Village Buildings: a cooperative book and community project you can co-own [DRAFT]

Can a book project be a cooperative, created and managed by a community of contributors and supporters? Or, what might happen if it were?

Now there’s an opportunity to find out if and how this can work, by supporting or becoming a founding cooperative member of open publishing project, Village Buildings. Its current focus is a full-scale, partly completed, online and print, open book by that name, in progress — a distillation from ten years of my living in, visiting, researching, and advocacy & organizing for radical, alternative and ‘village’-model housing. Particularly up and down the US West Coast, an epicenter for devastating housing and homelessness problems, and diverse responses thereto.

If you’re interested, here’s how to help and join: [insert link to, possibly image of Eventbrite order form here].

Or read on for more explanation.

In part this is a long-envisioned successor to the landmark 2014 book Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages, by friend and collaborator Andrew Heben, founder of SquareOne Villages, in Eugene, Oregon, USA, and of the Village Collaborative national advocacy network which I manage.

This book explores key developments since, and broadens in scope from, Tent City Urbanism, to carefully examine and compare to related housing strategies from around the world and history, and to project various future possibilities. Because housing issues’ complexity and seeming intractability call for it.

It’s also an experiment in radical publishing, as a largely unprecedented case of a book written entirely in public i.e. fully online and available for anyone to read, use, adapt, comment on, or add to, from the start. Under the hood, it is tackling technical issues like how to optimally present a book for reading in various media and contexts, while keeping it simultaneously in optimally editable form for a changing group of contributors.

Also, Village Buildings is planned and legally set up to remain open this way, and to remain an ongoing publishing project co-owned and co-governed by its contributors. Its online version is hosted on HousingWiki (https://housing.wiki), an open platform for housing and land-use information, research, organizing, and proposals, which I started in 2016 and oversee.

Perhaps you’d like to join, follow, support, co-create, and/or become a co-owner of the project? This post explain how and why to.

By the way: who am I , why me, why now? see more about me and the many related housing and publishing projects I’ve worked on, which this builds upon.

This book is 1.5 years underway, roughly half finished and publicly available in its evolving draft form; and it might eventually get to publication in some way without any new support. That’s because it’s a passion and personal project for me, serving various purposes, which I began and continue even with almost no support, weaving it from and into my other work in housing advocacy, research, writing, and building. To be quite honest, it’s an approach rather from left field, from a relatively unestablished writer, challenging a lot of other people’s views and how publishing usually works, so I don’t generally expect most people to see the point, value it, or engage with it. But that’s how passion and personal projects usually go; and one’s tribe is precisely not most people, and that’s whom this project is done for and with.

Is there no support, as inevitably it sometimes seems? I’d naturally like to know how much it’s valued by others, or what part or direction is more so; and to offer people ways to express that value, and their values, and join the project — lower the barriers, at least! Also, this is a complex, urgent topic, which needs many people’s perspectives and mutual engagement to get anywhere near any heart of the matter. So, I ask, how can I find, engage, honor, credit, and fairly voice the rich network of people who must combine to make a good book, one that does something truthful and useful?

Perhaps, I can at least fruitfully explore a path for myself and others to community-build and publish in this way. No other way is obviously open to me, so I say, should I stop doing what I do? I’m for trying things out, and finding the Way.

as said in Hagakure (The Book of the Samurai) by

Here’s what the way looks like so far, mid-journey, for Village Buildings, as of June 5, 2021:

So in that spirit of action, at what seems like an appropriate juncture in this project, when it’s firmly on path to completion but could use some infusions of help and perspective, I’ve decided to create a kickoff, project launch event and invitation for contributions. This is particularly inspired by unexpected success doing this for our public forum events in the PDX Shelter Forum project in the last year, advocating for and enacting houseless-centered homelessness responses in Portland.

With a simple ticket order on Eventbrite, you will be able to donate or propose other contributions, in exchange for a voting and profit-sharing stake in this cooperative project, and invitation to our kickoff online event as a founding member. We have a funding goal of $25,000, for a planned Fall 2021 project milestone of first edition print and online release, in which you’ll be credited, and of which of course you’d get a copy from the very first print run, probably signed by yours truly. We’ll also have interesting members-only conversations and gatherings, as a bare minimum, and.. well, you tell me, if you’re part of the co-op we decide what to do.

Also, you can co-author/edit a book, and be credited forever after, by Internet Archive and likely the Library of Congress; who else offered you that today?

So here’s what I’ll do. I’m setting major milestone one: 1st edition print + online publication, with a project milestone valuation of $50,000, and planned for Fall 2021 release.

I’m creating 500 cooperative, voting, profit-sharing shares in this enterprise, presently valued at $100/share, which you can acquire by donation or, (by agreement) in exchange for needed services such as editing help, photography, admin work, and helping to market/promote the project. (I’ll post needs, you can also suggest ways you can help/join/add).

in this crucial, initial launch phase, up until the launch event tentatively scheduled for Wednesday June 30th, you can now receive cooperative shares at a 2/3 discount, to reward your early participation. That is, for a $35 donation or more, you can opt to receive 1+ shares at $35/share which are ordinarily valued at $100. Up to $10,000 of project shares, on a first-come, first-served basis will be available so. After that, the price will float back to par ($100 for 1 share) or potentially higher, depending on demand, such that I might recoup the $6500 left on the table by the launch-phase discount, and gauge the perceived value.

Shares can be owned in full or fractionally. I own them unless distributed to others; one or more full shares grants you a vote in the governance of the project, and proportional share of any future net revenues from the project, if you initially opt in to these benefits. [Co-op mavens will note, this roughly aligns to the Rochdale Principles, first set out in 1844 by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in Rochdale, near Manchester, England, and codified since as the principles on which co-operatives around the world operate].

Because I don’t, at this early exploratory point, want to sign away formal control of the project — even potentially, unlikely as it is — I plan for now to retain 50%+1 of shares, so the current funding target is 50% of shares or $25,000. I’m quite open to not being a majority or controlling shareholder, however, if it seems like this could work and be useful — cooperative ownership is a key part of the point, the more distributed the better. It’s hard for me to imagine a case where a large portion of members other than me supported something that I wouldn’t agree with or in any case support.

That would probably be in fact a best-case outcome from my perspective: to create an ongoing, distributist, and cooperatively-owned publishing project, focused on these topics. I’ve got more irons in the fire, and ships to sail or build. As the Smiths said, I don’t have much in my life, take it it’s yours. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.¹

The Smiths also said, in what I find to be a helpful mantra, in finding one’s tribe and focusing on the contributors:

The Smiths, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” 1984.

As many of you probably know, there is these days an explosion of exploration into new ways to fund, manage, & cooperativize new ventures, particularly using ‘blockchain’ technologies. It’s a complex and fast-changing area, which I’ve been somewhat but only loosely involved in over the last 5–6 years, sometimes a bit entwined with related adventures on the housing periphery.

The key points I take from the fracas are: there are emerging, powerful, enabling, new tools for organization, key ones being:

  1. Low-cost, immutable, public recording of contributions and roles and actions. A blockchain (for example, the one underlying Bitcoin digital currency) is essentially just a highly trustworthy and accessible public ledger or database for recording transactions. It is made trustworthy by methods of mathematical cryptography and by distributing the data widely, rather than by traditional third-party authorities such as a government or legal system. This turns out to have many, major, interesting implications, for financial systems and many other fields.
  2. Programmable “smart contracts” which allow low-cost but trustworthy setup of organizational processes. Such as crediting payments or donations, issuing ‘shares’ in a project/organization, and automatically distributing revenues to shareholders.

[the example scenario in #2 is sometimes called a Distributed Autonomous Organization (DAO), or if set up as a cooperative, a Distributed Cooperative Organization (DCO). This is part of my model for Village Buildings ].

Now, I anticipate that many readers and potential contributors might at this point may be aghast and thinking, why would I want this in my life? Sounds utterly NON-trustworthy or attention-worthy! I hear you! I sort of agree. For this project, I don’t think blockchain tools are necessarily needed, or altogether helpful; because this is a community project, and if you don’t trust me in it, you’re probably not going to trust a blockchain for it. My incentives and goals are 100% to be personally trusted, not outsource trust to a blockchain.

HOWEVER, there may be down-the-road and unanticipated benefits, it may bring the project to a much wider audience of interest, and half the purpose is to explore new territories and learn things. Blockchain-based organizations is really an interesting territory, I think— in many people’s view the next key era of the Internet and/or political & entrepreneurial organizing. We’ll see! But only if we look; or better, engage.

So, getting to concrete, I’ve been researching various ways to formally implement an ownership structure for Village Buildings project: essentially, to create acquirable, rights-granting tokens, that securely represent ownership and enable shared governance and distribution of value. To do this in a formal way, without settting up something like a legal non-profit cooperative, likely means creating a “project coin” or “creative currency,” which might be, say $VLGB. Some lead candidates for doing this are the Rally, Roll, or Colony.io platforms — you can check those out to get well-developed explanations of such approaches.

A project-coin implementation could streamline and safeguard the project stake sharing, enable wider publicity and involvement, and enable other capabilities such as resale of project tokens. For example, in my present informally defined offering, I propose that any share you may acquire in the project will become re-sellable one year from project launch, to any party at any price you can agree, or can transact on a listing platform. VillageBuildings ‘coins’ would be standard, Ethereum-based defined tokens, transactable by standard Ethereum blockchain tools & platforms, so this can be made assuredly possible.

I personally may be willing, if circumstances and resources permit, to purchase such shares (or ‘tokens’) back from you. [Note, I define any such potential offering as merely a service to and safeguard for project donors, explicitly not a ‘security’ intended to allow speculative investment. I believe it is pragmatically unlikely that a token in this project could be resold at a profit, and it may also be disallowed by us or by securities law, for example by allowing only resale at par, i.e. original price paid — a common practice in cooperative ownership. Note to SEC: I mean well. Let’s talk].

The core and intended main value you would be getting is, participation and voice in a cooperative project which is aligned with your values and interests. But then again, maybe you’d come to disagree or be uninterested, or maybe you’re more willing to support it now if there’s likely a way to get your contribution back later? This too is voice and cooperation — a right to exit. That’s why I might willingly buy back project tokens from you, or facilitate a trading market for them.

What do you think? Or, don’t think or explain, express your interest and support by contributing (financially or otherwise) in exchange for a project share, and take it from there. Onwards and upwards!

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Tim McCormick

editor, @HousingWiki; lead organizer, @VillageCollaborative; organizer/editor, @PDXshelterforum. Portland, OAK, LDN, nomadic. tmccormick at gmail.