Blog

The Growing Appeal of Intentional Community

Choosing to live with others of like mind
Tuesday, August 13, 2013, 10:16 AM

Tired of being shunned and marginalized by your conventional friends and family? It’s a common situation for those who have “woken up” in a world dead set on remaining asleep as the default solution to systemic unsustainability.

One time-honored way to avoid isolation is to band together with others of like mind in communities.  The current terminology for this is intentional communities: living arrangements organized around shared values and conscious decisions rather than government or market forces.

The following discussion is based on my personal experience and interest; it is not an academic overview, and I make no claims that it is comprehensive or objective. Consider it a report based on experience rather than academic research.

Ancient Models of Community

As the Roman Empire decayed, many people abandoned conventional lifestyles and joined monasteries.  Historian Michael Grant described this movement in his book The Fall of the Roman Empire in secular terms:

But the monks and nuns of the ancient times are in some ways less comparable to modern monks and nuns than to modern drop-outs, supporters of gurus, or others—not necessarily with any religious motivation—who abandon the conventional world and sometimes leave their houses for the streets or the mountains or the desert. For the numerous monastic recluses of the Roman Empire, too, often shook the dust of the social, financial, and political system off their feet as completely as if they had never belonged at all.

In other words, the decision to leave the conventional world may not have had an entirely religious motivation, but it found expression in joining faith-based living arrangements.  Why this is so is worth exploring.

One reason is that religious orders have a ready-made organizational structure and rules of membership.  There is a hierarchy of command and control, strict rules for membership that must be obeyed to retain membership, and a financial arrangement that supports the membership: the collection of alms, the tending of gardens, etc.

Another is the shared belief system that breathes life into the organization.  Conflicts are minimized by this shared belief system and by the hierarchy accepted by everyone joining the community.

In the modern world, Amish communities are often held up as models of largely self-sustaining religious communities.  It is self-evident that modern faith-based communities share these two key traits: a hierarchy of command and control, and strict rules of membership.

Of all of the public intellectuals in America, academic or independent, John Michael Greer (the Archdruid) has best articulated the critical importance of membership as an organizing principle. Membership is meaningless unless violating the rules leads to ejection from the group.

If we examine the many intentional communities that have failed, we find that membership was either poorly defined or not rigorously enforced. We also find the belief system that brought the members together was also either poorly defined or too general to support a durable low-conflict environment.

The Family as Community

The French word hameau (from Old French hamel, “hamlet,” diminutive of Old French ham, “small village”) describes an accretion of dwellings around a family farm.  (Once again, I am not an academic expert; this is based on my experience in France as a foreigner.)  Though one finds enclaves of dwellings in Paris that are called hameau, the term describes a rural arrangement in which additional homes were added as a family group expanded.  This process of adding dwellings for offspring and their spouses and children transforms a farm into a hamlet, and the resulting vernacular architecture is often wonderfully evocative of the design principles outlined in Christopher Alexander’s classic architecture text, A Pattern Language.

In today’s highly mobile world, the idea of the family farm as the kernel of a community seems outdated and perhaps nostalgic. But ironically, perhaps, the emergent economy of digital work and relocalization lends itself to just such an extended-family-based model.

The hameau model is based on the old principle that blood is thicker than water; i.e., family membership endures despite conflict, disagreement, etc. Over time, inter-marriage increases the pool of related people. Unsurprisingly, variations of this model can be found around the world, from Europe to Asia.

Cohousing

The idea behind cohousing is simple: Each family has a private residence, but all families share dining facilities and yard maintenance duties. The cohousing movement started in Denmark in the late 1960s and can be understood as an outgrowth of the global countercultural exploration of new social arrangements. My experience with cohousing goes back to the early 1990s, when I met and interviewed Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, architects and authors of the first major study of cohousing published in the U.S., Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves

The origins of cohousing can be discerned in the title of architect Jan Gudmand Høyer’s 1968 paper, The Missing Link between Utopia and the Dated Single Family House.

As a result of my long interest in cohousing, I have seen several variants on the basic organizational structure of private spaces and shared facilities and responsibilities. Some communities have been built from scratch, while others purchased adjoining single-family homes and removed the fences separating the properties. In these cases, communal dining facilities were added or existing outbuildings refashioned into communal spaces.

Cohousing is founded on the same organizational structures of shared values, an accepted hierarchy of participatory command and control and rules of membership.  Residents are obligated to share in the upkeep of the commons and in preparing the shared meals.

The benefits and costs of cohousing are transparent.  Though one agrees to contribute to shared maintenance and meals, one is not obligated to join the community for every meal; everyone has a private dwelling. On the other hand, on those days when one is helping prepare the shared meal, one has a “free” dinner.

Participation is the key social trait of cohousing.  Those who buy into cohousing are trading the atomized, isolated lifestyle of conventional urban America for one in which some participation in the community is mandatory.

In many traditional communities, some variation of cohousing is the norm. In a legalistic society, everything that is implicit in traditional cultures must be explicitly codified: ownership, the organizational structure of the community, how noncompliance and conflicts are dealt with, and so on. The legal system in the U.S. recognizes condominium and cooperative ownership of a shared property, but the legal structures are complex and costly to set up.  Cohousing offers a flexible model that is adapted to modern legal systems.

Variants of Cooperative Living

Cooperative buildings have a long history in the U.S., and there are many possible variations on the model of private ownership in a building controlled by the owners. At a minimum, potential buyers of cooperative units must gain the approval of the co-op board to become residents.  Additional levels of responsibility and participation can be added to the legal structure, creating a spectrum of cooperative living arrangements between conventional condominium living and cohousing.

In Part II: Key Considerations for Starting an Intentional Community, we look at the major issues involved in starting an intentional community. There are financial, physical, and human challenges that need to be addressed clearly and early on to make success viable. Being aware of these from the start is essential.

We also detail the six key guiding principles for community management, which are critical for long-term harmony and social cohesion.

Click here to access Part II of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access).

Related content

32 Comments

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
Some good friends of mine did exactly this

They started talking about living in an intentional community as early as maybe 2000.  It was a large-ish group (maybe a dozen households to begin with) of close friends, mostly from college, who wanted to spend their adulthoods within walking distance for social convenience and grow old together.  Some did not plan to have children but wanted to have children in their lives. 

They built this.  It was a long-planned, long-awaited dream for many of them.  There have been ups and downs, but the community is strong enough.  They have a beautiful common house and just built a common barn (though I doubt they are planning to use it for animals -- equipment storage, woodshop, that sort of thing).  Their unifying principle is not resilience in the way of growing food and conserving resources (though there is a community garden, and one member has bees), but they are robust in emotional resilience and community support, which is a step in the right direction.  Their community meals and events are "epic," as my kids would say.  There always seems to be something being celebrated there.  The kids are growing up with "aunties" and "uncles" galore, which is a great support for the parents in the community and a benefit to the non-parents who enjoy children but do not want their own.  There is also an intergenerational component, where extended family members have moved into the community to be near each other.  

The houses themselves are built in clusters with shared walls like townhouses or condos, smaller than typical homes, because it's assumed that residents will be socializing in the common house and sharing meals often.  The parking area is separated from the area where the homes are, with walking paths that are safe and well contained -- great for the kids in the "neighborhood."

It has been fascinating to see this project take shape and become real.  The community is about 5 years old at this point.  From my observations of this project, I am unconvinced that a community like this (new construction) is a good idea financially, but perhaps there are creative ways to make it so.  One comment made recently by a community member was that for the purposes of this particular group, a smaller community would have been more appropriate (perhaps 10-15 families, the original group, instead of 35).  But others in the community may disagree. 

There is also an old Methodist settlement -- an old-fashioned intentional community -- still standing about a half hour from where I live, and it's adorable -- small homes complete with community buildings reminiscent of summer camp.  I have visited there and (unfortunately, in my opinion) it's just a condo association, not anything resembling co-housing, from what I can tell.  It seemed that the community buildings were only barely maintained, and there wasn't a strong sense of social cohesiveness -- all of the houses are sold to individuals without a compulsory process of screening for "community."  But it's my understanding that this sort of old-fashioned "settlement" exists here and there in New England at least, and they'd be great for rehabbing into cohousing if the opportunity arose. 

HughK's picture
HughK
Status: Gold Member (Online)
Joined: Mar 6 2012
Posts: 446
Thanks for the link, Amanda

I just checked out the Sawyer Hill EcoVillage and it looks pretty cool, Amanda.  A good family friend of mine lives with her husband in a co-housing community in Colorado Springs, and she likes it very much.

charleshughsmith's picture
charleshughsmith
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 15 2010
Posts: 262
great example

Thank you, Amanda, for posting a detailed description of a real community.  As you say, new construction is expensive and generally requires construction financing, but the community gets more or less what it wants.  I met the American couple (McCamant and Durrett) who introduced cohousing to the US in 1991 and wrote several long articles about the concept and the first examples in the S.F. Bay Area.

I have seen one successful urban community that was formed by buying 4 adjacent existing homes (back to back), which is a variation on model you mention (buying an existing community or multi-unit building).

There are many possible variations on this basic idea, and I hope to see more examples posted here.

Dwig's picture
Dwig
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 4 2009
Posts: 113
Thoughts on the subject

Charles, thanks for bringing this up, and giving a good overview; here's a couple of examples that came to my mind.

There's a cohousing/intentional community that's been going for several years in Los Angeles (heart of the city!) called Los Angeles Eco-Village.

My niece, a student at UC Santa Barbara, lives in a cooperative house; not so much an intentional community as a collaborative way of keeping living costs down (and learning a different way of living).

For years I've been learning about stakeholder-managed commons.  Turns out there's been quite a bit of research on them, especially by Elinor Ostrom and her associates.  Garrett Hardin's essay notwithstanding, there have been thousands of them throughout history, many lasting centuries.  Ostrom's book "Governing the Commons" is a thorough, if academic, introduction to the subject.

Based on that, I have a working hypothesis that any long-term viable community will be formed around one or more shared resources, ideologies, concerns (safety, food security, etc.) that binds the members to something beyond their immediate personal concerns.  In Hardin's terms, it's the necessity to create and accept a "set of mutual coercions, mutually agreed upon".  Ostrom calls such a set an "institution", and much of her research was involved with characterizing sustainable institutions.

John Lemieux's picture
John Lemieux
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 2 2012
Posts: 226
I can relate to what Hugh

I can relate to what Hugh said about the wonderful sense of community in the outdoor adventure community. I have been a passionate white water river junkie and wilderness canoeist for many years. So I can relate to experiece of finding a strong network of like minded friends through participation in canoe trips and river adventures.  I always kept in mind that these trips would never have happened unless us likeminded folks (with the required equiptment, orginizational, paddling and outdoor skills) got together to allow that extaordinaty experience to happen.

But it's not hard to imagine the conflicts that do come about during long canoe trips. Or sometimes during difficult and stressful days on a remote river. But nevertheless, the people I shared these adventures with were the most decent, competent and solid people I have ever met.  

But times have changed and like so many others I experienced a change in my worldview and perspective around 2007. And perhaps strangely I choose to let go of my old life and "perfect prepper property" in Eastern Ontario and to become something of a wanderer. I currently share a rural house with two other people. And I have thankfully found that this is a very sensible, simple and economical way to live. The truth is that all I really need at this time is a room, parking for my car/trailer and a small storage place for tools/bike/camping stuff. And a place for my 20 year old cat.

I simply did some research and I eventually choose to settle in Southern Alberta ( I work as a carpenter/ a house framer primarily). But I have met new freinds that are expressing interested in getting together to form some kind of co-operative living situation. Some of these folks are from High River Alberta and so we greatly solidified our friendship through my efforts to help with the devastation of their community from flooding this summer ( strangely, I was told recently that a local psychic had fortold my arrival in High River. And her desciption of me was so accurate that I'm starting to wonder if it is my destiny to be here)

 In my old life I would never have considered this, but after the flood experience, and also after moving and "letting go" and opening myself up to what ever happens, I'm intigued by the concept of being more co-operative and sharing in my lifestyle choices.  

But I do realize that communal type living arrangements in the 60's failed. And some of my new friends have already tried livng communally (Emmissaries of Divine Light in Northern BC). And they eventually choose a more conventional life. But I consider their experience to be a potential plus in helping us understand the pitfalls of choosing to live unconventionally. 

Thanks for the article, J. 

yogiismyhero's picture
yogiismyhero
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 28 2013
Posts: 173
John, I use humor...

...to escape bad experiences and elevate good (I am not so funny but I do get a kick out of myself, so, cool) experiences of just trying to find my way through what I now know was an arduous journey. I have the 50's, 60's and on up until today as my turnings. Your thread here basically encapsulated life for me and I found myself humming a tune as I read your outstanding thread. No humor now, a very serious reflection came over me and I am well pleased with the life taken so far and is why I just know, I am certain, the way forward will be found. Understanding of course that I/we are assured nothing, and if we do not make it through, that life was worthwhile.I was constructed to give the breadth of every day everything I had and start all over again tomorrow. Thankfully, tomorrow has always come. Thanks John.

Enjoy my humming tune:

BOB 

SPAM_ferralhen's picture
SPAM_ferralhen
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 151
i've tried several versions

i've tried several versions of communal lifestyles. and what an education.!

in high school as a star athlete i felt lonely at the top. then i went to college majoring in physical education and sudden was surrounded by a large group of female athletes so many like minded people.. the commauderie was great. then i graduated to teach in a small town that i had nothing in common with ...an outsider again.
it was the 70's and i headed out to LA and hung out with a local motorcycle gang.,whose core was made up of vietnam vets like chs suggests, there was the structure, the hierache. the common ideology...which drew in it's members .the outward violent persona masked the actual family like protection and love on the inside. i did not share the violent mentality but i'd have to say that is the most secure and protected time that i've experienced next i moved on to rural florida where in 1978 i started to homestead 10 acres off the grid. that lacked support, mostly financial and ended. so i return to michigan and "joined" a large religious community(1800 people). that-- was a real learning experiece. very strict rules, with even a dress code ; one for men one for women. they taught something similar to the 3 e's and with the hockey stick exponential charts. they talked of interupted supply chains and energy shortages. the "community" had districts, which were made of clusters of 8 eight families. clusters would select an area to build their homes near each other and those with money gave excess to those who did'nt have. those without childred were required to babysit for those that did. there was a phone tree where information could rapidly expand out by one person calling two , those two called two more, and if you could 'nt contact someone , you called their contacts. it had elders and leaders at all levels with each man over his wife and the parents over the children.it was located near a large university from which they recruited future doctors, engineers,succesfully financial people. they were connected with the pope, and were at the beginning of the religious right. a very highly organized group. they collapsesd/splintered off in the late 80"s. while the structure collapsed, many of the small clusters of families remain living under informal unspoken clusters rules.they liked that way of life and so they continued it without the elders. the concepts were ingrained by then.my rule was when it didn't work for me, i would leave...which i did....the husband and the community in 1985.a person could write a whole book on that experience.

what facinated me the most was how long it took to get the whole group to change it's thinking to the one they wanted. it takes a long time to change a mindset of a group. it has helped me understand how our gov't uses the media to change ideology in the masses. hitler did the same.start early and it takes decades.
i would label the motorcycle gang and this religious community as cults. and cults were "in" back then.

i suspect we will see more of these intentional community spring up. i'm glad i've been there and done that, because it helps me spot trouble before it happens. i've seen what works and what doesn't.

it's worth the experience if nothing more.

Joshua Myrvaagnes's picture
Joshua Myrvaagnes
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 14 2013
Posts: 2
Great Stuff--and, the issue isn't "intentional community"

There's wonderful posts here, about people's experiences and connected the dots of history.  I want to ponit out a few things too that I think will be helpful:

1 As Hume pointed out, what has been is not an absolute determinant of what will be: the past doesn't doom the future to anything.  "What hasn't worked" may simply be "what hasn't worked yet".

2 The communes of the 60's-70's did not really fail.  They succeeded in several ways: one, they served the educational function of moving people from their limited nuclear-family experience to broader knowledge of the world and relationships and the essentials of life.  Although the people who left teh communes, wehther after three months or three days or thrity years, may have gone in search of very different values of prosperity afterward, they did not and could not forget their lived experience.  Two, the ones that were designed well did last, and are still here today.  They have stood the very severe test of time, of hard times and of "good" times--the test of "can it stay together even with all the temptations to turn around and go backward in a materially and superficially prosperous society with lots of social reinforcement for conformity and maintaining of appearances?"  We haven't even seen them given a fair chance yet on a level playing field (ie after petroleum and subsidies).  The party's just beginning.  They have stood the test of being hedonically "market-worthy" as well as functional and sustainable enough.  There are four communities older than 40 years I'm aware of, and there may be more.  I lived in one that was of the same model as one of these oldest communities.  It was wonderful, extremely fun, sexy, profound, intimate, irritating, beautiful, family in the deepest sense; it disbanded; its extended community is still vibrant and maybe enjoying a renaissance...it lievs on in me and others; the original three houses still are operant as well as few others.  There is no pat conclusion that can be drawn.

3 There are many, many communities in this country at this minute.  They are communities by default rather than by deliberate choice, but they are communities anyway: the son or daughter has moved back in with her/his parents.  The elderly relative, unable to take care of himself/herself but not yet ready for the nursing home has been relocated.  The family is together again.  This is a community.  This is the general direction history is moving in. 

Reuniting with family is some people's worst nightmare, granted, but for the most part there is value in the relationships of blood, there is common understanding, and there is opportunity for greater and deeper relating.

4 Membership does not need to be strictly defined for a community to function: it is self-organizing.  Those who want to leave a community will make it clear.  They may make it clear through sabotage or back-handed expressions, but looked at lovingly and with emotional awareness these signs will say that the person wants to go.  It's not necessary to push against "the outsider," but to allow the natural currents that are flowing.  I don't mean you won't ever have to push someone out--but you won't be pushing them out against their inner choice, you'll have a clear unanimity.  Expulsion a tool of last resort.

5 This is all much easier than many are thinking.  The learned human tendency to over-react has been ramped up particularly in the modern West in the past century, but there is very little need for hierarchy or rules.  What's much more true is that intimacy is a natural occurrence, and when we let go of interfering patterns it happens of itself.  Tolstoy had it backwards, in a sense--every unhappy family is unhappy in only one way--it's interfering with itself.  Happy families are all happy in an infinite variety of individual expressions.  You can't get it wrong, so you don't have to go around worrying about what mistakes to avoid.  Survival is a simple matter.  If it weren't, even the apparently dumbest of humans wouldn't have managed it for so long.  Every villlage has its village idiot (it may even be me), and the village doesn't collapse.  What's beneficial to focus on is to see all the appealing options that history has arrayed before us and to pick what's delightful from the buffet of choices, what make our hearts sing.  The big change today is inevitable; making the change pleasurably will be not only inherently more rewarding but be more effective pragmatically as well.  Just because others are freaking out and taking things really seriously doesn't make it necessary for me to do so.  As a recovering Serious Person I can assure you that much much more is going right in all of these communities than is going wrong.  Rather than only focusingo n the extreme and loud examples of intentional community, I think it's more rewarding to look at any situation wehre two or more people are relating wtihout someone getting killed and asking, What might be useful to take from this example? what do I like about this?

In saying we have a learned tendency to over-react, I am not minimizing anyone's emotions nor the importance of honoring their desires.  I'm only saying that the reacting is a learned tendency, it's a part of "flight-or-fight", and "make war not love".  It doesn't get us closer to our desires, it only slows things down.  We can trust ourselves more.  There is more support here than there is problem; history is 95% peacetime and the history books are skewed in focusing on the drama.  And the present can be better than history.

There's a lot to be said for getting into a peaceful and cheerful frame of mind before making any decicions or visioning or planning.  We dont' have to be limited by what-is; we can use it as a springboard to extend the limits of our imagination.

"For  now, accept that life here is meant to be simple and pleasurable." --the little monks, Penny Kelly, _Robes_.

Thanks for the chance to share my 5c and I hope it's been beneficial to some at least.

Joshua

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
Status: Diamond Member (Online)
Joined: Oct 22 2008
Posts: 2353
Ferralhen

Thank you for your contribution. 
That was one of the more interesting posts I've read here in a long time.
Cheers,

Aaron

Mots's picture
Mots
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 18 2012
Posts: 114
(duplicate entry)

duplicate  comments were entered  somehow

Mots's picture
Mots
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 18 2012
Posts: 114
"community" building is a necessary trend

Our anonymous lifestyle neighborhoods based on consumption of wealth and acquisition of symbols of "success" are falling down and rotting.  Simultaneously, central power (US government, big city mayors etc) become more tyrannical and out of synch with our real needs.  We need local cooperative behavior more than ever, particularly for those of us  who cannot luxuriously flee to the country and build our own independent homestead, in more distant cooperation with neighbors who easily can leave us alone when we wish.  This is an extremely important topic.  Following helpful principles (there is nothing new, these are age-old questions  and answers) can save much headache, heartache and money if we study and listen to the  experiences of others.  

In this regard I get two successful principles for community building from Charles's  article: 

1. importance of "the shared belief system that breathes life into the organization.  Conflicts are minimized by this shared belief system and by the hierarchy accepted by everyone joining the community." Guys, we need to make this a principal rule when collaborating with others to handle the long slow descent into hell that we are all thinking about in the backs of our minds.

2. importance of " two key traits: a hierarchy of command and control, and strict rules of membership."  A community building response to the slow destruction of our civilization by TPTB and their assistants on K street who  run our government  for us, is not as easy to manage as deciding to go to a birthday party or finding a volunteer to put up decorations.  In a competitive world, we need to  work with the best people and friends we  can find, and give them our loyalty and confidence, while occasionally  challenging them to keep them on their feet. That is, we need leaders.

Already I am running into these two factors in working/prepping with others in ham radio and other activities. I have learned that the group works best when membership to the group is a privilege, is strictly limited, and an "abundance mentality" (free, cheerful help to other members when help is needed) is necessary.  Most people seem to lack the abundance mentality, and cannot be members of the group, even for a limited focus group such as arranging defense of a community, community garden, or car club.

And, as CM pointed out, expecting concensus on everything before acting is too impractical and  time consuming.  We all make compromises to get what we want and this basic fact does not change when we get together for a common activity.   In many cases, an expert in an  area with more experience than me  will  have  insight and spirit may infect the others, and a kind of concensus  will come anyway.  That is  leadership.  Each member of the group will find a place in a hierarchy based on his abilities and strengths.  

The biggest problem is that psychopaths want to be leaders and insist on being our leaders, while quiet, competent, trustworthy people who would make excellent leaders are inhibited by these guys. I learned from Chris  Duane that a MAJOR PROBLEM to avoid is psychopaths.

These seem to be no-brainer observations that are all around us as we form small groups and can see what works.  Dont need to spend a year living inside a cult group to figure this out. 

 One commenter above wrote:
"long-term viable community will be formed around one or more shared resources, ideologies, concerns (safety, food security, etc.) that binds the members to something beyond their immediate personal concerns"

This is the point.  The intentional community is a continuum with shared living space and income producing acts at one extreme end. But we go down the  "peakprosperity" path one step at a time.
I suggest that we need to focus on keeping out psychopaths from the group.  Following the two principles above (strict control of  group membership in particular) is extremely important.  

Mots

Jim H's picture
Jim H
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 8 2009
Posts: 1627
Thank you Joshua...

Joshua said,

Just because others are freaking out and taking things really seriously doesn't make it necessary for me to do so.  As a recovering Serious Person I can assure you that much much more is going right in all of these communities than is going wrong.

I am at Step 1:  My name is Jim H, and I am a Serious Person. 

I think I need a 12 step program    : )

SPAM_ferralhen's picture
SPAM_ferralhen
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 151
thank you arron it's been an

thank you arron
it's been an interesting life so far!

i believe the level of cooperation that is needed to have a civil community isn't available right now in many americans. just like growing ones own food is more costly and more work than just going down the block to the store and buying it. i believe it will take hardship for folks to see the necessity of living in a group. this is exactly what happen in katrina...remember how folks formed a group circle of 30 people/chairs?

people react differently under stressful conditions, so potentially good looking candadates now in peaceful times may not pay out under stress and those that look unattractive now, may be tomorrow's heros.

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
Great post, ferralhen!

ferralhen wrote:
my rule was when it didn't work for me, i would leave...which i did....the husband and the community in 1985.a person could write a whole book on that experience...i suspect we will see more of these intentional community spring up. i'm glad i've been there and done that, because it helps me spot trouble before it happens. i've seen what works and what doesn't. it's worth the experience if nothing more.

I hope you'll consider writing more about it.  (Seems to me that Peak Prosperity could use a group for discussing all of the ins and outs of Intentional Communities...anyone want to start one?)  I agree that we can expect to see more, but there will be many variations.

One of my dearest friends lives here in town.  She and her husband and their five children share a single house with her brother and his wife and their four children.  (That's 13 people total - 4 adults, 9 kids).  The kids are all within an age-span of about 11 years.  Both families had experienced co-housing or roommate situations in the past.  They've been living together for a decade now.  I remember my friend saying that she felt with non-family it would not have lasted, but the family ties made it imperative that they work through the issues without the option of quitting. 

I have always been impressed with the way their household is run.  They are organized.  The four adults have regular "house meetings" (not sure if the kids fit into these or not).  They originally shared the entire house, and later pooled their resources to build a small wing for one of the families.  (They literally built the exterior shell and then waited a few years until they could afford to finish the interior).  So now they share kitchen, dining room, pantry, and a sitting area.  Each family has a separate entryway and their own living room, bedrooms, laundry, and bathrooms.  These are not people of extensive means -- they are working-class, low-income families.  By sharing the mortgage and expenses, they've bolstered their economic resilience.  They share meal-planning, shopping, cleanup, and childcare, which reduces the tasks each adult has to shoulder.  By living with extended family and working to nurture permanent relationships, they have increased their emotional resilience.

And even more interestingly, the two families have quite different childrearing and educational philosophies.  One family homeschools; the other is passionate about public schooling and that mom is a public school teacher.  One family was more directly punitive (time outs, etc.) and the other more into nonpunitive parenting.  They made it work, with love and respect.

The oldest once quipped that there was no way she was having kids after growing up in a house with nine of them.  She had had her taste of childrearing and it was enough.  (She is lovely and was always great with the kids.)

I have four kids and I will never forget the note of kind pity in my friend's voice when she said I had it so much harder than she did with her five.  In her house, there were four adults to share the load and almost always more than one adult at home at a time; in mine, there were only two adults, and I was isolated and with the kids the majority of the time.

Anyway, that's another model for co-housing that I think we'll be seeing lots more of.  Myself, I have thought about how my current home may need to house my parents or my childrens' spouses and kids someday, and what the possibilities are.  My house is not large, but it's never too soon to think creatively about keeping those options open for future use.  I think it's helpful to encourage others to think and talk creatively about what these things look and feel like in action.

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
Financing

charleshughsmith wrote:
As you say, new construction is expensive and generally requires construction financing, but the community gets more or less what it wants.

Just want to add that in this case, the financing was in place before 2008, and they basically got in under the wire before the mortgage industry clamped down on risk.  I seriously doubt they would have been able to get financing for this project after that, and they had a very difficult time doing so when they did. 

I think it helped tremendously that a number of key families had the resources to invest in the project and were financially able to shoulder the risk.  I don't think it would have happened without that.

I wish there were more emphasis on financially sustainable models for co-housing.  It seems to me, from the limited exposure I've had, that many new-construction co-housing plans are perhaps more focused on being environmentally or socially sustainable than financially sustainable, and I hate to see the co-housing philosophy risk being pegged as financially imprudent.  Hopefully that can be worked through.

treebeard's picture
treebeard
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 18 2010
Posts: 398
It seems inevitable to me

It seems inevitable to me that we will eventually reorganize ourselves in more closely nit communities, it is only cheap energy that has allowed the current level of independence to exist. I see these various co-housing and intentional communities as practice runs at an inevitable transition to a different way of organizing ourselves.

There seems to be a strange duality that exists in communities like ours in that it is founded on a rejection of current society and its implied values and standards. Much is celebrated about the level of independence one is able to achieve. Indeed my own goal is to become as detached from the financial and political system as possible.

There have been many great articles about living in two worlds, leaving one world is hard enough, creating another can seem overwhelming.

We are discovering that it really doesn't work to well doing this on your own. We are out of debt and pretty energy independent. We just turned on our PV system last week and we are currently generating 50% more energy than we use. Our only outside input is about a cord of wood that we use each winter to supplement passive solar heating.

I work full time at a demanding job, so my partner is here at home overwhelmed at times with the chores of running the house and garden. We are now wondering what to do with the stacks of winter squash piling up in the kitchen. We are trying pick all the string beans and freeze the excess for the winter. Squirrels are getting a lot of our corn because we just don't have the time to get out there and pick it. Overwhelmed with summer squash, well that's just normal I guess.

The isolation is the hardest part, being busy in two lives doesn't leave a lot of time for socializing. It seems everybody is too busy to socialize as well. Finding like minded people, well that adds another challenge to an already difficult puzzle.

So what to do next? We are thinking of building rental apartment on our property as a way of starting to build a community and generate some independent income. Hopefully that situation with the attached garden will attract the kind of people that will build into something more. Neighbors are only casually interested in what we are doing, but as things get worse, that will change.

The main worry of course is that the pace of change will outstrip our ability to adapt, seems to be inevitable at this point. Holding fast here it Connecticut.

robie robinson's picture
robie robinson
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 25 2009
Posts: 676
Squash?

don't worry about too much now. once the squash vine borer discovers your growing cache the excess will disolve.

robie, calabacitas

jtwalsh's picture
jtwalsh
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 134
Zucchini Days

On a lighter note:  Treebeard’s summer squash tsunami reminds me of our life in suburban Rhode Island. We are now in zucchini time. There are a large number of descendants of Italian immigrants here.  Many of them still plant spectacular gardens.  One existential problem with this way of life is that the zucchini all ripen within a three to four week period.  Zucchinis are passed from family member to family member.  They are given to friends, to co-workers.  They are put in baskets by the road side to be taken free by any passerby.  They are secretly left on door steps and porches and in unlocked vehicles. (We who had no zucchini in our garden this year have already eaten two this week and have two more in the fridge.)

For several weeks there is an orgy of zucchini products.  Sautéed zucchini, sautéed zucchini with onions, sautéed zucchini with summer squash, sautéed zucchini with mushrooms, sautéed zucchini with eggplant, ratatouille, baked zucchini, stuffed baked zucchini, zucchini bread, zucchini cookies, zucchini soup, raw zucchini, fried zucchini, fried zucchini with batter coating.

Then, just at the moment you think you could not take another bite of zucchini anything, it is over.  We go back to our normal eating of zucchini from the super market, once or twice a month.  Of course, there is always next year.

yogiismyhero's picture
yogiismyhero
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 28 2013
Posts: 173
we all need a 12 step program, and here's mine...

...in no particular order:

1. Treat others as you wish to be treated.

2. Lead by example.

3. Point the finger at yourself 1st.

4. Believe but verify.

5. Express your love to those you love.

6. Prepare for all possible eventualities, having excesses that can be traded to those who didn't prepare with something they may have that you didn't prepare for.

7. Be positive.

8. Don't sweat the little stuff.

9. Tell the truth.

10. Pay yourself first the kindness you easily share with others.

11. Do not allow those who wish to bully, bully.

12. Work hard, listen and carry a big stick.

and for flavor, "when you get to the fork in the road take it!" Yogi-ism. My all time favorite "are you kidding, no, I made it up!" My Dad and this just tickled me for some reason.

Time to water the garden and feed the birds. Still anxious for Dr. Pettis and Chris in what I expect will be a terrific Podcast.

Yogi

jasonw's picture
jasonw
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 17 2011
Posts: 848
way to help with the zucchini

A kitchen tool we have found that makes dealing with the glut of zucchini easier is the Julienne Peeler. It makes a huge zucchini into a wonderful angel hair like pasta alternative. Blanch the zucchini pasta in hot water for a minute or two.  Toss with olive oil and add some fresh feta, calamata olives, maybe some walnuts.  One of the best lunches one can have.  Yum!

q?_encoding=UTF8&ASIN=B0000CEWJD&Format=

Sorry for posting this at lunch time for you west coast folks. 

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Online)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 1930
Squashapalooza

Of all the vegetables in my new garden, the squash is thriving most. We planted Waltham Butternut squash that seems to love the cool, moist marine air that comes in with the fog at night.

We have lots of nearly ripe large squashes like the one below:

My garden helper here (Charlotte) is demonstrating how extensively the squash vines have taken over much of the garden:

And showing here how parting the vines back unveils numerous squashes:

treebeard's picture
treebeard
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 18 2010
Posts: 398
Squash

Here's one that blew my mind, zucchini pie, my entwife found it on line. You cut up zucchini and saute them in lemon juice brown sugar and a little bit of salt. Put it in pie crust and bake like a pie (you need to peel and seed the zucchini). It is supposed to taste like apple pie, well almost, but it does taste pretty darn good.

Waltham butternuts, I can second Adam's recommendation. Well, they don't only like west coast weather, they love New England's weather as well. Those things grow like weeds, they keep great. We have found that without much special attention, they keep well into early spring, and they do taste good.

We took a break this year from them this year and only put in a couple of plants. We have grown mostly acorns and delicata's this year. The delicata's don't keep as well, but they do taste great.

jtwalsh's picture
jtwalsh
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 134
Jaonsw

A new way to prepare zucchini! At my age that is something that doesn't happen often.

Thanks Jason. It sounds great. We wil try it.

JT

Dwig's picture
Dwig
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 4 2009
Posts: 113
Learning from experience

ferralhen, that's quite a life story!  Sounds like it'd be worth taking the time to write down what you learned from the various groups that you were involved in, and your descriptions of "what works and what doesn't".  There's quite a literature developing in this area (Diana Leafe Christian is a good example, and Hildur Jackson's "Creating Harmony"); perhaps you could contribute to it.

You motorcycle gang experience reminds me of a book you might enjoy: "The Wild Within", by Paul Rezendes.

Dwig's picture
Dwig
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 4 2009
Posts: 113
Hi Jim...

I think you just took the first step.  Take a deep breath and enjoy the journey,,,

jtwalsh's picture
jtwalsh
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 134
Treebeard

I didn't mean to turn this chain into a recipe exchange but Treebeard's zucchini pie is also new to me and sounds really interesting.  I might have to put out word to our friends to send us more zucchinis.

Thanks.

treebeard's picture
treebeard
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 18 2010
Posts: 398
Talking about vs being a community

Sharing recipes is not antithetical to discussing community. The latter is an arms length intectual discussion about the subject, the former actually being a community.  I think a healthy mix of both is a good idea.

Reminds me of a story of a bunch of elders who got together to discuss in small village the days events in China over tea. They lived through revolutions, cultural revolutions and reforms. But still they had this simple rutual.  I think it is the connection to the simple things in daily life, like ways to prepare zucchini, is a great way to stay grounded in the turbulent times.

Despite all the insanity, we will still be cooking zucchini in the summertime.

yogiismyhero's picture
yogiismyhero
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 28 2013
Posts: 173
Yep...

,,,and watching baseball when you prepare and eat over a cool glass of ice tea.

treebeard's picture
treebeard
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 18 2010
Posts: 398
Squirrels didn't get them all

photo.JPG

We should get at least a couple of dozen

Cker's picture
Cker
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 13 2013
Posts: 3
...ideas for pit falls

Thirty years ago I was searching for an alternative way to live as an isolated single mom living in suburbia, and stumbled across the co-housing and intentional community movement. Over these years of extensive research including visiting many and living in several for short and extended periods, even though I married and saw issues in these communites, I still had a dream of a richer, more connected life. 

I am convinced of several points mentioned in this article and have incorporated these tenets into our own new community forming. (MoveToHigherGround.yolasite.com) Consensus is slow, difficult and can be crippling to launching and running a community effectively…yet everyone must have a voice and believe their ideas have been heard and considered.  Good ideas however can die on delivery if the person speaking is not respected for having ‘good ideas’ or they are dismissed because a ‘leader’ harbors a grudge for the person (not for the idea) and the introverts in the group are not comfortable with confrontation or crowds.

Anonymous crowd sourcing of members however can remove politics and prejudices and allow privacy so the best ideas are voted to the top and it eliminates the need for grueling policy meetings where much animosity is born. Having a manager who is responsible for the running, caring and integration of new policies, acts as the key link to the consistent, happy community.

By establishing the vision in a concrete form and laying out the tenets allows people to self-select and jump in just as we choose our homes in any build community. People will come and go as they do in any community but if there is equal access to control and meetings are about bonding, producing and celebrating instead of knock-down-drag-out-high-drama battles, then the retention rate is solid and lifetime friendships built on mutual respect can be established.

Screening for ‘Psychopaths’ is not clean or easy but is also key…as it’s true that if serious, irrational rabble-rousers sneak in they can shatter the community. The Freemasons have a long and profitable organization and in part this might be because people must be invited and sponsored and the sponsor is careful to choose as they are ‘on the hook’ for their choice. Knowing that it is a privilege to be a member and that others would happily take your place keeps motivation of the member high.

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 28 2008
Posts: 106
Seeking Participation

"Given the most careful control of temperature, nutrients, and environment, the organism will do as it damn well pleases." -- Murphy

I've been working on this for going on eight years, and I'm now sober and appropriately jaded, and yet still hopeful and trying.

We started out marketing to people "who were interested in intentional community." We ended up attracting lots of people who were wounded and needy, who wanted to be accepted "just as they are," without being willing to change nor to work on their own problems. Everyone who came had their own vision that they wanted to impose on the group.

One person, who had less than 0.3% equity, wanted to re-name the place after his ancestor's farm in Ireland. Another flew into a rage that lasted days when we insisted on drip-line irrigation, instead of his oscillating sprinkler, at a time when wells around here were going dry.

Another, who was here less than one weekend a month, went apoplectic when we bred two goats, and insisted on her "consent whenever any living being was brought into the EcoReality site." I wanted to personally introduce her to the billions of births, copulations, and deaths happening each hour in our compost bins. :-)

Then we switched our focus to people "who were interested in collaborative agriculture." This has had mixed results, attracting people who tend to be more down-to-earth, but also who were more flakey and less willing to commit.

Another problem we've had is with mental illness. I think when you try to do something different, you attract the fringes of society. Some of them drift in and out and are easily dealt with or dismissed, although we have had to call the police. One of them called the police on us, which caused a lot of stress, even though the charges were eventually dismissed as "without merit."

A deadly combination is mental illness and money. Money is really hard to turn down, even as the red flags are fluttering all about the person. One person was recently kicked out of the farm across the street, and waved mid-six-figures in our face. He almost bankrupted us, and we had to get our lender to threaten to foreclose in order to get this person to leave a valuable resource (house) that was not producing promised income. (He was going to fill it with Cuban workerss who would pay us $50 a night for the privilage of working in the greenhouse. Three junkets to Cuba later, still no Cubans!)

Transience is a continuing problem. We have had several hundred people through here in nearly eight years, and sometimes their influence tugs and twists on our direction and unnecessarily diverts resources into dead-end projects. You need a permanent, core group who are fairly aligned to keep from blowing around in the wind of short-timers, and new people need a "settling time" before they can be taken too seriously. "I'm willing to try that after you've been here a year!"

We are hobbled and blessed with a lack of housing. We currently have two houses, and the residents of the two would often be at odds. There's something about separate living that makes it easier to point fingers. But then we have issues with communal living, as well, but at least people see each other each day, and have ample opportunity for working out issues.

I would give up if I were not convinced that this is the most likely way to succeed in a difficult future. The problem I see is that things are not yet difficult enough for others to see that they need to "hang together, or surely hang separately," as Ben Franklin put it.

The most important thing to do is to have shared values. They need to be written down, and consulted often. I think they need to be in a progression or hierarchy, so that conflicts between values can be resolved. For example, a commitment to non-violence might trump honouring diversity, if a person argued that "diversity" meant they could bring a bunch of weapons onto the site.

if I were starting over, I think I would put more effort into joining a going concern, rather than starting a new one. On the other hand, EcoReality has survived and even progressed over nearly eight years, so if this is something interesting to you, we could use your help!

After seven years, 2012 was our first year in the black. We have some new people who are committed to the project, and things are looking more hopeful than they have in years. If you get near southwest British Columbia, please get in touch to arrange a visit!

Dwig's picture
Dwig
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 4 2009
Posts: 113
Best wishes for the next seven years

Thanks for the well-balanced description of what has to have been a trying, and rewarding, time.  I'd say that the simple fact that you've made it through seven years, and are still going and committed, is a triumph in itself.

I've been following the intentional community movement for a while, as well as exploring the nature of community (see my wiki).  Clearly, to me at least, the ability to "do community" isn't innate in everyone, especially in a society where the sense of community has been degrading for so long.  It's hardly surprising that most of those who show up for some personal reason, with personal expectations of what Ecoreality should be, will be disappointed and disappointing.

Hang in there; efforts like yours are needed!

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Login or Register to post comments