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What is an intentional community?

What is an intentional community? For many people, the idea of an intentional community doesn't ring a bell even though it has been in practice for thousands of years. In essence, an intentional community is a group of people coming together in a place they create to live in some particular way. The variety of intentional communities is nearly infinite: some are religious, some are not; politics run the gamut; they are large and small, rural and urban, ecologically minded and materialistic. They include monasteries, communes, anarchic squatter houses, cooperative housing, co-housing, kibbutzim, Christian activist communities, Shaker communities, and many other kinds of groups. Making generalizations about intentional communities is about as accurate as making generalizations about people.

One of the few things that can be said about most intentional communities across the board is that they are built on a stronger sense of community than is common in a conventional setting. People know each other better, work and/or play together, and in most cases share some values, goals, or beliefs. There are real advantages to living in a place of this kind for people who are open to being an integral part of their communities.

For most purposes, groups that don't live together aren't intentional communities in the sense meant here; the term also cannot apply to 'planned developments' and similar places for two reasons: first, the groups of people who come to them do not necessarily come together in any meaningful sense. Second, the environment is created by some external planning group that then sells homes or lots or living units, rather than being created by the residents

The real power of this idea is the thought that the ways people live in the Western world today are not the only ways to live. For Meadowdance, this is attractive because we can build a place where people are supportive rather than dismissive of children; where ecology is a primary focus rather than a weakly implemented afterthought; and where value is placed on people, relationships, and the natural world rather than on money and possessions. Other groups are attracted by being able to share religious or artistic or other values.

The term "community" is often used as shorthand for "intentional community"; however, this is not meant to imply that intentional communities are the only kind of real community there are, only to help get around the fact that "intentional community" is such a mouthful.

Are intentional communities communes? The term "commune" can mean many different things; while some people use it as equivalent to "intentional community", this usage might be confusing in certain circumstances. One fairly precise definition of a commune is a community where all resources are shared equally or based on need. In this sense, communes are intentional communities, but most intentional communities are not communes. Some people associate communes also with anarchy, drug use, irresponsibility, lack of financial stability, a temporary lifespan, and/or a "hippy" lifestyle. These associations don't apply to most intentional communities, so the term commune is often not a helpful one when talking about intentional communities.

-- Luc Reid, 23 April 1999

DISCLAIMER: The term "intentional community" can have different meanings for different people, and this is only one take on its essential import.