The GOOD Guide to Better Neighborhoods: Join a New-and-Improved Commune

That 1960s experiment is back—but the rules have changed. To ease the awkwardness, here are some dos and don’ts for modern-day communal living.
Say the word “commune,” and it calls up certain associations: hippies, yurts, big pots of bean stew, awkward free love experiments gone wrong. But the idea of cooperative living arrangements predates all of that, and if current-day advocates like Stephanie Smith of WeCommune and Alex Marshall of Brooklyn Cohousing have anything to do with it, it will survive long into the future.
Smith, an architect in San Francisco, is aware of the sex, drugs, and yurts cliche of communes, but she defines the essence of a commune as a simple and sensible pairing. “To me, a commune just means community and resource-sharing together,” she says. It’s the economic advantages of sharing, combined with the “low hum of support” that comes from knowing that the people around you are watching your back. Struck by the lack of traditions around sharing in our society, Smith is at work building simple, web-based tools to make resource sharing easier.
Marshall is a journalist who in 2007 became the leader of a group seeking to acquire a building in Brooklyn and live in it as a community. Their model is cohousing, an idea that originated in Denmark in the 1960s and is on the rise in the United States. Cohousing developments are intentional communities, in which residents own their own homes and jointly own a common indoor and outdoor space. In practice, they often look more like standard condo developments than bastions of the counterculture. Decision-making is by consensus, and privacy is respected, while supportive interaction among neighbors is prized.
We asked Smith and Marshall how to make the most of such unconventional living arrangements—without stepping on your neighbors’ toes.
DO decide on your community’s values early on. Once your vision is in place, says Marshall, “getting a good group together is largely a self-selection process. You tend to attract other people who like that vision, and people who aren’t attracted to it go away.”
DO keep lines of communication open. In Smith’s four-person apartment, a notebook and pen live on the kitchen table. Householders use it “almost like a collective journal.” In a commune, Smith explains, “there needs to be a way to have collective dialogue that doesn’t necessarily lead to dispute.”
DO trust the power of consensus. “I think the consensus process is really helpful in building a group,” says Marshall, “because it forces you to communicate well and to listen. People often disagree, but there’s rarely a feeling of being forced out.”
DON’T think being in a community is the same as being friends. “I think it’s really crucial to understand the difference between friends and fellow communards,” says Smith. “It can get very claustrophobic if you feel you need to be friendly to your housemates every time you seen them.”
DO enjoy the economic benefits of communal living. Marshall’s group plans to leverage their strength in numbers to buy a large portion of a condo building at an attractive rate, taking advantage of their appeal to strapped developers.
DON’T repeat the mistakes of the past. Smith names two patterns that led the communes of the 1960s into decline. Rural communes failed because they were founded by would-be farmers who didn’t know how to farm. Urban communes succumbed to social chaos. “Sex and drugs and rock and roll was the spirit of the times,” says Smith. “Today, you can divorce it from those aspects and do it for logical reasons.”
DO learn from the success stories. Smith observes that in the few 1960s communes that thrived, the members found a common cause to rally around. Child-raising, well-managed farming, or shared creative pursuits have all acted as the “glue” binding an intentional community together for the long haul. So find your glue, and stick with it.

Illustration by Trevor Burks.
This article first appeared in The GOOD Guide to Better Neighborhoods. You can read more of the guide here, or you can read more of the GOOD Neighborhoods Issue here.
via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

Keep Reading Show less

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet