Do you think living with a bunch of people might be for you? We talked to Laird to find out more.
Laird is the Executive Secretary of the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), a nonprofit he helped start in 1987 and that provides information about intentional communities of all types, focusing mainly on North America.
The FIC's program includes:
- Communities Directory (six editions have been published since the first one in 1990)
- Communities Magazine (this quarterly started in 1972, FIC took over as publisher in 1992)
- Events (Art of Community weekend gatherings, plus myriad shorter versions, many of which involve partnering with other organizations)
- Website: www.ic.org
As a professional, Laird is not just a practitioner and a teacher, he is also a theoretician and writes regularly about the emerging field of cooperative group dynamics. Laird also writes a regular column for Communities magazine, and started a blog in 2007 on the themes of community, cooperative group dynamics, and homesteading.
Could you give us an overview of the different types of Intentional Communities that exist and how they differ from one another?Communities come in a variety of categories, with some fitting gin to multiple categories. Here are the main ones:
EcovillageThese communities have a central focus on trying to be aware of their ecological footprint and to minimize member resource consumption. The emphasis here is more on intent and forward progress than on accomplishment.
CohousingThese communities follow a very specific design model that features dense housing with a below-average footprint, housing that is focused toward each other (encouraging interactions among neighbors), parking on the periphery, a central common house that all members have access to, resident control of community life, resident input in the design of the community. Cohousing communities are overwhelmingly secular, though there is nothing in the model that requires that.
Student Co-opsThese are usually larger, older houses on or near campus where a number of students can live together cooperatively, typically sharing cooking and cleaning. It is often the residents’ first experience of group living. Student co-ops are characterized by high turnover as students often leave the area after they graduate.
Income-sharing groupsAbout 10-12% of intentional communities hold income in a common treasurer, from which all expenses are met, including food, clothing, utilities, health care, and vacations. The members of groups with communal economies have more inter-twined lives by virtue of more aspects needing to be decided collectively. In exchange, this degree of horsing leads to considerable savings through bulk purchasing and great sharing.
AshramsThese are centers where the overarching reasons people are living together is to pursue a particular spiritual path. There may not be a living avatar or teacher living in the ashram.
Residential land trustsIn these group some portion of the development rights to the property have been placed in trust to protect them from development in perpetuity, preserving the land’s current uses for future generations. Often this means protecting land as wild space, or for agricultural purposes, prohibiting subdivisions. While effective in limiting development in the immediate area, the residents need to be wiling to forego the opportunity to benefit from any future rise in the market value of the land and will not be able to use the land as collateral for loans.
Group housesPerhaps the most common form of intentional community is a single residence that owners decide to develop as a group house. There may be a single owner who lives in the house; the owner(s) may live elsewhere and rent it to the group; or all renters may be owners - it can be done lots of ways. Typically non-owners pay rent (or, if the group owns the house then residents collectively cover mortgage payments) and other living expenses are shared. Often residents eat meals together, but not always.
How does someone find and join one of these communities?The FIC maintains a free online Communities Directory with a searchable database that lists over 1600 groups in the US. In addition to that there is word of mouth, and local listings. Most communities these days maintain their own website.
The requirements for joining and the process by which that decision is made vary widely and you need to explore that with each community individually.
What kind of person would enjoy living in an intentional community?Someone who enjoys the company of others and appreciates the benefits of living with people who share core values. Someone for whom it matters that they integrate their social and ecological values into everyday living. Someone who wants to be a model of careful resource use through broad-based sharing. Someone who wants to commit to creating and sustaining cooperative culture in contrast to the competitive culture of the mainstream.
How much does it cost to live in an intentional community?This varies widely by community. In general income-sharing groups are the least expensive to join (often there is no fee at all). Others, based on location and lifestyle, may require buying a $500,000 home. Most, of course, are comfortably in between. There are two things you need to pay attention to in terms of joining a community: a) is there a buy-in fee; and b) what does it cost to secure housing? Often, even if you cannot afford to buy, you may be able to rent in community - so don’t overlook that possibility.
What are the best parts of live in an intentional community?Communities are mainly social experiments (rather than design experiments). In general people love or leave it based on how happy they are living a life that’s intertwined with your neighbors. On the one hand it means far more potential for support and connection; on the other it means other people knowing and having a say in your business.
What are the biggest challenges in live in an intentional community?Typically the hardest parts are the obverse of the best parts: getting along with people who share your values yet interpret them differently; working through tensions with people who’s personalities are different than yours; coexisting with parents who raise their children differently than you do; sharing resources with people who don’t clean things and maintain them the same way you do. Differences are the spice of life, yet all spices are not enjoyable.
Any helpful resources or links on this topic?FIC maintains an online bookstore that’s full of books and DVDs that are excellent resources about community living. Visit Community Bookstore. Pay particular attention to Communities Directory listing more 1600 groups in the US, and and Communities Magazine our 80-page quarterly. In addition, I maintain a blog about community living and group dynamics: communityandconsensus.blogspot.com.
photo credit: OUR Ecovillage