Eddie's Intentional Communities
This is written in the context of Australian conditions.
I am not am expert on the subject but I am a member of an MO.
When I told my mother I wanted to live in Nimbin
- she cried! Like many (but not all - hello Rayne)
people of her generation (mum's a 1923 vintage) having their son run
off to live in a community was a very bad thing. It's probably worse
than finding out he's a junkie because in communities everybody takes
drugs, they don't wash, they have sex with anything that doesn't run
away fast enough and they have fleas. They also sit around and say
"Hey man" a lot. In reality most Australian communities
consist of educated, middle-aged, clean, hetro-sexual couples and
families. Some will fit the popular stereotype but most don't.
It is difficult to write this stuff because the word "community" has several meanings. It is often used to describe a group of people who have something in common as in the usage -"the german speaking community". These german speakers have something in common but may not even know each other. It this page I generally mean community as defined in "The different drum" by Dr Scott Peck - a much more intimate interaction.
Communities I'm discussing here are of the "Intentional" variety. Intentional Communities (ICs) obviously form intentionally - people decided to live together as a community,plan it and create it. Simply living together does not automatically make a community. The problem is many ICs don't actually achieve "community". Community can also exist without living together. The word "community" is a bit like the word "love", in some cases it's very much so :-) . The word "love" is pretty hard to define to someone who's never been there and so it is with "community". I have not lived in a community but I have felt community on several occasions and it did feel a little like being in love. A community is greater than the sum of it's parts, it's members work with each other, for each other and their differences compliment and strengthen the community. Without community the differences tend to divide people. People trust the group enough the share the parts of themselves they would normally keep guarded. Problems are shared, advice and criticism are always constructive and are taken in that spirit. Problems are solved and not run away from.
I'm not saying all co-operative living requires this level of intimacy, but it would be useful to have labels that differentiate between "communities" in the full sense of the word and other co-operative lifestyles.
As I've already said - I've never lived in an IC so I don't claim to know anything but this is how I *think* some types work....
Communes are the most "full-on" type of IC. Here all material possessions are shared along with income. Housework and meals would most likely be shared. The sharing may extend to sexual relationships but this is probably uncommon. A full spectrum of sexual behavior exists from polyamorous (group marriage) in it's many varieties to total sexual abstinence. Child raising is likely to be shared. I'm not quite sure what happens to prior assets. I would guess that it's up to the group to decide whether absolutely everything is shared or not. A commune could exist as a part of a larger IC. Many communes would be small enough to live in a single house.
Co-housing generally consists of fairly independent privately owned dwellings which are complimented by communal land, building and other assets. The homes and lots are likely to be a little smaller than usual. The use of large communal kitchens, dinning rooms, meeting areas and laundries reduces the need for these in the private spaces. Some meals are likely to be communal. Other communal assets may include sewing rooms, workshops, children's playroom, gyms, pools, sporting equipment and vehicles. Often the houses overlook pedestrian streets, fences are avoided allowing the yards to merge with one another. Maintenance of the communal areas is shared. Co-housing shouldn't require massive changes to zoning regulations to implement and works well in an urban setting. I'll also scanned the cover of the co-housing book I read. Graham Meltzer has a worthwhile co-housing web site.
Multiple Occupancy (MO)
This is what we are. MO is a zoning code which allows multiple residences to be built on one block of land. By law there can be no private subdivisions - all land in owned jointly (or has one owner?). Members may agree to portion off bits of land for private use but this has no legal standing. Unfortunately for us MO status does not mean you can (legally) build where-ever you want. Buildings still require council building permits and the council has it's own idea of what's best for us. This includes all weather access to all home-sites, 46,000 litres of water storage per home and 30 meter fire breaks! They also want around $6000 per home as road levy and for us to upgrade the intersection to the main road . So much for low cost housing! One problem for members of MOs is in obtaining home loans. Obtaining loans for the communal areas in co-housing development may also be difficult. MO zoning usually applies to rural settings. In our case we're talking 16 members on 230 hectares (almost 600 acres), most would be a bit more crowded :-) but you'd still be talking hectares per share, not exactly high-density housing..
MO legislation in New South Wales was originally under state government control and MOs flourished. In 1992 approval of MOs was given to local councils, in the case of our shire this meant the end of MO for new developments. (I've heard an other version which says the MO laws were extinguished and council couldn't zone them even if they wanted too - I'm not certain which version is correct.) New communities have been approval using "community title" (CT) instead. CT has some advantages and disadvantages but the choice was taken away from the people. Pan Community Council. has lobbied for re-instatement of statewide MO legislation and you'd best check there web site for progress. At the time of writing one MO application is on display at the council - so it appears MO is reborn.
Community Title (CT).
CT is another zoning code it's similar to co-housing in that some land is private and some communal. For example a 200 Hectare property might be divided into 100 - one hectare lots with 100 hectares held in common. I believe CT legislation was a modification of "Strata Title"(ST) law. ST is what allows private ownership of portions of a building (as in blocks of "units"). CT is jokingly call "Horizontal Strata Title" by some. Having privately owned blocks is an advantage for people needing bank loans for building but often the council requires a lot of infrastructure in the form of roads, power, (water?sewage?) and phone connections before lots can be sold. This and other setup costs make it difficult to roll your own community without significant starting capital.
This is a style of developement which could built on an MO, CT or some other zoning. My concept of EV (which may be wrong!) is of a cluster of houses similar to the co-housing model but most likely in a rural setting and with other services such on site such as shops, bakeries and perhaps places of work - say a sawmill. An EV would have to be fairly large to support something like a bakery but if the bakery also sells to the general public then the EV could be small.
Why do it?
For the community.
I'm not sure how many people join ICs for the community aspects - certainly not all. Some people want to live surrounded by caring people who they can connect with on an emotional level - others don't. Communities like "findhorn" start each day with a group mediation and sharing session. Religious communities might have several pray session a day. Some groups will only meet to discuss business.
Be near friends.
More people in the modern world are finding they don't see their friends much anymore. I have no friends living close by and few less than 30 minutes drive away. I can spend an hour driving to see one friend but if they lived on the same co-op not only could I see them easily but also I could see them in groups..
The cost of housing in community *can* be quite low, something like %10 the cost of traditional housing. This is partly because the houses tend to be modest, owner built, shared and made from cheap materials. Newer government regulations and fees probably make those sort of savings a thing of the past :-( Communities can also live much more cheaply with more efficient use of resources and energy. The original Nimbin communities how built illegally in the day prior to MO legislation may well have achieved to %10 figure. Modern urban co-housing is unlikely to be much cheaper than regular housing. Saving are also made in energy and resource use. They are also more efficient in use of human energy. Cooking for 40 people in not 40 times the work of cooking for one. Bulk buying also saves money.
Save the planet.
People in community use much less energy than those in regular housing (about 1/3 in the US and 1/2 in Oz). They probably produce less waste as well.
Communities tend to be safe places where you are less likely to be attacked or burgled. They're also safer places to let children be in.
More say in local issues.
While all the co-op meetings are a pain, they also give everyone a say in what happens. In our case this includes approval of new members and location home sites.
The bad news is -
Not all attempts at forming communities end happily - the majority of communities fail. Sometimes things become nasty. Hopefully we can learn from history and improve the chances of future communties succeeding.
A random rave.
In "A pattern language" Christopher Alexander says that councils should control the land that links the private spaces and not stifle creativity within those private spaces. I whole-heartedly agree. Provided we don't place the outside world at risk (say by polluting the creek) we should be free to live as we please and take responsibility for our own levels of risk. If our homes, burn down, fall down or are inaccessible to emergency vehicles - this should be our business, the business of our insurers and not that of government.
My preferred zoning for a rural community is the MO. It is more risky in some ways but if you have a good bunch of people it is more versatile than CT. It should also be less expensive initially, the end costs may turn out to be much the same but progress can be made at a rate the MO and its members can afford. I have little interest in urban communities, they're a great idea for those inclined to city life but it's not my scene. However I do think there's scope for spending some time in town and some in the country as I'm doing to some extent. Perhaps some sort of relationship between a rural and a city community could be a good thing.
With regard to the "intimate community" as mentioned above. Some members (of say an MO) could from a community while other only involve themselves with the business side of things. Particularly within a large MO the level of intimacy could vary enormously with some people being hermits and others forming communes - whatever makes them happy!
While the council seems to be the villian here to some extent, the council people we deal with are usually at the bottom of the chain of command. This extends up to the politicians who (mostly) still haven't a clue that we should be reducing our impact on the planet. Any attempt by us to live simply, cheaply and lightly is countered by government interference to maintain complexity, expense and inefficiency - this also creates jobs. People building cheap homes for themselves, say out of mud and fallen timber - does not increase the GDP. Government would rather pay for job creating low income housing developements than let people created there own spaces without hinderence. Australia now (1999) has a quarter of a million homeless but the government prefers to have people sleeping under bridges than in low cost owner built structures.
It seems bizzare to me that we have to pay a road levy which is in no way linked to our actual usage of roads. A single occupant house where the owner doesn't drive attracts the same levy as a large family of active motorists.
Nimbin Rocks Co-op
Gabalah - A New Intentional Community, NSW, Australia,
Crossroads Medieval Village, Yass, NSW, Australia,
Hits since 15/Jan/1999 =
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