Community living: free and generous love or a 21st century nightmare? We investigate the communes that are still running in 2019 and ask if they are an idyllic blip best left in the 1970s.
First things first, if you call it a commune, you’ll look like a dad trying to be cool. Nowadays, communes are called ‘intentional communities’. Yes, the term’s less romantic, but that’s also probably the point: today’s ‘communes’ are calmer, neater and choosier than the dubious cults of the 1960s, and joining one is less about being brainwashed and more like getting a job at Accenture. Communes have kind of grown up, and the people who run them realize two things: people like to have control of their own money; and close-knit communities only stay close when their members commit to a common aim.
The most successful (longest running, financially secure, legal, etc.) of today’s intentional communities are more commonly known as eco-villages. They choose sustainable living as their core value and raison d’être. They care less about how many hours you meditate, what clothes you wear, or who you sleep with, but if you drive up in your SUV trying to collect air miles with an Amex, then you can assume it’ll be your last visit.
Not that you’d get a much better welcome if you arrive penniless. ‘Communes’ aren’t called communes anymore mostly because the members don’t share all their money and possessions. Each resident has some form of income, and if you want to stay, you’ve got to pay.
Let’s take a few examples. Sieben Linden in Germany has 150 residents, nine straw-bale houses, and a carbon footprint one-third the size of a regular German hamlet. Take it as a benchmark for the modern ‘eco-village’. They grow plenty of their own food, eat vegan, use compost toilets, and rarely buy newly-made goods. Members work as primary school teachers nearby, run their own online business, or use Sieben Linden as a base to run permaculture workshops. The joining fee is $15,000, which they return if you decide to leave. While relaxing in the on-site sauna, one of the founders explained “the community aims to show how you can live a comfortable life without having such a negative ecological impact on the planet”. Simple, right?
Monkton Wyld in the south west of England is a cheaper way to try out the commune life. Located in the grounds of a Victorian manor house, the community is run by nine permanent caretakers (each paid $65 per week) and supported by volunteers who offer their labor in return for food and board. At Monkton all meals are vegetarian and cooked centrally, and each morning volunteers and staff alike get allocated work shifts in either kitchen, garden, maintenance or housekeeping categories. The community also boasts ‘The World’s Smallest Pub’—a garden shed with room enough for six people, two kegs of local ale, and occasionally the landlord’s ancient gramophone.
Now, for those of you who are feeling disappointed at the mild-mannered civility of today’s ‘communes’, there is at least one community that does care about who you sleep with. Tamera, in the rolling hills of southern Portugal, has between 90 to 150 residents (depending on the season), and one of their main rules is non-monogamy; you’re kind of meant to sleep with whoever asks. Love Spaces are discreetly dotted around the large rural site so that there’s always a convenient spot for some no-strings-attached communal care. Non-monogamy is imposed because Tamera sees jealousy and unfulfilled desire as the heart of the world’s social and political problems; they even run a week-long Love School where all the lessons are ‘practical’ (*wink wink*). There’s one thing, though, that hasn’t changed much about communes over the years, and that’s the focus on learning to live better alongside fellow idealists. As Dani, a resident of Eco-Village, located in the north end of the Wilshire Center/ Koreatown area of Los Angeles, puts it: “I want to be able to do the right thing, but I can’t do that without other people”. In this case the focus is on sustainable urban living and a community-based lifestyle.
Communes may have grown up a little since the good old Woodstock days, but if you want to meet some inspiring people with smart ideas for saving the planet, they’re definitely worth a visit.
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