Lifestyle

January 22, 2010 | 8 comments
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300px-Polemonium_reptans_2009Yesterday, I identified the three central attributes of building a green hill as being:

  1. Lifestyle
  2. Space
  3. Program

Let’s look at lifestyle. Lifestyle is about the flow of daily living. It is not about the grand mission and purpose of the community (that’s the program), but rather, it is the community’s values, norms, and expectations. A good demonstration of lifestyle (as opposed to program) can be seen in the cohousing movement.

The modern cohousing movement originated with a group of people who felt that conventional housing creates isolated and disengaged societies. They desired to enjoy close, lasting relationships with their neighbors. To that end, these people founded a community based on a few basic principles, designed to promote community interaction while maintaining individual privacy:

  • Shared dinners
  • Shared community responsibilities (grounds maintenance, administration, meal preparation, etc.)
  • Private homeownership
  • Central common facilities (dining hall, cultural center, etc.)

Since then, several other cohousing communities were built on those same four lifestyle principles.

These principles help highlight the difference between lifestyle and program. Some cohousing communities have strong ideological programs — religious, ecological, back-to-the-land, etc. Others have no program at all. However, they all share (to varying extents) a lifestyle of community interaction combined with private residence. The lifestyle guides day-to-day interactions, while the program governs ideological thinking.

Mormon settlements during the Utah period depict a similar separation of lifestyle and program. As I understand it, church activity rates were remarkably low (25%-ish?) in many Mormon Utah settlements during the late 1800′s (I am not a church historian — somebody please correct me if I’m wrong). Nevertheless, members of these communities likely self-identified as Mormon. In other words, these were settlements where the Mormon lifestyle was strong, but the Mormon program was weak. When I get to program in a later post, we’ll see that a sustainable community has to maintain a level of separation between the lifestyle and the program — we cannot expect 100% of any group of people to participate in a program.

What would the lifestyle of a green hill community look like? Of course, the answer depends on the vision and desires of its residents. In my green hill, however, the lifestyle principles I hope to encourage are:

  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Learning through observation and experience
  • Exposure to great works of media (i.e. art, dance, literature, cinema, etc.)
  • Active engagement in creative projects

These basic lifestyle principles — friendship, wonder, appreciation, and constructive works — would act as signals to potential community members, helping them determine whether it’s the sort of place they would want to live and raise their children. More dramatically, a community’s lifestyle principles guide the physical construction of the community. We’ll look at that in more detail (and lots of fun pictures) in the next post, on “space”.

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8 Responses to Lifestyle

  1. James Olsen on January 22, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    At the end of your post here, you’re alluding to the interconnectedness of your three pillars – lifestyle, space, and program. I’m not sure you can completely separate them, though as your Utah historical example makes clear, the three can come apart. Clearly, the program is going to affect the norms and practices of the community (explicitly or otherwise), and vice versa. Likewise, as architects and city planners and others are preaching louder and louder these days (and as your cohousing example makes clear), HOW you lay out a community dramatically impacts the norms and practices and so can contribute to or detract from the program. I would point out, that a planned lifestyle heavily incorporating the arts and creativity, as your will, is going to encourage a certain sort of program and discourage others.

    We get something similar in ritualistic worship: the physical layout, areas of separated space, and distinction through dress laid out in temples/churches/synagogues/mosques both impacts and reflects the community’s values and social structure.

    I think watching these intentional communities evolve over the next few decades will be fascinating. I think there are lots of really interesting political questions concerning the nature of super-sized nation state politics and global systems (political, economic, religious, etc.) and the sorts of goods and activities that they don’t allow for, and that have to be either abandoned or made up for in some other way – like through an intentional community (or tight-knit wards, or fundamentalist groups, or gangs).

  2. Stephanie on January 22, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    I just don’t know if I could find enough people looking for the same exact lifestyle as me to want to give up some of my autonomy in a group like this. For example, I share religious values with other Mormons, but I eat a lot healthier than some of my friends (whole grains, natural foods) and not as healthy as some (raw food diets). I wouldn’t really want to share food on a regular basis. Some of my friends homeschool and some don’t. The size of community you have been describing is very small (100 people – average of 25 LDS families?) but how much autonomy would it reasonably have from the rest of the community? It does sound interesting, and I look forward to hearing more, but I just don’t think I could do it.

  3. Dane Laverty on January 22, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Stephanie, the concerns you express are not uncommon. One difficulty in approaching intentional communities is that we all have preconceived notions of how they might look or function, how isolated from society they are, or how big they might be. In practice, these communities can range from two households to two thousand households, depending on what they are designed for.

    As I continue this series, one of my goals is to broaden readers’ awareness of the possible community configurations available. The cohousing example in this post refers just to the cohousing movement — there are hundreds or thousands of other approaches one could take to community building. If the idea of community building captures your interest, vision, or soul, please don’t feel put off by any community building approaches that don’t work for you. Oftentimes, discovering the solution isn’t as difficult as articulating the problem.

  4. Bob on January 22, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    “Why show me these things spirit, if change is not possible”? (Scrooge).
    I don’t believe these communties are possible in modern America. (Well. maybe Big Love).
    Of course, you could be talking about a retirement home (?) It has all these things.
    Even my daughter’s time share is too much closest for me. I will take my little tract house..where I can get away from those I love. (My daugther is across the street with 5 kids).

  5. Dane Laverty on January 22, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    James, you are entirely right that the lifestyle, space, and program are tightly coupled. While conceptually distinct, in practice you cannot touch one without touching all three.

    Bob, these communities are not only possible in modern America, they already exist. Stay tuned for next time when I introduce you to a few :)

  6. sl on January 24, 2010 at 12:02 am

    Dane, I’m enjoying these posts. I am not and will not be in the market for starting one of these myself, but I’m interested in how I can swing my just-emerging rural neighborhood in this direction. We just moved to this small neighborhood (about five houses built with four more empty lots). We each have 1-2 acres, and the lots surround a small lake (about 5 acres of water). I’ve found that the lake has become source of unity amongst the neighbors. It’s often the center of conversation whenever I see my neighbors–whether we need to release some water or bring it up a bit. This spring we’re going to stock it with trout and build a tree house on the island (1/4 acre), which is a commons. Our boats and water toys are practically common property. Anyway, the lake was a major reason we moved here, but we didn’t realize what a rallying point it would be for the neighborhood. Those of us already here want to make sure the newcomers understand our communal approach beach space, tool and garden sharing, etc… We’re recruiting friends and family to fill the remaining lots, so I guess it is a kind of defacto intentional community, with the lake as a kind of lifestyle. A regularized shared dinner would be cool, but I’m not sure how I’d swing it.

    Sorry for the rambling; I’m just realizing that maybe one doesn’t always have to start from scratch to have something close to what you are talking about. Although, our neighborhood will never be quite as intentional as you are talking about.

  7. Coffinberry on January 26, 2010 at 8:07 am

    I noticed that there were several questions about what a present-day intentional community might look like. Last night, on Facebook, my brother announced he had completed and posted a video on YouTube about the group of intentional communities of which his community is a member. I thought maybe y’all would find it interesting:

  8. Dane Laverty on January 26, 2010 at 9:05 am

    sl, good point. In a later post I’m going to try to make the point that every community is an intentional community. It sounds like you’ve built your own green hill, whether you meant to or not, and it sounds wonderful.