Starting Your Own Co-operative Community

12 Feb

Continued from a previous post

Building Your Own Green Hill

If you’re feeling moved upon to bring together a community of your own, here are some approaches you might consider. I’ve divided them into two sections: organic and venture.

Organic approaches to community building grow fairly naturally out of everyday living. They may sound mundane — you’re probably already doing some of them — but that doesn’t mean the resulting relationships are any less rewarding. In contrast, venture approaches to community building take significant planning, time, and money.

Organic Community Building Approaches

The Correspondence Green Hill

  • Create a “remote community” — accept that it’s really difficult to gather people together physically, and instead focus on maintaining relationships through regular contact. Visit friends. Make regular phone calls and emails. Blog. Do your home teaching.

The “Love at Home” Green Hill

  • Grow your community out of your own family. Work with your spouse and kids to make a plan that engages each member of the family in fulfilling ways recreationally, educationally, spiritually, socially, and any other “-lly” your family would like to encompass.

The Shared-Interest Green Hill

  • Start a club. Meet regularly. The friendships I’ve built since I started holding monthly game nights at my house have been amazing.

The “Live Your Dreams” Green Hill

  • My friend Porter and his wife Mary Cate moved to Oregon a few years back. They bought a small farm with a big woodworking shop. Now Mary Cate spends her days tending goats, chickens, and bees, and Porter indulges his woodworking interest in the shop. While they may not be a community in the traditional sense of bringing people together, making dreams real is an important part of Zion building, and their work certainly qualifies as a green hill to me.

Venture Community Building Approaches

The “Forty Acres and My Friends” Green Hill

  • Buy a bunch of land and move there with your friends. This is probably the least practical approach to building a green hill, but I have to mention it since it’s the first one that comes to mind for most of the people I’ve talked with. While it’s beautiful in dreams, how often do you and your loved ones all simultaneously have spare money, spare time, and a desire to relocate? And once you’ve all moved out to your forty acres, where are people going to find jobs?

The “Buy an Apartment Complex” Green Hill

  • So instead of buying forty acres with your friends, purchase an apartment or condo complex. Now you have a reasonable investment, and while you’re waiting for specific people to move in you can rent the spaces out and make some money in the process.

The Business-centered Green Hill

  • Or, if real estate isn’t your thing, start a business that could provide employment to the people in the community. Or combine real estate with business by heading up a spa retreat, charter school, or summer camp.

The “Gathering of Like-minded Individuals” Green Hill

  • Perhaps your dream is bigger than just gathering people together. You have a mission, some distinctive ideology or way of living that you want to rally people around. Search the intentional community boards online and organize a group of like-minded people who are motivated enough to make sacrifices for the cause. Get the money, draw up the plans, build the dwellings, and move in. This looks like the “forty acres and my friends” approach, but with a lot more chutzpah.

Considerations — here are a couple things to keep in mind as you get started.

  1. It’s easy to dream big, but hard to put those dreams into action. In my experience, committing to build relationships is like committing to read scriptures or say prayers: the first time you try to do it consistently, you’ll probably fail. That’s okay, just be willing to keep failing until you get where you want to be.
  2. No one but you can see your vision, so learn to communicate it clearly and with confidence. Pitching a community is like pitching a business idea — people are cynical, and rightfully so.
  3. In order for any of these approaches to work, you will still need to take lifestyle, space, and program into account. What are you doing, where are you doing it, and why?

How It Looks

Could we make zion building into a hobby? Like scrapbooking, except that it requires a little more money. And instead of gathering memories in a binder, you would gather loved ones in a community. Anyway, here are some visual examples of intentional communities that exist here in the United States and Canada.

Nevada City Cohousing in Nevada City, California (
Duwamish Cohousing, in West Seattle

Duwamish Cohousing, in West Seattle, Washington (

Windsong Cohousing, in British Columbia, Canada

Windsong Cohousing, in British Columbia, Canada (

The above pictures are all cohousing communities. Another intentional community movement is “pocket neighborhoods”. Pocket neighborhoods are a compromise between cohousing and conventional suburban living. They have more privacy and less common property than a cohousing community, but the homes are still organized in a way to encourage community interaction. Here are some more pictures for you (these images all come from Ross Chapin Architects –
Danielson Grove

Danielson Grove
Conover Commons
Conover Commons
Wyer's End
Wyer’s End
Salish Pond

Salish Pond


Programs and lifestyle are the main repositories of culture in a community. Programs are optional. Lifestyles are not. The person who declines to participate in a program still gets to sit in the audience at the awards ceremony. The person who declines to participate in a lifestyle is excluded from the flow of community life.

In the church we have plenty of programs — a temple program, a scouting program, a missionary program, a youth program, etc. We also have a lifestyle, one that is built on Sunday meeting attendance. A person who attends Sunday meetings is (more or less) plugged into the church community, even if he or she ignores all of the other programs.

Conversely, a person who participates in all the programs but never comes to church on Sunday (hypothetically speaking  that is — obviously you’d have a hard time getting a temple recommend or serving a full-time mission if you don’t attend Sunday meetings) is not likely to hold an effective place in the community consciousness. (Yes, I know there are exceptions to this rule. However, a quick perusal through a list of less-active members will show that most of them are essentially unknown to anyone in the ward.)

Program and lifestyle are both purpose-focused. They both have cultural structure and hierarchy. The key to distinguishing between them is that programs are socially optional, while lifestyle is not.

Programs address diversity in a community. Recall the finding that friendships are based more on shared interest than shared affiliation. This fact, I believe, helps explain the social dysfunctionality found in many wards — an ingrained institutional expectation that everyone will have interest in every church program due to our shared affiliation.

Understanding the role of programs — promoting enrichment and development by appealing to individual interests — is one of the keys to maintaining cohesion in a diverse community. To my mind, one approach to addressing the needs of the diverse members of an intentional community is to offload as much cultural expectation as possible from lifestyle to program, while retaining enough in lifestyle to maintain the fundamental values of the community.

Potential challenges with living and working together on a plot of land:

This isn’t to discourage anyone from trying the “forty acres and my friends” approach. However, the beautiful vision of “let’s get all my friends together, buy some land, and live happily together forever” has a tendency to gloss over some of the very real issues that communities have to deal with. Here are a few:

1. A Compelling Vision — A social historian once observed that many well-formed utopian communities have failed due to boredom. Once you’ve got everyone together, what distinct lifestyle advantages does your community offer over their previous living arrangements?

2. Proximity to Town — Is your community accessible to public resources like schools, colleges, employment, shopping, a library, a hospital, and a church? Or can your community provide those resources?

3. Financing — (disclaimer: I’m not a financial expert, so I can’t guarantee the accuracy of this section.) There are essentially two ways to purchase the real estate needed for your community: co-operatively or entrepreneurially. So you’ve found the ideal location and it costs $3 million. In the co-operative approach, you and, say, 14 of your friends purchase the land together. That means it comes out to about $200,000 per person. The biggest problem here is that if one person becomes unable to make payments, the rest of you have to pick up the difference, otherwise the bank can foreclose on the whole group. In the entrepreneurial approach, one person will get financing for the entire $3 million spot, and everyone else will purchase their lots from that person. This approach isn’t very communitarian, but probably a lot more reliable.

4. Kids — Does your community take into account the needs of babies, children, and teenagers? Are there playgrounds and parks for the younger kids? Is there entertainment for the older kids? Bored teenagers is not a recipe for community harmony.

5. Affordability — Have you designed the community in a way that the people you want to have there can afford to live there?

6. Social Norms — If your community has common areas, how will acceptable behavior be defined and managed? Things like appropriate movies, alcohol usage, noise and music selections, etc. will result in varying viewpoints.

7. Conflict Resolution — Blogs can ban trolls, but communities can’t exile undesirables. What mechanisms will you put in place to facilitate harmony when people refuse to get along?

8. “Tragedy of the Commons” — People don’t take care of community property as carefully as they take care of their own. How will you keep things in a state of good repair? If your community has assigned responsibilities (grounds maintenance, meal preparation, cleaning, etc.) what will you do to ensure that those jobs are carried out?

9. Governance — Who is going to be in charge of what? How will that be determined, what authority will people have, and how will their authority be enforced?

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Posted by on February 12, 2010 in Money


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