When many of us think of sustainable living, we think of rural homesteads or tiny homes. Homesteads involve cultivating food and living off of the land. Tiny homes use relatively few building materials and consume less energy for heating and cooling.
Yet, some people value living in large dwellings, possibly in urban areas. They prefer being surrounded by others and having large indoor spaces for entertaining and gathering. In such cases, communal or multigenerational living can be an excellent housing option that has some of the same financial and environmental advantages as a tiny home or homesteads, especially when expenses and upkeep are shared among many.
A Variety of Possibilities
Intentional communities can take many different forms and can be located in rural or urban areas. They may include a less formal arrangement of sharing a house, property, and living expenses with friends or family members.
There are also housing cooperatives that can have a more structured approach and can be owned by a nonprofit organization. Coop houses may involve leases for specific rooms or units and expectations for contributing to housework and shared meals.
Cohousing is a collaborative neighborhood where residents actively participate in its design and operation. This setup includes private homes, complete with a bathroom and kitchen, as well as some shared spaces in a common building, such as guest rooms and shared common spaces. Some intentional communities or ecovillages entail renting while others are largely owner-occupied. One of the great cohousing thinkers is Raines Cohen, who travels the world helping organize cohousing communities.
Some communities serve a specific population or demographic groups, such as elders, single parents, or college students. Others are multigenerational and have members from many walks of life, religions, and backgrounds. There are intentional communities located on small, urban lots, while others have many acres and are in rural areas.
A Shared Vision
Many intentional communities possess a vision that unites members around a common cause or belief.
The vision may encompass anything from embracing love for living things, affordability, multicultural diversity, or specific religious beliefs. These shared beliefs can unite its members and provide a greater purpose. You can create new ideas about how to organize living space and build a community. Imagine a new world and try it out.
Balancing Personal Autonomy & the Group’s Needs
Embracing communal living does involve being aware of the needs of the whole group. In some cases, this calls for some personal sacrifice. For example, many cohousing or ecovillage communities have parking areas restricted to the periphery, and pedestrian walkways connect the houses. This might require residents to walk further when driving cars, yet it creates a neighborhood for kids and pets to roam and encourages more impromptu interactions.
Using shared common spaces is a great way to conserve resources and live in smaller homes, yet it requires being mindful of cleaning up and scheduling the use of space.
Living harmoniously with others requires the ability to work through interpersonal conflict. Although this can be beneficial for personal growth and communication skills, it requires work and dedication. Some communities have conflict resolution resources available, such as a trained mediator or communication classes. When members cannot resolve conflict, it can have detrimental effects and decrease trust among residents.
Contribution & Cooperation Among Members
Living in intentional communities requires cooperation and contribution. Many enjoy communities enjoy voluntarily shared meals, but somebody must coordinate, cook, and clean up afterward. Common gardens, community spaces, and shared amenities require upkeep and maintenance. Many communities expect their members to contribute a certain amount of work hours per month.
Group Decision Making
Making cooperative decisions can be challenging for any organization, and intentional communities are no exception.
Living collectively requires group decision making, especially when first starting and planning a community. Some groups use consensus, which requires decisions to be approved by all members. For this to be effective, members must truly listen and seek to understand one another to find common solutions.
Living communally can significantly reduce our individual environmental impact by sharing resources among many people or families.
For example, several households may share one electric vehicle charger or a large solar energy system. Although a big house might require more energy for heating and cooling, it isn’t that much individually when shared by numerous people. Other communities may organize to deliver healthy homemade meals to participants, which does not require colocation. Look for issues in your life that are challenging to solve — it’s likely you have neighbors who have similar problems.
Joining a Community
Many communities exist across the United States, Europe, and beyond.
If you want to join one, it is important to find one that is a good fit for you and your family. A great way to get started is by visiting several communities and getting to know the members and the community vision. Do you share common core values? Does the mission statement resonate with you? It is helpful to explore how the community responds to and resolves conflict. Also, consider the expectations of members and if you fulfill them.
This article was originally published on January 10, 2020.