The New Age of Intentional Communities
Many people today have never heard the concept of intentional community (IC), but if you were around in the 1960s, you may remember communes that were free-love and drug rampant refuges for flower children. Intentional communities (and former commune residents) have matured, and reflect people’s values and interests today.
There are many different types of ICs. An intentional community can be anything from an ecovillage or urban housing cooperative to a traditional commune or ashram. According to Laird Schaub, executive secretary of the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), in Rutledge, Mo., usually community members are drawn to an IC because they want to live with others who share the same economic, spiritual, social, environmental, or psychological values. He points out that ICs have been around since the time of Christ and are mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book of the New Testament.
Intentional communities have never been a dominant force in any society; only about 2 percent of the population in Israel lives in an IC (or kibbutz, as they are commonly called there) even though they have been a cultural norm for over 100 years. About 100,000 people are IC residents in the United States. However, Schaub notes that the FIC website traffic has increased to 2,400 hits per day a 10 to 15 percent increase over last year.
Recent ‘hot spots’ for forming ICs in North America include the San Francisco Bay area, North Carolina, central Virginia, New England, southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. There are some compelling reasons for joining an IC. According to a recent article in The New York Times, many young people cannot afford to live on their own because of the recession. For recent college graduates, becoming a member of an IC may represent an affordable way to live independently of their parents.
Schaub is a founding member of an income-sharing group, Sandhill Farm, in Northeast Missouri, which was formed in 1974. He wanted to reproduce the support and stimulation of his living experience in the dormitories at Carleton College in Minnesota, and subsequently started this IC with fellow alumnae friends. The nine current members eat together and raise food for sale but live in their own houses and hold jobs outside the farm.
Nine families comprised of musicians and civil rights activists founded Skyview Acres Community, located in Pomona, N.Y., in 1946. Funded by Quaker benefactors, it was formed on principles of racial and religious equality and volunteerism. Today, current president Paul Nagin says Skyview has continued to follow the original precepts. Many of the founding members still live there, including eight residents over 90. ICs provide a feeling of community and support for senior citizens yet, unlike other retirement options, allow them to live among people of varying ages.
I recently discussed Skyview’s residents’ longevity and vitality with Nagin, who maintains that it may be positive proof that a life filled with social activism and community involvement are elements contributing to people’s physical health.
He and his wife Rabia built a green energy star certified home at Skyview five years ago, and they frequently host fundraisers and political and musical events. He also gives sustainability lectures at his house to high school and college students. He recently persuaded the town to buy an adjacent parcel of land and place it in a land trust rather than have it developed by someone wanted to build “McMansions.”
by Cathy Zises