The Problem with Urban Communes

by Raven

Three months ago, in July, there were three urban communities in the FEC. As of now (October, 2019), there are none. Zero.

The reasons for their demises were different.

The Mothership in Portland, Oregon, fell apart because of major financial problems, plus the resulting interpersonal conflict.

2017-12-16 15.21.55
Door at the Mothership

Cotyledon, in Queens, NY, ended when we felt it was no longer working for any of us. (For me, the problem was that more than four years ago, gil, DNA, and I began talking about creating community and, after two and a half years of discussion and almost two years of living together, it was still only the three of us interested in doing it.)

There were major interpersonal and other problems at Compersia, in Washington, DC, last spring leading to a situation where they went from eight adult members to three. As far as I know, they are still continuing as a group, but they recently announced that they were leaving the FEC because they felt that the FEC was insufficiently interested in pursuing racial and social justice.

One of houses Compersia was in


This is true but I think that it’s somewhat difficult for rural communities to deal with racial problems.  I was in a meeting not long ago where people were talking about how safe communities are for people of color and an African American woman said she would never feel safe at Twin Oaks, if only because of its location. She said that she had heard that that area of Virginia wasn’t safe for people with darker skin.

In the 1990s I helped create a commune in Cambridge, MA.  I remember that the FEC (which also had two communes in Seattle which were getting involved) was then struggling with how to deal with urban communes.  Since then the FEC has had communes apply from Baltimore, Richmond, VA, and Columbus, OH.  All are gone.

I am still in New York City as I write this but by the time it is published, I will be at East Brook Community Farm, in rural New York. I love the people that I will be living with, but I am going to miss the opportunities that come with living in the city.  I think that Point A had a point.  More people live in the city and we need to build urban communes. It’s just very hard to do.

The duplex that housed Cotyledon

It’s not that you can’t do community in the city. I know from experience that the Boston area has a lovely network of co-op houses, plus two cohousing communities in Cambridge and one in Jamaica Plain, and Brooklyn, in NYC,  is filled with collective houses.   I’m sure that most cities across the US have co-ops, collectives, and cohousing.  But it’s doing income-sharing that seems impossible in urban settings. (Ganas, in NYC,  seems a major exception to this, but they have a small income-sharing group with a larger non-income-sharing community built around it.)

I don’t know the answer to how to make urban communes work.  If I did, I would be living in one now.  But I have a few ideas.

The first is something gil, who I lived with in Cotyledon, has been talking about. Instead of starting by creating a commune, begin by building a cooperative business.  Once that is going, it is easier to create a community around it.  It would be much easier to do income-sharing in the city if there was already work for people to do.  (If you join Acorn or East Wind, they already have a business they can plug you into, and Twin Oaks has several.)

Another thing I have thought about is starting communities in large towns or small cities. Rent or property ownership is likely to be less expensive and it might be easier to network with rural communities. Maybe with a network of communes in towns it would be easier to build up to the cities.

Again, I don’t have the answer as to how to make lasting urban communes. I just know that it’s an important question to consider for those of us who care about the future of egalitarian income-sharing communities.


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The Problem with Urban Communes

5 thoughts on “The Problem with Urban Communes

  1. David says:

    I was looking for news on how egalitarian urban communities were self-organizing during the pandemia and… meeting this… I am very sorry. I hope you, Paul and the other communards will be ok and already integrated in other communities. As you know, we are the oldest Spanish urban egalitarian community, we were born in 2002… and it works.

    Probably the only systemic difference with North American communities is we live and work together since the beginning. Working together -not just income sharing- allows to form stronger communities because you confront in common all kind of common problems on daily bases. I hope this simple idea could contribute.


  2. David,

    It’s so good to hear from you. I and others (including Paul, I think) have been worried about all of you since we lost contact. Your Las Indias email bounces. Please email me at my moonraven address. I would love to be back in touch with you. (Also, I am now at a rural NY commune and Paul, as far as I know, is traveling around the country.)



    1. David says:

      Please Raven give us an email to write to you or just write us to the email we put in the form. I dont find any email address in this web. There a lot of news and changes to share over here!


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