Intentional Communities

The Rise of Intentional Communities: Alternate Living Amidst Housing Crisis and Urban Loneliness

The COVID-19 pandemic marked a significant shift in global cultural and social dynamics, with people everywhere collectively experiencing a temporal stasis for a large chunk between 2020-2022. Young people who were, at this time, experiencing transitional phases of their lives, graduating from school or college, emerged from the pandemic only to find themselves bewildered amidst an overwhelming set of real-world crises.

While the years of quarantine and social distancing had taken away opportunities for learning real-world social interaction and communication skills, on the other hand, soaring property prices were signalling an alarming growth worldwide housing crisis. Analyses by research centres reveal that the average housing price in 90% of major cities worldwide exceeds three times the average income of residents and that by 2025, approximately 1.6 billion individuals will feel the impact of the worldwide housing shortage.

The housing crisis is just an added wound to contemporary forms of public architecture that encourage privacy and homogeneity while erasing opportunities for unexpected encounters and interactions with people outside our inner circle. In response, people from sections of the global community have begun to look for alternative and more creative ways of living.

What are Intentional Communities?

Though intentional communities or cooperative communities have existed for a few decades now, the concept of this fascinating and innovative way of community living has been gaining popularity among post-pandemic youth who have recently entered adulthood, faced with the challenges of unaffordable housing options and the lack of meaningful connections.

Intentional communities encompass various living arrangements, including, but not limited to, ecovillages, co-housing, or co-living communes. These are co-created residential spaces based on shared values, resources and responsibilities, providing a safe space and a supportive community for residents where everyone can rely on one another.

Co-housing refers to multiple individuals sharing living space within a single house and is the closest to the experience of living with roommates. On the other hand, co-living comprises multiple private homes within the same property, with shared common facilities like a kitchen, library or recreational spaces. The presence of shared spaces, amenities and walkable paths promotes mobility, social bonding and communal activity.

Ecovillages are communities built on locally owned land, designed to integrate with the natural world, and aligned with sustainability principles - social, cultural, ecological, and economic. Distinguished for their emphasis on collaboration, self-reliance, sustainable energy, and environmentally friendly lifestyle, these communities are not planned or created by external developers, architects, or specialists but shaped by the collective efforts of their members. 

These communities are run on shared income and may exist in rural or urban settings based on traditional or urban values. The Sadhana Forest in Tamil Nadu, India, has been running since 2003 and is one of the most exemplary examples of eco-living.

Why are Intentional Communities Important?

For the past couple of centuries, the dominant, and what is considered the most ideal structure of social existence, is that of the heteronormative nuclear family. However, more and more young people are beginning to reorient their idea of the 'ideal' housing situation, recognising the isolating effects of the existing framework, which sets limited and rigid roles for its members while discouraging meaningful collaboration outside of it.

Co-living and co-housing have seen particular popularity within queer communities, alongside other socially disadvantaged groups such as single mothers, the elderly and disabled folks. It is no surprise, as individuals belonging to these groups often have to or choose to depend on connections and bonds outside of the monogamous heterosexual relationship.

Queer folks, especially those falling under the aromantic-asexual (aro-ace) spectrum, often prioritise and feel more comfortable in platonic relationships and friendships based on trust and mutual respect. Building communities and support networks are an integral part of Queer history, as societal rejection and ostracisation have often left many homeless and unable to support themselves.

Co-living communes can be an effective path to building safe and self-sufficient spaces where queer folks can thrive, look out for one another and foster meaningful relationships. There are already many success stories from queer people who have built such communities, such as that of a Trans Enclave in East Williamsburg, New York, where a group of transpersons have come together as a 'chosen family' to curate a "space of radical possibility".

Another heartwarming example of successful co-living is the Single Moms' Commune, popularly known as "mommune", in Jacksonville, Florida. It is a wholesome co-housing community, a sisterhood of single mothers started by Ms. Batykefer, where inhabitants share childcare and household responsibilities, expenses and skills while supporting each other.

Ultimately, it might be more beneficial to imagine eco or cooperative communities as an ongoing process and not an end in and of itself, serving as dynamic hubs for experiential learning and fostering a regenerative vision for the future.

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Anuska Saha

Anuska Saha is an aspiring academician and musician pursuing her Master's in English. A passionate book enthusiast and a singer-musician, she navigates the realms of academia and creativity with equal enthusiasm.

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