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Intentional communities are planned social communities with higher resident interactions than traditional neighborhoods. They are known by many names: ecovillages, cohousing, residential land trusts, communes, and alternative communities. All include using shared space and resources, which lowers each person's eco-footprint. Many communities also adopt concepts of sustainable living, such as recycling, carpooling, and energy-efficient home design.

How to find an intentional community

People form intentional communities based on shared ideals—usually social, ecological, political, or spiritual. People who share these ideals join the community and share responsibilities and resources. How much sharing depends on how the community is organized.

How are intentional communities organized?

  • Cohousing: People live in a neighborhood where each family owns its individual home but also enjoys shared space. These neighborhoods can be urban or rural. Stone Curves cohousing in Tucson, Arizona offers attached, single-family homes for purchase, along with a common house for frequent shared meals and meetings. Members share in the work that keeps the community functioning. For example, the food for communal meals is purchased, prepared, enjoyed, and cleaned up by the participating community members. Other chores, like cleaning the common space and yard work, are similarly shared by all members of the community.
  • Commune: Individuals live and work together. There is little or no personal property. Some, like Sandhill Farm in northeast Missouri, feature a sustainable communal lifestyle where members contribute to the farm’s operation and share living space. All resources ( cars, tools, etc.), as well as any income earned while living at the farm, are shared with the community.
  • Ecovillage: Urban or rural mixed-use (residential and commercial) communities where the residents combine a supportive social environment with a low-impact way of life. For example, New York's Ecovillage at Ithaca offers an organic community supported agriculture (CSA) vegetable and berry farm, office spaces for cottage industries, a neighborhood root cellar, and community gardens. The village’s future plans include a charter school, wind power, organic orchards, a roadside farm stand, on-site biological wastewater treatment, greywater recycling, biomass energy crops, onsite biodiesel/vegetable-oil fuel production, carshare and shuttle van opportunities, and a natural cemetery.

What are the benefits of living in an intentional community?

Although each intentional community is unique, most feature these common characteristics and benefits:

  • The building designs encourage energy and water conservation, such as duplexes or four-plexes with shared heating and cooling systems. Additionally, many communities feature alternative energy sources and energy-efficient construction. Consequently, members enjoy lower heating and cooling costs.
  • Emphasis on ecological principles that lead to land preservation, and energy and water conservation.
  • Shared resources, such as washing machines, clothes dryers, and lawn mowers. Members own and maintain (and store) fewer personal appliances and tools.
  • Emphasis on creating family-oriented neighborhoods with members of diverse ages. Members enjoy the benefits of a close-knit family, such as shared meals, child care, and emotional support.
  • The community design encourages walking and social interactions. Shared gardens, yards, and parks promote exercise and friendships.
  • The high level of social interaction encourages carpooling, which saves gas and lowers the community's carbon footprint.
  • Community decisions are made collectively with each member having a vote.

Find it! An intentional community

Intentional communities can be rural or urban. Urban communities are often created as in-fill developments and are close to employment and retail centers. Rural communities usually have a farming focus. Below are several helpful websites that provide more detailed information on intentional communities, as well as directories to help you find one where you need to live.

Living in an intentional community helps you go green because...

  • These communities share common areas and resources, reducing the land and space needed to provide living quarters. Community living also reduces the purchase and use of home-maintenance equipment, some of which can be quite energy-intensive, and other material goods that can create environmental degradation in their manufacture and transport.
  • Most use a compact building design that uses less land and building resources per person.
  • Approximately 90 percent of intentional communities promote sustainable lifestyle practices.[1]

A close-knit community where neighbors interact daily while sharing space and resources naturally creates a community that uses fewer resources per person. House size is one example. In 2003, the average single-family detached home was 2,541 square feet, whereas a single-family attached home, typically found in intentional communities, was 150 square feet smaller.[2] Intentional communities may also have condominiums or multiple families sharing one unit, further reducing the square footage per person. Smaller homes typically consume less resources in construction and in operation.[3]

Shared resources

Cohousing researcher Graham Meltzer, writing in "Sustainable Community: Learning from the Cohousing Model," notes that people living in cohousing communities use 75 percent fewer lawnmowers, 30 percent fewer washers and dryers, and live in half the space of the typical American. He also found that, over time, cohousers made fewer car trips per person, and used less energy and water.[4]

Ecological principles

Geoph Kozeny, a veteran of living in intentional communities, has visited hundreds of intentional communities across the US. He reports that more than 90 percent of contemporary communities, including those located in urban areas, practice ecological principles, such as recycling and composting.[1] Others feature homes built with energy-efficient designs, such as solar panels, low-e windows, and ENERGY STAR appliances. Ecovillages, urban, or rural communities that strive for a low-impact way of life, take it one step further. Using various aspects of ecological design, permaculture, ecological building, and alternative energy, these communities strive to be truly sustainable.[5]

Glossary

  • permaculture: A system of cultivation intended to maintain permanent agriculture or horticulture by relying on renewable resources and a self-sustaining ecosystem.

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