Our Intentional Community Discussion Revisited


About 8 months ago we had a very interesting discussion on this blog about the concept of an intentional artists’ community. I think the discussion was so interesting because people who play around with paper mache are almost guaranteed to have great ideas about other parts of life, as well. After all, we take products that were originally intended for one use, and transform them into something entirely different. That process seems to be most inviting to people who are willing to think outside the box.

But actually, after I’d thought about it for several months, I realized that I would want our village to include people other than just artists.

Anyway, I think it’s now time to take another look at the idea of “building a village on purpose,” which is what most of the ideas in the last post were really about.

If enough people seem interested in this discussion, I might put up a new blog just to keep the discussion going. (First question: If we build a virtual village online, what should we call it? Names do help organize one’s thoughts, so chime in with your suggestions).

But this time, let’s imagine the new village growing in a real place, (which I’ll choose somewhat arbitrarily for the sake of discussion).  I think that might help us think more concretely about what steps we would need to take to get from point A to point B.  And, of course, we should discuss what point B really looks like, and how important it is to get there.

Even though the spot I’m proposing for our discussion is a real place, (follow that link to see photos), we don’t actually own it of course, and the real owners would probably be quite amused by our fantasies – but I still think it will be fun to put our ideas in a particular spot. Then we can imagine living by the stream, walking in the woods, taking steps to preserve the beauty of our new home, planting our garden, interacting with the local townspeople. It makes the ideas seem more real to me. I hope you agree.

There are a growing number of people discussing ideas like this online, but how many people are actually willing to sell their homes or leave their home towns to build a new village in the mountains of California (or wherever)? How practical is it to take that kind of risk in this economy? Or is this the best time to do it?

OK, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s imagine that our new village is built, one small home at a time, in this particular location. It’s currently for sale, and it has the infrastructure already set up for 33 small houses (which most people call RVs because they’re on wheels). To see how people build their own small homes on wheels, visit some of the websites listed at the bottom of this post. (Could we design a whole new way of building small houses, using our paper mache or sculpting skills? Hmm…)

I chose an RV park in a rural setting for this mind experiment for two reasons: first, most urban areas have minimum square foot requirements that make it too expensive  for most people to build their own homes, and the size of the homes that are normally built in cities have a very high carbon footprint. Trying to build small in a city requires fighting with city hall, and I think there are better uses of our time. On the other hand, RV parks are already zoned for small homes, so there would be no fights with local authorities. Also, in our previous discussion I didn’t see anyone suggest that the new community should be inside a city. There seems to be a very real longing for a country place to call home.

Now let’s imagine what it would take to turn that beautiful spot into a thriving community. And once we have a picture in our heads of what that would look like, let’s discuss some of the following points (and anything else you might think is relevant…):

Would the land need to be owned by one person, by all villagers together as stockholders, or should it be set up as a land trust? How important would it be to know the land could not be sold to a developer? If someone decided to move out, how would that affect the ownership of the land?

How could the potential villagers put together the money ($376,000) to buy the land in this tight economy?  Would it be reasonable or ethical to simply put up a request for donations from people who believe in the idea, and then put those donations into a trust? Who would manage the trust, and who would govern the community? Who would write the rules and write the checks?

Should the village charter set a maximum square foot limit on the homes in the village for environmental reasons? Should all the homes be hand built, according to common aesthetic values and environmental standards? If so, would that exclude people who would be great neighbors, but who don’t have the skills needed to build even a small house, but who might own a little camp trailer? If a maximum square foot limit is set, would it tend to exclude families with children? And would that be a good thing, when you consider how wonderful it would be to grow up in that beautiful environment?

What buildings and amenities should be available for village residents and visitors, including tools that can be owned in common? If the homes are small, there would need to be places for people to work and play outside the home. How should those needs be accommodated? Should some effort be made to entice a registered nurse to live in our village, perhaps with free rent in trade for village health care, since universal health care is still a long way off?

Should residents own their own homes, or should homes be built by the village corporation or trust and rented to residents?

Who should be allowed to live there? Should there be any exclusions at all based on occupation, lifestyle choices, diet, political orientation or religion? I vote no. What do you think?

What would the original statement of goals look like for a village you helped to build? Would you want the village to be part of the environmental movement, the transition movement, the small house movement, the local food movement, all of the above, or none of the above? What did I leave out?

Please offer your comments, if only to let me know I’m not the only one who thinks about things like this.

By the way, here are a few links to organizations that are already thinking along these lines, more or less:

Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, Small House Society, Transition Movement, Tiny House Village Network, Global EcoVillage Network, Intentional Communities, Far Beyond the Stars Blog, Rowdy Kittens, The Tiny Life, Tiny Simplicity

15 thoughts on “Our Intentional Community Discussion Revisited”

  1. Hi Jonni,
    I continue to be amazed at the ongoing events between us. The thought that, “when the student is ready the teacher will appear,” is replaying in my mind frequently as I read your posts.
    This is exciting.

  2. If you are interested in intentional communities, I’d recommend two resources – ic.org and the books by Diana Leafe Christian.

    I’ve been living in an intentional community for over six years and love it. Of course our group has the advantage of being well established (started 1968) and quite stable. I agree about the benefits of a diverse group – the more viewpoints you get on an issue and the more different skills in the group the better your group will do at life’s challenges. At least that’s been my experience.

  3. Jonni,
    Every time I look at this park, I want to cry. I used to live very close by to where this park is, and I want to buy this property soooo badly!!!!! I miss the area like the dickens… If we are just pretending, though, you couldn’t have picked a better area to do it in. Although it does get really hot in the summer. I think the whole idea of a community of artists is fantastic! Sign me up.

  4. Jonni and contributing commenters:

    I find it thoroughly interesting that fellow artists like all involved with your blog would think about a communal life together. Certainly this kind of life provides a kind of security in that all involved would have common interests in their effort to keep artistic endeavors going. I imagine that there be little crime in a community of this kind. My opinion of artists is that they probably seek to understand and promote beauty and thereefore, peaceful co-existence, which I think go hand in hand.

    I was riding a subway train in New York City this morning on my way to work, and was confronted by a woman who decided that the current thing to do would be to fling large amounts of obscenitities my way just because she felt like it. I don’t think or would hope that this kind of behavious would happen in a community based on the love of art.

    From an economic standpoint it might be a cheaper way of life – I’m not sure.

  5. I just read an article in the New Yorker about Van Gogh and Gaugin. Apparently Van Gogh had a dream of a community of artists, almost a monastery, or maybe a retreat with some permanent residents, where artists in need could find some practical help as well as food for the soul. Sadly, no one wanted to live with him, and his dream came to nothing. The author suggested that artist communities always fail, that maybe artists are just too individualistic to create a community that can hold together.

    I don’t know about that. The community I lived in for 15 years (not an intentional community; it was just a collection of small townlets on the Mendocino/Sonoma coast) was entirely populated by odd-balls and entrepreneurs, rednecks and hippies of every stripe, people from the full spectrum of educational and financial backgrounds. Yet, they pulled together for things the community needed, fractious as the meetings might have been.

    Maybe it’s just a given that there will be friction, and that should be taken into account in the original set-up. Maybe by having a one-headed leadership (the primary owner? an elected individual?) so that decisions can be made speedily at least, or strong charter and contract with all who join.

    I agree that making artistic “quality” a prerequisite for membership is not a good answer. Who decides? How does that allow for growth and experimentation? Would a member be evicted for going on a new tack and creating stuff the judge/s no longer liked? Those are possible ways to run the community, but I don’t think I’d want to be a member (if I was allowed in!)

    • Hi Xan. Your comments remind me of a conversation I’ve been having with myself lately. I wondered why the idea of an artist community appeals to me, when that’s only one of the labels I hang on myself. I think its because I like the idea of being around people who understand what it feels like to be totally focused on something, to be passionate about something. I like being around people who read, who are always learning, and who like to spend large amounts of time with themselves. I wouldn’t want to exclude computer programmers or philosophy professors, if they wanted to join. One thing I wouldn’t want is a community based on black and white ideas, where one can only belong if one thinks the right thoughts. A good argument is far more fun than doctrinal agreement.

      Perhaps the kind of community I dream about is only created naturally, like your Mendocino villages. People hear about a place, and gravitate there because it feels right.

  6. That’s a neat idea, but I’m thinking that a collective studio space is going to be essential. These small homes don’t really lend themselves to expansive projects, not to mention storage of finished projects.
    Maybe a gallery should also be part of this caravan. Hey, a caravan! Maybe that’s the mobile ticket: a collective of mobile homes that move more or less together (it would be serious challenge to find one place to hold us all if we’re just nomadic), with a few mobiles dedicated to common studio and common gallery space. Perhaps they could even be modified in such a way that they can be mated together to increase the internal useable space once parked.

    Occupation then becomes a challenge. How do we make our livings? As long as we can maintain a good web connection, some of us will be alright, but certainly not all.

    And then there’s children. Who will teach them? Will they all be homeschooled? Will we have our own traveling teacher?

    Big questions, but, with dedication, not overwhelming.

    • The nomadic idea has it’s points, perhaps because it eliminates the issue of who owns the land. If you know you’ll be moving around a lot, then you accept that ownership stays in the hands of the people who rent the space.

      I think I still tend towards the idea of staying put, perhaps because I like the idea of belonging to the land. I’ve always felt I was born two generations too late to experience the adventure of moving West and helping to build a new community. Maybe that’s what started this whole idea. RV parks tend to have showers and small stores and maybe a large building where studios and offices could be set up. There are lots of them for sale right now, and many of them cost less than some people pay for one house, but have room for 30 families or more. That seems like a good deal to me.

      Maybe we could just find a pre-built RV park in a beautiful place and move there, one small home at a time. It wouldn’t be exactly “formal,” but it would be easy. Or maybe an businessperson would like to “market” their currently underused park for this purpose.

      If the tribe lives in a place near a “real” town, kids just go to the regular school. Maybe we can offer art classes in our communal creative space for town and tribal kids, so they can get to know each other more. It might also help us be accepted by the people who lived there before we did.

      Even with staying put, a gallery seems like a must – perhaps we could rent a space downtown, so more people would find it. Except that it does tend to imply that we would only accept accomplished artists who create things that would actually sell – are we willing to restrict our community like that? The Florence Griswold boarding house for artists seems to have evolved that way. There’s something judgmental about it – the reason I have never pursued the idea of living in an intentional community. We’ll have to think about this a bit more.

      For the nomad idea, the influx of outsiders who descend on Quartzsite AZ every winter might be a good model. Or a model, at least. I have never been there myself, but thousands of people seem to think it’s a good idea. And lots of them sell their rocks and handicrafts while they’re there.

  7. I think you have a great idea. Sheri and are thinking about living with less. Maybe you could have your group without worrying too much about the land or the place – for example the community could live in one part of the country for a year and then try a different place – that way you could stimulate more create juices. The only rule would be they would own their RV and you shouldn’t have to worry about the land. RV parks in Central Texas charge anywhere from $200-$500/month with most utilities included.

    • That’s an interesting twist – like a nomadic tribe. Actually that sounds very interesting. I’d like to get away from the snow in the winter.

  8. I’m guessing that if all of us move to a village together the toilet paper (for the paper mache) is going to be more value than food.

      • Thank you Jonni! I posted some pictures in my blog where I used your paper mache clay recipe for a chair and a table.
        I don’t have a blender so It didn’t turned out so smooth but I saw the potential of what can be done with it! I asked my husband that I want a blender for our anniversary gift! I can tell you that I got a little scare when I saw the warning on the label of the Linseed Oil that says that it could make self combustion at any time. But I guess that that doesn’t apply for using two spoons. Perhaps a lot of stuffs can make self combustion but accidentally this is the first time that I read a label attached to a product lol. I hope your book is turning out great!
        Thanks for sharing with us all your talent.

        • Hi Olivia. Thanks for showing us your work. Gorgeous!

          One note- I’ve never actually used a blender to make the paper mache clay – I use a hand-held mixer instead. I am not sure a blender would work. You might want to amend your gift request!

          Also, about the linseed oil – remember that almost all oil paintings contain linseed oil, and they don’t burn anything down. The fire threat comes when people use a drying oil for polishing furniture or tools, and then leave their oil-soaked rags in a pile in the garage. You’re not going to do that, I’m sure! In fact, I just found an interesting article on the reason why you really don’t want to leave oil-soaked rags sitting in a pile on Wikipedia. (It also says a pile of manure can catch on fire – I had no idea.)

        • My mistake! My english is too fresh and I tend to mix nouns. Hand-held mixer is what I was trying to say!
          Thanks for investigating about the linseed oil. It’s good to know that I’m not going to burn anything!
          Have a great day!

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