The Unexpected Rise of 21st-Century Utopian Communities

There are surprisingly pragmatic reasons to live in an intentional community

Intentional Communities
A growing number of people are beginning to live in intentional communities for surprisingly pragmatic reasons.
Terraformer1/Creative Commons

When people talk about utopias, they’re generally talking about communities that existed in the past — the sort of spaces that haven’t been around for centuries and exist more as historical footnotes than anything else. The 1960s sparked another wave of communes, most — but not all — of which have ceased to exist or transformed into something very different from their founding principles.

In contemporary times, when discussion of people establishing communities around shared beliefs and values, it’s tended to come under heaps of criticism — witness the critiques made of conservative writer Rod Dreher in 2018, for instance. Dreher has written about drawing inspiration from monastic communities, but has also been criticized on repeat occasions for his handling of race in his books and essays.

A recent article by Mike Mariani at T Magazine, however, suggests that utopian communes might just be making the unlikeliest of comebacks. It begins with a visit to the East Wind Community, located in Missouri and established in 1974. Their website describes them as an “[i]ncome-sharing, egalitarian community in the rural Ozarks,” and Mariani’s descriptions of the space sound idyllic but not impractical. Consider:

Everyone has somewhere to be, yet no one is hurried. There are no smartphones in sight. The collective feels like a farm, a work exchange and a bustling household rolled into one, with much work to be done but many hands to be lent.

As it turns out, there’s an informational organization for spaces like East Wind — the Foundation for Intentional Community. According to T Magazine, the Foundation’s latest directory encompassed 1,200 communities, housing around 100,000 people.

Mariani also discusses another, similar, community — Cedar Moon, in Oregon — which offers another appealing reasons as to why communal living has caught on again.

“Cedar Moon isn’t off the power grid, but its residents have a dramatically smaller carbon footprint than the average American because they share resources, grow much of their own produce, use composting toilets and heat their homes with wood-burning stoves,” Mariani writes. It’s not hard to see the appeal of a space like this.

Also appealing? The research that shows that residents of communities like these tend to be among the happiest people on the planet. Does that mean that this is a way of life for everyone? Probably not — but for a type of community that seems deeply idealistic, the number of pragmatic reasons around life there shouldn’t be discounted.

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