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.


Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  


  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community


  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish





The Problem with Urban Communes

Holy Housing Shrine at Compersia

from the Commune Life Instagram account

View this post on Instagram has a belief in sharing so strong that it constitutes a religion. This belief granted them a zoning exemption from DC to allow them to live with up to 15 unrelated people in a single family home (the city’s normal limit is 6). Compersia therefore celebrates the holiday of Holy Zoning Day, the day upon which this exemption was granted, and keeps a shrine to the Patron Saint of Holy Zoning Day—the bureaucrat who granted the exemption—on their hearth. “May the bureaucrats who watch over us continue to bless us with their byzantine and obscure wisdom. May their red tape roll down like waters upon those who would oppose us, but part before us and our righteous cause like the sea before Moses.” I can’t say that I stopped by Compersia exclusively as a pilgrimage to see the Holy Zoning shrine in person, but it was the primary reason. -Julia (I’m back!) . . . #communelife #shrine #bureaucrats #zoninglaws #iconography #dcitystyle #communalliving #intentionalcommunity #intentionalliving

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Holy Housing Shrine at Compersia

Building Urban Communes

by Raven Cotyledon

The Federation of Egalitarian Communities (the commune people) have had rural communes in Virginia and Missouri for decades. Which is great, except, as someone pointed out, most people live in the cities these days in the United States.

Building a commune in the city is a little different than starting a rural commune. It’s harder to grow food in the city.  It’s harder to create cottage industries in the city. It’s harder to find land/property/places in the city. People are less trusting in the city. People have less time in the city. People are more distracted in the city.


300px-Amsterdam_-_Young_musicians_-_1250 (1)

Co-ops and cohousing communities have flourished in urban areas. Ganas, on Staten Island, New York, has been going strong for nearly forty years. But these communities require less commitment than egalitarian, income-sharing communities–that is, communes.

I helped build a commune in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the 1990s.  I am currently helping to create one in Queens, New York. I can tell you that it isn’t easy, for all the reasons that I listed above and more.

But it is possible. Our Cambridge community lasted five years. There have been FEC related communities (or attempts at communities) in Seattle and Baltimore and Richmond, Virginia,  and Columbus, Ohio, and there are currently (besides Cotyledon, our commune in Queens) communes in Washington, DC, and Portland, Oregon. I have been particularly watching Compersia, the commune in DC.  They seem to have a bunch of members and look like they are going strong.

But cities are hard on communes. I don’t know of any that have lasted longer than ten years. Yet.

We’re working to change that.  Hopefully you can check this space in ten years to find out how we did it.  I’m certainly curious. But I think that urban communes are the leading edge of the communities movement.



Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to to join us!

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community
  • Sumner Nichols




Building Urban Communes

Communities Conference Workshops

Here is the workshop and partial presentation schedule for the upcoming Twin Oaks Communities Conference.  The below links are to blog posts on these elements.  There is a posted full program (with short descriptions for every workshop are in the newly published program).  

Cambia lunch

Saturday September 1st

9:30 to noon

1:30 to 3 PM

4 to 5:30 PM

Sunday September 2

9:30 to 11

There is still time to register for this amazing event.  Twin Oaks Community is hosting this event in central Virginia Aug 31st thru Sept 2.  There is also great Labor Day (Sept 3) program at Cambia Community, less than one mile from the Twin Oaks Conference site.

TO 50 group shot
Twin Oaks 50th Anniversary – Circa 2017
Communities Conference Workshops

Call for Workshops: Twin Oaks Communities Conference

May is the month when the organizers for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference ask people to think about Labor Day weekend.  Specifically, we ask people what types of workshops they might be interested in offering at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference (TOCC).  These come in two broad types.


Fixed Time Workshops:  This is the collection of 16 (or sometimes 20) workshops which are selected in advance and are all relating to intentional communities.  We are exploring different themes and it is likely we will choose a couple of them.  If you are interested in presenting on an intentional community related topic we would encourage you to submit this workshop proposal form.  The deadline for proposals is May 31st.  These workshops happen Saturday, Sept 1st and Sunday morning. Workshop presenters who are selected for these fixed time slots will get their registration fee waived.  And if you are coming from NYC metro area (or south of there) you might be able to come on our totally groovy bus.


Open Space Technology Workshop:  There are way too many clever and interesting people at the TOCC to not provide a forum for them to demonstrate or propose their own workshop even if it has little or nothing to do with community.  The problem (from an organizers perspective) is which ones do you choose?  Fortunately, this problem has been well worked by others and there is a democratic, self selecting mechanism called Open Space Technology.  These workshops are giving Sunday (Sept 2) midday into the afternoon and typically we do between 10 and 20 workshops ranging in size from 25 participants (like at a urban squatting or polyamory workshop) to just a couple of excited participants (bird watching or Python blockchain programming).


Even if you don’t want to offer any workshop there are three types of people who might want to come to this annual event, which often has over 150 participants and 40 plus communities represented:

  1. You want to find an intentional community to move into
  2. You are starting a community with friends
  3. You live in a community and are looking for new members

If any of these three things is true for you, then you can register for this event here.  If you want to see who is already coming and who is interested go to the Facebook event (35 attending and 215 interested so far (May 1), and we have just started our outreach).

Call for Workshops: Twin Oaks Communities Conference

My Favorite Things

by Raven

Here are some recent photos from this blog of the joys of Communal Living:


The folks at Kibbutz Mishol

If you look carefully you can see god hiding

The pool at Cambia

EW Labor 1

Working together at East Wind

cotyledon crew

The Cotyledon crew

5003 (3)

Cooking at Le Manoir


Saturnalia at Compersia

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The Twin Oaks Feminist Zine


An overview of East Brook Community Farm

ChickensChickens at Acorn

And from communes yet to be:

DV Trees

The land at Donald’s View


A map of possible land for Full Circle

My Favorite Things

Getting Beyond Two, Three, or Four Folks

  by Raven


These are the early days at Cotyledon, the income sharing community we are forming in NYC.  We are not even two months old.  There were four of us but one person decided to live somewhere else, so now we will be three.  This is not a good direction to go in.

The building Cotyledon is in.

I helped build a commune in Cambridge, MA, in the nineties, that got up to six adults and two kids at one point.  It was after we dropped down to four adults that we fell apart.  A four person community is very vulnerable.  We lost two more folks and we were gone.  I’ve heard of at least one other community that fell apart for similar reasons.

As the manager of Commune Life, I’m hearing of a bunch of new communities–most at this point consist of three or four folks.  Many have a couple at their center.  I’ve written about how some communities with a couple at their center fail to work out.  I’ve noticed that some of these communities have different dynamics, some of which still may turn out to be problematic.

I’m, also acutely aware of the new communes that don’t work out, or are transitioning out of income sharing.  It’s hard to build these communities to last and, I think, growing them beyond a small number of people is an important part of the process.

in , , on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.  Sarah Rice
Acorn, now

I talked with someone at Acorn about how they survived.  They were down to six people at one point early in their history and down to two people at another.   I asked how they managed to get past that.   I was told there were two reasons for their survival.  One was Ira Wallace, a strong person, and the other was Twin Oaks, a strong community nearby.

And how did Twin Oaks survive?  In her book,   A Walden Two Experiment, Kat Kinkade wrote that in 1969 Twin Oaks was down to ten members and dropping.   They decided to get rid of the entrance-fee.  It meant that anyone could come and people started coming.

I find Kat Kinkade amazing.  She was part of starting three communes (Twin Oaks, Acorn, and East Wind) and all three are still going strong. Folks have told me that her philosophy was to build up communities fast and I figure that she knew something.


I don’t have an answer to this but I’m well aware that staying small is a barrier.   I’ve talked with GPaul at Compersia about this and they are working on growing.  They are up to six folks now.

I believe that having some openness and flexibility while remaining true to your basic principles is part of what is needed. It’s a balancing act but I think it’s what you need to do to get beyond being two, three, or four.


Getting Beyond Two, Three, or Four Folks