Every day, it seems, I hear about more and more intentional communities in the Bay Area. Co-ops, collectives, communes, squats, co-living households. Whatever you want to call them, these communities are popping up all over the Bay. Generally, I hear about these collective living situations from individuals who may maybe went to a party or three at the spot, or maybe know one or more people living there currently or some time ago.
Some of these communities have existed for years, such as Fort Awesome in Berkeley or Canticle Farms in Oakland, or the Flowershop Collective
in San Francisco and have strong processes and cultures for successful community living. Fort Awesome was started by some Berkeley Alums from the Lothlorien Coops near UCB campus and has had a sustained population of residents for 10 years. Canticle Farms has a longer history, with some residents having lived in the houses that make up the Farm for upwards of 20 years. Other communities are just getting started, like many of the squats I have heard of in San Francisco, and are still dynamically working out the ways that they exist.
Some communities have a solid core of people who have lived there throughout, while others have a near-constant rotation of inhabitants. It’s always interesting to me to see how the culture of a community changes (or stays the same) as various individuals move through. Some places have a very established culture and individuals add spice, but do not significantly change the community. Other spaces have more dynamic cultures that shift every time a new person moves in or a veteran moves out. Motive Collective was somewhere in between these poles, with great change sometimes occurring when a single individual moved out and the next one took their place, but a solid core in the form of longer-term residents and a founder/home-owner who held the long-term vision.
While each of these communities may have different motives for operation — art, rebellion, sustainability, cost-of-living, and other reasons — they all share a common thread: people living in community intentionally. These are not generally people who randomly end up living together in a space (although that does happen, of course), but folks who agree upon some common principals or goals and choose to come together to achieve them. Communities are made up of individuals; sometimes people who are really individuals, if you know what I mean. It’s these individuals that currently knit the wider community of communities together, of which there is one.
Generally speaking, the connections between communities are connections between the individuals residing in them. Very few of these spaces seem to have formal relationships with other spaces — although there are a few exceptions that I know of, namely Fort Awesome and Fort Radical’s existence as sister-houses. Another example is A PLACE for Sustainable Living in Oakleyville (as they call it), who partners with other local communities like their regional neighbors and several of the churches in the neighborhood. However, for communities with less interest in partnerships, most connections between them are tenuous. The cords holding communities together may change as those individuals involved change habitation status or lose interest in shared projects.
During my 19 month stint living intentionally in community at Motive Collective, I was able to pick up a few ideas about what it takes to have 9 people living in a common space with a common purpose. In the case of Motive, this common purpose is to serve as a teaching model of sustainable living in an urban environment: Oakland. And while we had some challenges getting a group of diverse individuals on the same page regarding the meaning of sustainable living, we were able to accomplish quite a lot in the year-plus that we shared. We had 9 people living together in decently close quarters with all of the inherent factors involved in such a lifestyle. We started strong on the long hike towards the goal of urban sustainability, and I’m proud to be able to say that I was a part of it for a time.
Many of us in the house had lived in various forms of communities before, and already had the seeds of successful community living in us: Respect and Open-Communication. With these two seeds, it is possible to grow a fruitful community, and indeed over the past years, Motive has crafted a very nice household a good amount of comfort, security, and a respectable amount of relative self-sufficiency. It takes time to come to agreements regarding household processes such as chores, rules for common spaces/projects, methods for household communication, and the ways that decisions are made, and when I left, these things were still being crafted, and will likely continue to be crafted and re-crafted over the next few years of the founder’s vision.
While room should always be allowed for constant improvement, organic development, and cultural evolution, it would be helful, I think, to have a framework for a budding community to start with that would still allow for diversity, dynamism, and creativity while reducing the need to start from scratch.
I do not know of any centralized resource for the kind of community building that I want to be a part of. (Note To Reader: If any of you lovely people out there know of such a thing, or feel inspired to go hunting for it and sharing it in the comments, I have many kudus and some fresh-cooked awesome to share.)
Nor does there does there seem to exist a Community of Communities knitting all of these diverse spaces into a larger whole. Why would we want such a thing, you may ask. Because it’s not practical to be self-sufficient in an urban environment. If you want self-sufficiency, you go homestead some acreage in the country — I’ve heard estimates of about 1/2 an acre per person. In an urban environment, space is limited, and so is time. People generally have many things to be doing with it, and not all of it is being spent on or at the space. So mutually-sufficient becomes the operative term. This means not only relying on the individuals in a community, but also a larger reliance on other organizations with needs and excess to share.
Community-community connections could allow for longer term agreements between spaces such as: resource sharing, skillsharing, neighborhood improvement, and a baseline of shared knowledge for every household in a larger network. From my experience thus far, it seems that most of these communities exist relatively independently and somewhat isolated from the larger community of the Bay Area.
A community of communities would allow each independent household, co-housing group, what-have-you, to contribute to a larger whole, together becoming greater than the sum of their parts. It would allow communities to better harness their diverse specialties by creating a larger commons for exchange of skills and resources. For example, rather than every household developing the skills and knowledge that are necessary to install a grey-water treatment system, a community that already has those abilities could offer the service for some form of reciprocation/payment, household-individual or household-household.
Households could hold workshops to disseminate knowledge, encourage cross-pollination of ideas and skills, and have health-related specialties. Really, the potential for community wide sharing is endless.
Moreover, the necessity of a Community of Communities is one that is very close to my own individual goals of a lifestyle without monetary wealth. Cash replaces community as a support medium, and if I am to do without it, we need to redevelop those (priceless) ties to a larger community.
Perhaps I am wrong in my assumption that such a community doesn’t exist. If it does, I haven’t heard of it. At least not in the Bay Area. Although recently, I did speak with Eric Leocadio of the Catalyst Network. The Catalyst Network is a Long Beach, California organization dedicated to connecting diverse community-based organizations that share a common set of values. If this sounds somewhat vague, I am assured that it’s supposed to be. By limiting the requirements for joining the network to common values, Catalyst is opened up to a much wider array of otherwise seemingly incompatible organizations. And by agreeing to these established common community values, diverse organizations can work together for common goals through the Catalyst Network. Eric, along with his many collaborators, has managed to create a model that is balanced between structure and dynamism. Using a baseline framework for collaboration with extremely organic everything else allows for many different forms of collaboration, and it keeps the Catalyst Network leadership out of the loop so that organizations can collaborate freely without hierarchy.
From their website:
We strive to create an environment that makes it easier for people to connect, collaborate, and share resources. We do this by developing a framework, context, and tools for improved connectivity.
That about sums it up, don’t you think?
What DO you think?
Can you think of any tools that already exist to create this community of communities that I speak of?
Does such a coalition exist already, and I’m merely blind to it? How can I get the word out, if so?
If you read this, and have a second to reply, please do! Help me have this conversation.