Family – Friendship – Community

For a while now, I've been wanting something; I've had the idea in my head for a family/friend block in my neighborhood.

It started at our last house. We were one of three apartments off of one interior hallway with three more accessible from outside. Beyond these walls, we had friends in many houses on our block. It was a really great community.

We'd lived in plenty of apartment complexes where we were in close proximity to many people, but we'd never gotten to know any of them. I think that without Girly, this house and neighborhood would likely have followed that same pattern. We had to get out and walk her a few times a day; couple that with a unique looking dog who also loved people and it's no wonder we met most of our neighbors.

Once or twice a year, we'd block off the ends of our block and gather for a block party (friends, family, and people from other blocks were certainly welcome, our block generally were just the instigators), which really was a wonderful way to meet new neighbors and get to know the existing ones even better.

Throughout this time, I had visions in my head of all the neighbors on the block, clearing out the overgrown alleyway and opening up all the backyards, forming one large community space for gathering, gardening, and playing. A place where we could all hang out, cook and eat together as schedules allowed, but still give everyone the private space we all still need.

In the past month or so, I stumbled across a Reddit post (it was simply someone posting a bed-frame they built) which led me to basically what I've been seeking: Intentional Communities and Cohousing Communities. The Fellowship for Intentional Community has a lot of information, including a directory of communities throughout the world. Some of these existing communities are open to new members, some are open to visitors who are interested in finding out more.

Intentional Community: A planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision and often follow an alternative lifestyle. They typically share responsibilities and resources.

 

Cohousing Community: A type of intentional community composed of private homes supplemented by shared facilities. The community is planned, owned and managed by the residents – who also share activities which may include cooking, dining, child care, gardening, and governance of the community.

Cohousing Communities, I think, best describes what I've been looking for. Everyone has their private space they can retreat to, but there is common space where everyone can gather for dining, socializing, relaxing, and playing. Part of me would be interested in joining one of the communities in my area to see what life is like there. The other part of me wants to start my own, to bring my family and friends together.

But how would that even work? Would it even be possible? Would modern life really enable such a thing to happen?

We all have our existing lives, where we live, where we work, our zones of travel. How could we arrange our lives , our activities, and our travels to be closer in the first place, let alone forming a community with our loved ones? We've got friends in various parts of the city here which would be difficult enough; however, we've also got friends across the country that we would want to incorporate into our community.

Naming the thing is a good first step. It's not just another some weird desire of mine; other people feel this way (and have been for a long time). I guess the next step would be determining whether the people we know, love, and want to form a community with are interested as well ... maybe this post is a step along that path as well. After that it gets hazy; if there are others interested in this, how do we proceed, where could we all be happy (with such a large dispersal, that seems difficult), etc.

Anyway, this was just one of those random things that's been in my head for a while now and I thought I'd get it out there now that I have a name for it, something I can search for and try to find more info and like-minded people (one of the good uses for labels).

I found this quote sometime in the past year on Pinterest.  I'm not sure who it's from, but I had to save it.  While I've felt this way for a long time, it's nice to have someone put nice words to the thought.

Family isn't always blood. It's the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile, and who love you no matter what.

2 thoughts on “Family – Friendship – Community

  1. Wow, Jason, this really resonates with me. When your dad, Christina and I lived in Wilmore, KY for that one year, we had the kind of community you are describing (except that there were others in our family and friendships who were not there so the community was incomplete). But the concept was there. There were 22 students seeking the same course of study. We lived in 22 townhouses that were in groups of 2 forming a U shape on a quadrangle. All the kids walked to school together. The adults sat outside in the quad talking to all hours of the night while the kids slept. Even those who didn’t have kids were part of the community as they became uncles and aunts to the kids. We traveled together, ate in each other’s townhouses in various groupings. When one was sick, we all pitched in to help. When all the adults were scheduled to go on a school sponsored trip, all the grandparents or other relatives came to stay with the children. They started their own community.

    I remember thinking how safe we all felt and, though we just met at the beginning of the school year, the affinity we shared in the course of study program with shared visions of where we wanted to go gave us an instant connection. We were not necessarily on the same page politically, religiously, or culturally (some were from other countries), but sharing one common connection seemed to be enough to help us navigate through the differences.

    Anyway, I often look back at that time as something I wish we could re-create. But then I wonder if that is something one “creates” or something that just happens over time. Not sure. But the concept is compelling.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the results of some of your research. It’s always good to know that the thoughts in our head are often shared.

    Keep dreaming and researching … I know it will go somewhere. 🙂

    Julia

    • Thank you. I think that it would resonate with more people if they had a chance to experience it. Our time on Drexel wasn’t quite as extensive as what you described in Wilmore, but it gave us a taste and left me wanting more.

      I agree that it doesn’t seem like something that you can create, but more of something that just happens; and I think the community dynamics depend on who is involved. However, the design of the community can influence the amount and types of interactions. When all the houses in a neighborhood are self contained in just rows of houses, there’s less motivation for interaction (people come home tired from work, pull into the garage, and are in for the night (we’ve been there at least).

      I picked up a book the other day called “Creating Cohousing” which profiles a number of Danish and American communities that designed the layout to facilitate interactions (common house, parking, paths, gathering spots, floorplans, and the relationships between them). I think that’s what we need more of: to have more chances for meaningful interactions. If you’d like to borrow the book once I’m done, you’re more than welcome; I actually picked up an analog copy so that I could share it with folks if they were interested.

      I’m glad you feel the same way about community and your desire for closer connections. The biggest theme over the past few years has been trying to regain, maintain, and increase closeness with family (friends are part of family). Whether we can someday have all our family living near us or not (I hope we can), I think I’d like to create this type of community around me.

      – Ori

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