Sunday, April 6, 2008

Brainstorming Session

Late saturday afternoon I met up with a fellow from Chicago who had contacted me about this project. Stephen was in town, apartment-hunting for a possible move to Seattle. Though his decision to move isn't final, he has some experience with collectives, and was kind enough to help me organize some ideas over a few beers at The Hopvine.

Some criteria that we (well really, he) came up with as aspects of an intentional community are:

Size and Composition

Since communities can organize in ways that range from left field (commune/monastery) to right field (typical condo association/suburban neighborhood association), we felt that it was important to orient ourselves within the context of these two extremes.

For example, let's take economy. We could call a hypothetical commune an internal economy since it could be totally self-sufficient. Members could garden and scavenge for food; they could sell artisan wares to bring in some money. The opposite of this would be the external economy of a typical condo building. Everyone, except for maybe a manager, works outside the building. They all pay their monthly dues to the association to take care of building maintenance, etc.

Our vision of what this project could be like were similar and we both agreed that organizing the community of people before embarking on the construction process was crucial for philosophical reasons as well as practical.

A quick synopsis of our nascent vision is as follows:

Economy: Mostly external with an internal component. By this I mean that everyone would likely have some sort of external income, except for possibly a manager, but would also actively participate in the community.

Qualification: I believe Stephen stated a major part of this best when he said "eco-goal compatibility." Goals that would likely be ubiquitous: recycling, composting, eating local when it's "best" (see Avoiding the Local Trap here), minimal reliance on cars, etc. Of course, the degree to which people share goals would differ, but would typically reinforce eachother. Other qualifications such as tolerance and desire to strengthen the community at various scales (development, neighborhood, city, etc.) would likely be shared.

Purpose/Mission: In today's buzzwords, to live with a smaller ecological footprint. We also considered the possibility of helping to spread the word. Attending events like the upcoming Green Festival, blogging, attending events/readings or any other form of public outreach would qualify.

Size and Composition: Regarding size, I see this project starting as a discrete unit but welcoming the possibilty of expansion, whether it be physically manifested or ideologically; whether we built more units on an adjacent lot or shared our gained expertise with a group of individuals in Austin. By composition we mean that it must be decided whether members have to occupy a unit in the development or if they can be included by association (the Phinney Eco-Village, I believe, functions by association).

Association: How much time would we spend together? Less than a commune but more than condo building is the easy answer. Are we going to be a little sphere that neglects every "typical" development around us? I hope not. The growth of community on scales beyond our legal boundary would likely be in our best interest.

Leadership: Democratic, basically. Electing a board would be a way to focus everyday decisions to a group that wanted increased responsibilty while larger decisions would include everyone. Similar to a typical condo board.

These ideas are all conceptual but I believe they encompass what I/we have in mind. I'm searching for middle-ground where we can move forward, ahead of the curve, be a living example, but not come off as extremists. Is that possible?

1 comment:

Galen said...

Man, I am geeking out over your blog.

My name is Galen, I'm 25, work as a low-paid caseworker and play in a space-folk band (

My wife and I have been talking about possibilities of urban co-op communities in the midst of this singles-only-rich-condo-club of a city. We love this city, but are afraid we'll be pushed out eventually. Inevitably by rising rent costs, perhaps culturally as we are focused on starting a family but are appalled by suburban life.

We have a small church community that co-ops in certain capacities, but not housing.

Anyways, just wanted to introduce myself and tell you I appreciate what you're doing.