Dear Umbra,

How does one begin to gather a group of people to live in a modern city commune? My dream is to own in common an energy-efficient and sustainable house or apartment building inhabited by 10 or so people who are neighbors but also share the duties of the house (cooking, laundry, gardening), much like an extended family. I think this setup would be far superior to the current situation, where my spouse and I live in a large apartment building completely isolated from our neighbors, and I suspect there are other people living in relative isolation who have similar eco-ideals.

Jessica Gauthier
Rocky Hill, Conn.

Dearest Jessica,

All’s dwell that ends dwell.

Photo: iStockphoto.

Great idea, and luckily you’re not the first to have it. The contemporary umbrella term for that which you seek is an “intentional community,” and there are websites, magazines, and enthusiastic experienced persons at the ready to offer advice. An intentional community is basically what you describe: people who decide to live near one another for reasons of common interest. An IC could range from a ’60s-style commune complete with income sharing and elaborate rules for every circumstance (see Virginia’s Twin Oaks ) to a cooperatively owned urban apartment building in which members may have little contact.

As I read your letter, the IC subcategory that came to mind was co-housing. Co-housing is an intentional neighborhood that balances common spaces, shared governance, and privacy. Co-housing families/people generally dwell in private spaces and share a few public spaces, all within the same apartment building or small custom-designed neighborhood. Public spaces typically include a large group kitchen for shared meals, laundry facilities, children’s play areas, gardens, patios — you get the idea. People buy into the co-housing group, and when they do they get their own house or apartment, and join whatever group process exists in the community. Usually the residents make team decisions about the public spaces, and the financial arrangements apparently are often similar to buying a condominium.

I know a few folks who live in or wish to live in co-housing. Some have been involved from the inception of the co-housing idea, found others to join, worked with the group to design and build their ideal homes, and are now living in them. Others have joined existing communities, or are looking for an existing building in which to have a notion of community quite similar to yours. Seems to me that you should read up a bit , then poke around on other sites if your interest is further piqued (here’s a nice guide to getting started). Doing something like this well is a big job, but the rewards seem to be equally big. Remarkably, in my brief look through the sites, I didn’t see any co-housing in Connecticut. There’s your chance to be a pioneer.

Chummily,
Umbra