheless, I pay what would be
moderately low rent for far more than
a residence. With these charges, I
finance a community that challenges
me to practice cooperative principles,
and has taught me a great deal when
my ideals have failed. If I could add
one requirement for a degree from
the University, it would be for every-'
one to spend at least a semester living
in a co-op. Living in Owen, I've
learned more about group dynamics
than in any of my psych classes, more
about socialist politics than in any of
my history classes, and more about
housekeeping than during an entire
childhood spent with a homemaker.
I've partied as almost as hard and
heard almost as many crazy stories as
a rock journalist in the 1970s. And
the chicks are great, too.

Each of the areas that surrounds

the ni
we re

ral Campus has its own _e as
ctive flavor. Instead of capturing EE -+_ K a rmat
uance of these neighborhoods,
sorted to stereotyping. E'0Je
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be FH1d:ad"te>Sora CtJsumOhi
deahb rhddasnn thntesirdmC ALA AtU
ritzy dining. Th realyreasonvthyslyve La fig n

e spiritual heart of the Greek
stem. A Dionysian paradise
plete with wine, Street parties
easy access to I-94 and Ann
Arbor's outskirts.
Hard-partying? Do you
remember the weekend?
If you do, your neighbors
certainly don't. Empty plastic
cups and discarded Mr.
Spot's wrappers litter the
walk to campus.

Big city
and I

Sophomore year in residence halls -not just for RC kids

At the end of freshman year I
packed up my bags and moved back
home for the summer. I wasn't sad to
see East Quad fade into the distance,
primarily because I knew I'd be back
next year. That's right, I was moving
back into the residence halls for my
sophomore year. And boy was I excit-
ed. I'd be living in the same room
with the same roommate I'd been ran-
domly assigned freshman year. I'm in
the Residential College and living in
East Quad sophomore year is
required. It's a good policy for the RC
and if you're a freshman, even if
you're not in the RC, you should
strongly consider living in the resi-
dence halls your second year.
The most compelling reason is
time. Ann Arbor's cut-throat housing
market requires that students look for
housing almost as soon as they set foot
on campus. If you don't have a house
lined up for next year by the middle of
this November, you'll be lucky to find
anything this side of Ypsilanti. Within
your first month of school, besides
learning the ropes of last minute
studying and the ins and outs of cam-
pus life, you are expected to identify
three or more people that you could

share a house with that wouldn't punk
out on rent, slay you in your sleep or
turn out to be losers.
But let's pretend you somehow
find four worthwhile companions. Off
you go, tramping around in the rain,
knocking on doors asking the current
tenants if they are planning to live in
their house next year. After you dis-
cover that every cool house is already
leased out until your children enter
college, you begin to get less picky.
"Maybe we don't need that covered
front porch." "Hardwood floors are
nice, but really, linoleum works too."
"No working toilets? Well, the house
is close to a gas station." But you per-
severe and one Saturday you find the
perfect little abode that hasn't been
signed yet. So promptly Monday
morning you dutifully tromp down to
the rental agency and try to sign the
lease. Theoretically you'd be in con-
trol here. But no, you have to beg to
look at the lease and your potential
landlords look you over, examine
your backpack, do all types of back-
ground checks and then, maybe, they
grudgingly allow you sign a lease.
Only after you've forked over a
$5,000 security deposit of course.
Thankfully, staying in the resi-
dence halls for a second year can alle-
viate all of these problems. Instead of

a deciding on your living conditions
while the leaves are still green, the res-
idence halls don't require any type of
commitment until February. This
allows for ample opportunity to evalu-
ate roommates and find the perfect
person to share a cozy 208 square foot
palace. Of course, maybe you want a
little more, ahem, privacy. Don't forget
that there are plenty of singles that
allow for a little more solitude (or
company if you get my drift). And of
course you get your choice of location.
Maybe Markley wasn't your thing but
how about a nice double in West
Quad? East Quad has sinks in most
rooms, you know. You just can't live
any closer to campus without being
Mary Sue Coleman or pitching a tent
on her lawn (not recommended).
But living in the residence halls is
more than just an easy solution. The
residence halls are a social place
where it is easy to meet new people.
Unlike off-campus housing where too
often people become cloistered and
only interact with a few people, the
residence halls are a hive of activity.
Someone is always up for any
activity you choose. Bored? Rest
assured there is someone equally as
bored ready for distraction. -
No, not everything is perfect. I
love to cook and I definitely missed

having a stove around, and as good
as dorm food is, it doesn't quite
match up with homemade pasta.
But I do miss the dining hall. I like
big social dinners, full of loud bois-
terous talk and ample political dis-
cussion. Off campus living, for all
its good eats, is often a little too
quiet. With a little work, the drab
decor of the typical dorm room can
turn into a comfortable home.
Freshman year provides an opportu-
nity to perfect your room design
skills so that by the time sophomore
year rolls around you are all set
with a loft, wall-to-wall carpeting, a
illicit electric tea-kettle, indirect
lighting, framed pictures, satin cur-
tains, fold-out couch and surround-
sound stereo.
Living in East Quad for my first
two years was the best thing I was
ever forced to do. Looking back, it
produced some of my fondest college
memories. Maybe I'm just weird,
maybe it's because I'm in the RC, but
truthfully, the residence halls should
seriously be considered as a viable
housing option for sophomore year.
Piskor is an RCjunior and a Daily
associate editorial page editor

Brock is an LSA senior



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