Creating Intentional Community

Else­where I’ve spout­ed off about home and what I think it is and should be. I believe the home is the most basic build­ing block of com­mu­ni­ty and that we need com­mu­ni­ty. We need far more com­mu­ni­ty than most of us actu­al­ly expe­ri­ence in our day to day lives.

I’ve dreamed of liv­ing in an inten­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty since I first heard of them as a child. I wished my oh-so-con­ser­v­a­tive par­ents were flower chil­dren and would move us to a com­mune. I devoured Robert Hein­lein’s Time Enough for Love and Fri­day and The Moon is a Harsh Mis­tress and Robert Rim­mer’s The Har­rad Exper­i­ment and kept wish­ing, gath­er­ing a men­tal wish list of how I’d like to live.

I still haven’t lived in a com­mune, and doubt I ever will—but I still hope to find or be part of cre­at­ing an inten­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty.

You might not have run across the phrase inten­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty (IC) before, and be won­der­ing why I’d dif­fer­en­ti­ate between an IC and a com­mune, so I sup­pose I should explain. Mem­bers of an IC have cho­sen to live in close prox­im­i­ty to each oth­er in order to build a true sense of com­mu­ni­ty, to explore what­ev­er lev­el of inter­de­pen­dence that com­mu­ni­ty has cho­sen, to share resources, and to build rela­tion­ships. Some ICs may involve shar­ing a dwelling and some involve pri­vate homes clus­tered togeth­er with shared com­mon spaces. They may involve two or three nuclear fam­i­lies com­ing togeth­er to help each oth­er, three or more adults and their off­spring liv­ing as one fam­i­ly, or 20 or more fam­i­lies buy­ing into a con­do­mini­um development—there’s a lot of vari­ety. Some ICs may be built around a com­mon reli­gious faith, oth­ers around a com­mon inter­est (artist’s colonies and so on), oth­ers around polit­i­cal philoso­phies, and oth­ers sim­ply due to rela­tion­ships among the indi­vid­u­als involved.

Exam­ples:

  • I have a friend who rent­ed an apart­ment in a com­mer­cial­ly-devel­oped IC here in Atlanta where there are about 50 homes. The com­mu­ni­ty shares a com­mon hall for par­ties, enter­tain­ing, meet­ings, and so on. They have gar­den­ing space, a pond, a play­ground, and a laun­dry area. They park a lit­tle away from their homes and walk in, so they actu­al­ly inter­act with their neigh­bors who might be strolling the walk­ways or sit­ting on their front porch­es sip­ping tea (real­ly, I’ve seen it happen—I promise). Their kids run around and play togeth­er in a safe envi­ron­ment.
  • I know two mar­ried cou­ples, each with one young child, who chose to “mar­ry” each oth­er. They all live togeth­er in one sub­ur­ban home and are rais­ing their chil­dren as sib­lings. Two of them work togeth­er at home in their fam­i­ly busi­ness full-time, and their inten­tion is to grow that busi­ness until none of them are work­ing for out­side employ­ers. They’re home­school­ing the chil­dren and have a high­er stan­dard of liv­ing and more secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty than they would real­is­ti­cal­ly have as two sep­a­rate nuclear fam­i­lies. Both chil­dren have four par­ents who are present, high­ly involved, and lov­ing.
  • Else­where in Atlanta, there’s a neigh­bor­hood that’s slow­ly becom­ing more and more pagan, as mem­bers of a spir­i­tu­al group delib­er­ate­ly buy or rent each house that comes avail­able so that they may live near each oth­er. They coop­er­ate to pro­vide child care for each oth­er, they pre­pare many meals togeth­er, and sev­er­al of them are in busi­ness togeth­er either full or part-time. They have rit­u­als in their yards and fly flags with pen­ta­grams on them and don’t wor­ry about what the neigh­bors might think or whether some­one is going to call the police about the Beltane fires. (And inci­den­tal­ly, the neigh­bor­hood, which was in a dete­ri­o­rat­ing area, has expe­ri­enced a sig­nif­i­cant­ly decreased crime rate.)
  • Across the coun­try, an acquain­tance lives in a great big house near a major uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus with a core group of five oth­er sin­gle par­ents and their chil­dren of var­i­ous ages (her daugh­ter and some of the oth­ers have grown up in those years). Oth­er peo­ple, with and with­out chil­dren, have come and gone over the twen­ty years they’ve been there. They share everything—food, mon­ey, child­care respon­si­bil­i­ties, trans­porta­tion, etc. Some of them are lovers and some are not, but they all share cer­tain core val­ues, have made com­mit­ments to each oth­er, and are stand­ing by those com­mit­ments no mat­ter who might be sleep­ing with whom.

None of these groups is per­fect. They all have their good and not-so-good points—but they’re all ICs. What they have in com­mon is that none of these peo­ple are alone. None of them are iso­lat­ed. In the last three exam­ples, nobody is strug­gling to han­dle life with­out a human sup­port sys­tem. They don’t have latchkey chil­dren unless that’s by choice. If their cars break down, they don’t wor­ry about who to call for help. If they’re ill or injured, their com­mu­ni­ty ral­lies around them to help. If they have a new baby, they have many peo­ple with whom to cel­e­brate the child’s birth.

Now, I don’t real­ly want to live in the first kind of IC, sim­ply because it isn’t enough com­mu­ni­ty for me—the sec­ond and third exam­ples are much clos­er to my own dreams. I don’t real­ly think some­body can build a place, say “buy prop­er­ty here and you’re part of a com­mu­ni­ty!” and have it work. (Most of those places are pret­ty darned expen­sive, too.) Still, they are enough com­mu­ni­ty for some peo­ple.

Back when my for­mer life part­ner and I were rais­ing our chil­dren (my daugh­ter, his son, and his daugh­ter), we were for­tu­nate enough to be part of is a loose net­work of friends who were more like fam­i­ly, peo­ple whose kids we would take at a momen­t’s notice when their nor­mal child­care fell through. Peo­ple with whom we cel­e­brat­ed our reli­gious hol­i­days. Peo­ple who helped each oth­er move and bor­rowed each oth­ers’ vehi­cles when need­ed. Peo­ple who could trust each oth­er with keys to their hous­es and who did­n’t hes­i­tate to hug or rep­ri­mand each oth­ers’ chil­dren as need­ed. We were close enough to one fam­i­ly that being near them was def­i­nite­ly a decid­ing fac­tor when it was time to move. We were close enough to a sin­gle friend that our kids called him “Uncle” and his motor­cy­cle stayed parked in our garage. Oth­er friends had a stand­ing invi­ta­tion to stay the night or stay the week, as need­ed, when­ev­er they were in town. When their every­day child­care arrange­ments need­ed adjust­ing (some­body was sick, it was a school hol­i­day, they had busi­ness trips, etc.), I expect­ed that they would give us an oppor­tu­ni­ty to enjoy their chil­dren’s com­pa­ny.

Hon­est­ly, I would have been thrilled if we could all have found homes in one neigh­bor­hood. As a child, I lived with­in walk­ing dis­tance of sev­er­al aunts and one grand­moth­er, and it was mar­velous. I’d love to have had a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion for our kids and those of our friends.