Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Joys of Community Living

When we set out on our journey on October 30th of last year, our intention was to visit sustainable and intentional communities around the country and find one where we might be able to create either a short-term or long-term life for ourselves and Tina.

Now that we're here at The Commons on the Alameda, we are dedicating ourselves to life in this community for however long our stay turns out to be, which will be at least until the end of March. Reluctant to make a long-term commitment, renting a little studio "casita" gives us a cozy little home, a place to rest our heads, and 79 other people with whom we have frequent opportunities to interact.

The Commons is a cohousing community, so it is like an intentional neighborhood that was designed by the original families to be a safe pedestrian village wherein children and adults could live a community oriented life while maintaining a large degree of personal autonomy. And to this end, The Commons has been wildly successful.

Socially, we are lucky to have two opportunities for inexpensive community meals twice per week, and these meals provide us with the chance to break bread with neighbors over homemade food, and it is a weekly ritual that many of us are loathe to miss. Some residents are very popular chefs, so when certain people are on the schedule to cook dinner, you can be sure that the tables will be packed! So, for anywhere from $4 to $7 each per meal, we feast with our neighbors and can even take home inexpensive leftovers for the next day if the food really strikes our fancy.

While organized parties are few and far between (at least since we moved in), we did recently celebrate the annual harvest celebration here at The Commons, and participating in that 19th annual party was a treat. Also, various Commoners frequently host movie nights, sing-alongs, and other gatherings that bring some of us together. (Tonight, a group of us watched "Vitus", a sweet Swiss film that we heartily recommend).

Living in community also gives us the wherewithal to make our needs known and have them fulfilled without participating in the conspicuous consumption that makes American life so expensive and unsustainable. When we need to borrow a tool or a cooking implement, we simply send out an email or stop by the community kitchen or tool shed to see if there's one we can borrow. When I had two flat tires last week and had to send my car to the garage, one email resulted in five offers of cars to borrow so I could get to work. And if one of us was to fall ill or we were to need to community support in a pinch, we have no doubt that it would come through with little effort on our part, and that is a comforting thought.

As far as community processes, we both make time to attend various meetings here at The Commons, including the monthly business meeting, community meeting, parents meeting, and other important gatherings. When we arrived, we immediately saw that the Care and Concern Committee (with only one member) was in need of energy, so we both joined and have initiated a monthly "Heart Circle" where Commoners can come and be heard in a space devoid of judgment, feedback, or problem-solving.

When it comes to kids, that is a very fun aspect of life here. With Mary doing childcare two afternoons each week, many of the kids now see our casita as a place to come for fun and positive adult interaction, and Mary has smartly set up a shelf at kids' eye level that is covered with various toys and playthings. So, various Commons kids come and go from our casita throughout the week, and Mary has especially put a great deal of energy into creating sweet relationships with many of the children here.

Akin to kids, dogs at The Commons are another source of joy, and we have several canine friends with whom we share a special bond. There are a few who wander at will (and sometimes make their way into our casita in search of treats), and then there are others who we run into as we wander the community.

Yes, life in community offers opportunities for socialization, time with children and dogs, and the ability to dig into community life, contribute in meaningful ways, and enjoy not living in isolation in some anonymous neighborhood where no one seems to know one another.

I can say all of this and also simultaneously acknowledge that community life is not perfect. No community is not without its dysfunctions, personality clashes, and cumbersome processes, but in the larger scheme of things, we feel most at home and comfortable when living in an environment wherein some semblance of shared living is involved. It is more sustainable, more ecological, and yields a sense of connectedness and belonging that living in that isolated outside society can often lack.

The Commons may not be our forever home, and we may eventually move on for other pastures, but for now it's a comfortable place to be, and we're settling in for a New Mexican winter here in the high desert, safe in the folds of community living.


  1. Nice post. I wish more people would/could experience community living. Perhaps, as the economy worsens, more people will find themselves drawn to community life, if for no other reason than it is more economical. What a great way to decrease our impact on the Earth, while truly connecting with other fellow planetary travelers. Thanks for your inspiration.

  2. Thanks for your website. I have found the same problems you mentioned about eco-villages - people are still using harmful chemicals like scented laundry products, air fresheners, etc.. I am getting highly sick from them in our neighborhood, so we are making an emergency move at this point. It is even coming into our house. Ugh. I naturally investigated eco-villages and made exactly the same assumptions that you did. Just emailed your eco-village in New Mexico about rentals. Thanks for your research. Since getting sick from consumer chemicals, I am shocked at the extreme ignorance of so-called "green" movements, communities, members, organizations, etc.. It is cheaper to just buy unscented laundry detergent, and to use a small amount, and not what is directed on the container. They can't use the "we need to save money" excuse for this one.

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  4. Betsy, I totally understand the challenges you face.

    Just to let you know, The Commons is not an eco-village. It is simply a cohousing community with a fair amount of consciousness around using fragrance-free products. However, it is not an MCS community by any means, and many people with MCS would not find it suitable. It works for us for the most part, but for those with serious MCS, it probably would not be OK.

  5. great descriptive, keith.....i see a book coming.....and not just a chapter...but the whole you!

  6. Yes!! I too would welcome a book about you two and your adventures! Please consider it.
    I am concerned about Tina these is that sweet dog doing now?

  7. Thanks for the clarification about "eco-village" and "co-housing." I also don't have extreme MCS, just seem to have problems with the continuing emergence of more synthetic fragrances. There is a social and general environmental concern. We just traveled from Florida, through Georgia, S.C., then up to N.C.. Passed through so many towns where we accidentally got synthetic fragrance from those sickening laundry chemicals, into the car. How disgusting. I have a theory that people are not longer smelling natural smells, and at some point, will mostly just recognize synthetic smells. The EPA's hands are tied right now........ Betsy