What can we learn from lasting communities?

,by Raven Cotyledon

I was interviewed recently about the time I lived at Ganas, which is not an egalitarian community, but is an amazing, thriving community of a different type. Ganas has been around for forty years as of this year and that got me thinking of other long lived communities and what people who are  trying to start (or keep going) new communities can learn from them.

Twin Oaks, of course, is a big example, since they hit fifty in 2017 and will be fifty-two this year. Another obvious candidate is East Wind which is clocking in at forty-five this year, as is Sandhill in northeastern Missouri.   But I want to even include somewhat younger communities like Acorn (26) and Dancing Rabbit (22). I think that any community that is over twenty is worth studying, since so many communities never even reach ten.

TO50TH10
Twin Oaks 50th Anniversary

 

What is the secret to their longevity?   One obvious thing to me is their size. Twin Oaks has ninety something adults (I often just say a hundred members but they have never reached that), East Wind, Ganas, and Dancing Rabbit all have in the neighborhood of sixty people, and Acorn keeps itself at around thirty.

Sandhill is the outlier here. It has never had more than ten adult members and often less. They are currently down to three adults and have put themselves in a reforming status. Things seem touch and go there, but I certainly wouldn’t count them out.

I found out that Acorn had been down to two members early in their history. I asked a long time member how they survived. He suggested it was due to two things: Twin Oaks and Ira Wallace.  Having a big, stable neighbor like Twin Oaks, I am sure was helpful, but having someone as tenacious and persistent as Ira, who is an amazing person, I believe, was essential.

Which brings me to a first factor in longevity: persistence, basically not giving up, even in the face of adversity. And with that, I would also add, having a commitment to the other people in the community. I have seen this modeled at Ganas and I am sure this is a big piece of why they have lasted so long.

Aviva1
Houses at Ganas

A third major piece is flexibility, or perhaps, adaptability. Allowing a community to change and evolve is key.  Both Twin Oaks and Ganas are quite different from when they started. I would say that there is an essential core that has never changed (for Twin Oaks, I would say, it is a belief in income-sharing and equality, for Ganas, a belief in the importance and healing power of feedback), but the communities grew and changed as people came and went and the community aged.  Interestingly enough both communities went through a similar process with their founders. Both Kat Kinkade (Twin Oaks) and Mildred Gordon (Ganas) were key in founding their respective communities, both left after many years because the community had changed in ways they didn’t like, and both returned to their communities to die.

So here are at least three important things we can learn from long lived communities: persist, even when things get hard, commit to each other, and figure out how to adapt while holding on to your key principles. These don’t guarantee success, but little in life does.

There are lots of new and young communities out there.  I’ve written about why communities fail and how fragile they are; now I am thinking about how communities can last.

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What can we learn from lasting communities?

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