Building Your Own Green Hill

February 5, 2010 | 12 comments
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736px-Balaklava_sick_2If 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?

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12 Responses to Building Your Own Green Hill

  1. CatherineWO on February 6, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    I am enjoying your posts, Dane. I was diagnosed 12 years ago with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), a disability which greatly restricts my physical community. I am part of several “correspondence” communities, but would love to expand that to a “forty acres and my friends” green hill community. It’s unlikely to happen, but your posts have helped me dream.
    Thank you.

  2. Adam Greenwood on February 6, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Little to add to this post, much to appreciate in it.

  3. Dane Laverty on February 6, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Thanks Catherine and Adam, that’s all I can ask. I don’t expect the same depth of discussion we see on other topics here at T&S, since I don’t imagine that community building is the sort of thing many of us have considered in depth. If this series only serves to start some people thinking about what it means to physically build Zion, and how we can practically engage ourselves in that pursuit, then I am satisfied.

  4. MarenM on February 6, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    That, plus this idea doesn’t stir up much controversy and that’s where the truly lengthy discussion happen. :)

    My husband is one of those who would like to do “forty acres and my friends”. He saw the really cheap land in North Dakota- whole towns, almost- for sale a few years back and it was all I could do to keep him from flying out there to buy a deserted town and remake it into a gathering place for all his favorite people. Not because I disapproved of the idea, per se, but for more practical reasons. Maybe someday….

    I really like this series, Dane. It is a well thought out idea and your posts certainly have made me think about how and why I both value and shy away from “green hills”. It has made me reconsider my social goals and has made the “building of Zion” take on more meanings and possibilities than before. Thank you!

  5. Tod Robbins on February 7, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    We’re trying to do something like this… physically and not, in Provo. Communitarian type stuff. We should be our brothers and sisters keepers. Cheers Dane.

  6. sl on February 7, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Thanks for the series. It’s too bad wards don’t function more like this. The geography and infrastructure is already in place, but most wards I’ve been in are made up of nice people who deep down want more community, but somehow we end up with little more that “hi” on Sundays and “call me if you need anything.” I know some wards accomplish more than this, but they are the exception. Not criticizing…just wishing. I know I should be the change I want to see, but I’m not very good at leading out on these sorts of things. The posts have been encouraging, however.

    Which bring me to something else. To what extent do you think, beyond the logistical and practical difficulties, does a desire to maintain a sort of manly image of quiet independence get in the way of intentional community? There is something in our American culture that admires the tough, silent sort…not the one to be organizing the next dinner or game night or book club. I think men defer to women in social things, not because they have less need for it, but because it’s contrary to a manly self image of someone who keeps to themselves.

  7. Dane Laverty on February 8, 2010 at 12:08 am

    sl, I’ll write more on this in a future post, but I believe it’s because we take for granted that everyone learns how to reach out and make friends as children. But the truth is that friend-making is a learned skill, just like playing the piano, and it has a theory and technique like any other skill. Unfortunately, signing kids up for “friend making lessons” just isn’t as socially acceptable as signing them up for piano lessons, even though it’s an arguably much more applicable and rewarding skill to have.

  8. Dane Laverty on February 8, 2010 at 12:34 am

    Also, I’d love to see a priesthood equivalent to the Relief Society’s enrichment meetings.

  9. Bob on February 8, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Dane, I enjoyed the post. But I believe in fixing broken communities (like New Orleans) over staring new ones.
    #6: Sl, “men defer to women in social things”. I don’t think so. For every women’s group, there are 50(?) men’s groups. Think of all the Elks clubs, poker games, pick-up basketball games, Rotatory Clubs, etc.

  10. JC on February 8, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Thought-provoking information. What was once an idea has matured into a network of ideas. Thanks for thinking.

  11. Bob on February 8, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    To T&S staff: I can’t imagine what I have said to be tossed from Dane’s New community before it even is opened. Please remove my comment #9.
    Best of luck to the community.

  12. Dane Laverty on February 10, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Bob, I’m new to this admin thing here. I apologize if any of your comments aren’t making it through — I don’t think they’re being blocked intentionally. You are certainly welcome to contribute here, I appreciate whatever insights you have to bring.