“A group of people who live together or share common facilities and who regularly associate with each other on the basis of explicit common values.”
Whereas the intent of an intentional community can vary, the binding thread is common values. An intentional community can be any planned community designed from inception to steward community, teamwork and common values. The members usually unite around a common political, social, religious, spiritual vision or alternative lifestyle. Responsibilities and resources are often shared and or cooperative. Common intentional community models may include many of the aforementioned terms: Cohousing Communities, Collectives, Co-Living, Ecovillages, Communes, Monasteries, Ashrams, Convents, Kibbutz’ etc. Even condominiums and planned communities with unique and explicit value based HOA’s and CCR’s can be intentional communities.
Generally, Intentional communities are self-organized and self-governed. Membership to an Intentional community is usually controlled by the community rather than outside sources such as developers and real estate agents. This creates a form of exclusive membership. There are many coaches, consultants and organizations such as the Foundation for Intentional Communities that help both existing communities find members and aspiring members find fitting communities.
The Foundation for Intentional Communities has been around in some form or another since 1937. FIC emphasizes stewarding values of Cooperation, Sustainability, Social Justice, Nonviolence and non-coercion while combatting the social ills of Social Isolation, Economic, Disenfranchisement, oppression, exploitation and over consumption. -FIC
Other organizing groups help to develop more specific intentional communities around a specific focus such as religious or spiritual values, like monasteries, cloisters and convents. Some Senior communities can be Intentional Communities, Artist Collectives, Ecovillages or communities with special needs.
Homeownership arrangements in these communities have no formal structure and may take on various forms. The real property may be held in a trust, it may be privately owned or cooperatively owned, in short, the term Intentional Community does not imply any particular ownership or equity model
Some Intentional Communities have formed as a response to Climate Change and environmental (and social) degradation, and form specifically to address issues of ecology and sustainability. For these types of communities the term Ecovillage is often used. And organizations such as the Global Ecovillage Network have sought to define the term and facilitate Ecovillage formation.
“…catalyzes communities for a regenerative world. GEN is a growing network of regenerative (beyond sustainable) communities and initiatives that bridge cultures, countries, and continents.” -GEN
An Ecovillage is a traditional or intentional community with the goal of becoming more socially, culturally, economically, and ecologically sustainable. Regeneration and restoration are shared ecological values usually as an alternative response to the conventional and often destructive infrastructure systems, growth, housing and planning models.
The Global Ecovillage Network is a network, again dedicated to helping existing communities find members or for members to find existing communities with whom they share values regarding sustainable lifestyles and ecological living. Self-aware of its status as cultural experiment GEN defines the Ecovillage as:
“living laboratories pioneering beautiful alternatives and innovative solutions. They are rural or urban settlements with vibrant social structures, vastly diverse, yet united in their actions towards low-impact, high-quality lifestyles.”-GEN
Ecovillages are often dedicated to stewarding healthy landscapes, healthy people and fostering community. They often have a focus that goes beyond just interpersonal relations but also highly value land stewardship and its ecological functions.
Most Community living models as GEN states are “living laboratories” or experiments, and like experiments many of them fail. However, it is through this trial experimentation process that we discover what works and what doesn’t.
Writer and Researcher Alexa Clay has looked deeply into what makes communities fail. She talks much about the bygone idealist utopias of yesteryear that came and went upon a charismatic leader’s whim. The term Commune often carries with it negative connotations today since the medias fascination with the exposure of extremist groups and cults in past decades. This is not always the case and many successful Communities still use the term Commune to describe themselves. The Farm a successful micro-commune formed the 1970’s in Tennessee for example used the term Commune to describe themselves for years, however, now refer to themselves as an intentional community.
The term Commune is often associated with a Counterculture, or the desire to “drop-out” of society to form a new revolutionary way of being in the world, and it reminds us of the social activism of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Like the term “Counterculture” and the communes of the 60’s and 70’s, the environmentalism and social activism is still prevalent in many Intentional Communities. Eugene Taylor uses the modern term ‘Shadow Culture’ ; defined as
‘vast unorganized array of discrete individuals who live and think different from the mainstream, but who participate in its daily activities’. -Taylor
Many Intentional Communities act as a Shadow Culture and can maintain district cultural values outside the mainstream Culture but can also practice those values within the common infrastructure and systems of mass society. Or not dropping out but working to create change from the inside.
Many experiments in community living or living shared values have resulted in invaluable additions to our culture, The Puritans gave us compulsory education, town meetings. Penn and the Quakers gave rise to abolition of slavery, religious freedom and universal education.
In her article Utopia Inc. Alexa Clay relates the rise and fall of startups to the rise and fall of intentional communities and testifies to the experimental quality and function of a community.
“The failure rate for start-ups is around 90 per cent, and the longevity of most companies is dismal: of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 1955, more than 88 per cent are gone; meanwhile, S&P companies have an average lifespan of just 15 years.” …-Clay
‘It’s not utopia. It’s microcosm. Everything that’s in the outer world is there – marginalization, addiction, poverty, sexual issues, power. Communities are just fractals of society.’ -Sunderland
There is much that goes into the success or failure of a community or organization. With all that effort, failures and successes come lessons of what works and what doesn’t, like any experiment.
“In this way, intentional communities and utopias can serve as short-lived petri dishes for emergent culture.” -Clay
Some categorical factors that contribute to failure in these organizations are addressed directly by the Foundation for intentional communities and the Cohousing association. Capital constraints, conflict over private property and resource management, skills shortage, burn-out, poor systems of conflict mediation, factionalism, founder problems, reputation management, failure to attract new talent or entice subsequent generations.
Kate Sunderland of Findhorn Ecovillage was quoted:
‘If you go deep in a group, you can find all the light and shadows of humanity.’ -Marin Winieki – Tamera community
It can be a deep plunge to enter an Intentional Community and it takes social capital to earn social capital. It is the fostering, stewardship and maintenance of relationships.
“Living in cohousing, we’re intentional about our relationships. We’re motivated to resolve our differences. We follow up, we check in, we speak our personal truths and, when appropriate, we apologize.”— Grace Kim
“Everyone wants community. Unfortunately, it involves other people….In short…People. Power. Process. Projects. And sex. These will arise in any group that bands together for mutual aid. Best to talk about this – early and often.” Vicky Robin
Vicky Robin highlights in her recent post; ‘Gathering in Community as Society falls apart‘ highlights the implicit necessity for humans to come together for survival in a failing society and explores what intentionally community formation looks like. She finishes with a dose of reality:
“Sh*t happens. As Robert Burnes said, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley:” People fall out of love. People have kids, need to move on, are banished, sink through quarrelling. At the end of the day, maturity is the bottom line. And humility. And good will.” Vicky Robin
Services are available for groups or individuals to get help organizing themselves, and working through the difficulties and obstacles of community building. Here in Seattle, Syd Friedrickson and Under 1 Roof offers workshops and consultations subjects including how to find a suitable intentional community to move into, group decision making, legal forms of property ownership, non-violent communication, conflict resolution and mediation. All of which are valuable and important skills for living in Community.