When I tell people that I’m trying to start a community in New York City, I get lots of folks asking me, “How do you find a place?”, “What do you do about high rents?”, “Where in the city are you looking?”, and “What do you do about gentrification?” All good questions but not where I start.
I have a four step process for creating a commune and finding the place is the last step.
Step One is finding the people. I’ve seen it done with starting with a place and I’ve done it myself, and while it occasionally works, it’s often a disaster. (See my post about the Totally Utopia Community for examples of how this process can go wrong.) Part of my reason for not wanting to answer the questions in the first paragraph is that these are things that need to be figured out by a group, which becomes more powerful as they work together to plan their way. You don’t build community by having it all together first and inviting folks in. You build community by working through stuff collectively.
Step Two is about working on vision and agreements together. Once you have people, the first thing you need to do is to make sure you’re on the same page. I’ve also seen communities go wrong here. Even if everyone says that they want a community focused on sustainability (for example), it becomes important to find out what each person means by sustainability. It’s easy to think you all mean the same thing and could be a big problem if people are meaning very different things. A community I was part of building turned out to be quite different than I thought it was going to be when I found out that people were meaning quite different things by the word ‘community’. (Yes. It really happened.) Also having policies in place can be very important when conflict happens–this isn’t the time when you want to be figuring out agreements. (Laird has a useful piece on Three Essential Agreements that illustrates this.)
Step Three is figuring out sources of income. For an income sharing community, this is essential. Without a source of income, you can’t purchase buildings or land, and can’t really move forward. While a community having a cottage industry is a great thing (like Twin Oaks’ hammocks and Tofu, East Wind’s nutbutters, and Acorn’s seed business) most communities start with people working outside jobs or finding other sources of income (people with pensions, grantwriting, doing various odd jobs individually or collectively, entrepreneurial endeavors, etc). The best expression I’ve heard is ‘income streams’. Figure out what your collective income can be. Be very creative–think outside the box. Then figure out what your expenses are. If your collective expenses are more than your collective income, then figure out more sources of income.
Finally, Step Four is to find a place. If you’ve got the people (who are all in agreement and working together) and you know what your income is, then you are ready to find a place and move in.
These steps can overlap and, yes, they are just guidelines, and yes, people have started by finding the place and built it from there and occasionally it has worked out just fine, but I believe following this pathway increases your chances of ending up with a functioning community and one that might last. And since a large percentage of new communities don’t last very long, this is a very good thing.