Intentional communities for the 21st century

Most of us today are living in in houses, villages or cities built in and for an earlier time.  Having become more resigned, in recent months, to the inevitability of climate change, with its attendant disruptions of life as we have known it, I am also now more aware of how essential it is that we begin to adapt if we wish to survive the coming cataclysms.

And that is a big IF.

I am not entirely sure that I have the will to survive, if surviving means living in deprivation with the constant threat of violence, as so many science fiction visions of our future have presaged.

That is why I have lately become so fascinated with questions of the hereafter, trying to peer beyond the transition of life into death, to see whether it might be true that some spiritual essence of us might persist beyond the loss of our physical body.

That remains an unanswered question for me, and for that reason it is still hard for me to go easily into the night of death.  Although I don’t want to live through the hard times that will come with climate change, I do have a desire, which grows stronger by the day, to do what I can to prepare for what is coming.

What does this mean, in a practical sense?

It means that I am thinking seriously about trying to connect with kindred spirits with whom to build a resilient community that is designed to meet the challenges of what will become our reality as the 21st century moves forward.

I should admit that I have always been leery of intentional communities, and my limited experience with them has not been very positive.

I was a member of a Waldorf educational community, as a parent, for more than a decade, and that chapter of my life ended badly—I had to pull my son out mid-stream, at the end of fifth grade, because his teacher was making him (and other classmates) miserable, and the school provided absolutely no framework for setting this bad situation right.  As parents, we were told to suck it up or leave, and many of us left.

Today, in my home here in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts, I am a member of various communities, but none with whom I have developed the deep shared bonds of purpose and passion that I imagine would be necessary for a successful intentional community of the kind I am beginning to dimly envision.

What am I looking for?

IFIn some ways, it starts with dwelling.  We need to begin to dwell on the Earth in a sustainable way.  To do this right means we need to change the form of the houses we construct, the energy we siphon from planet and Sun, and the way we produce the food we consume.

The intentional community I imagine will have small, low-energy buildings set harmoniously into the landscape.  Energy will be supplied by geothermal, solar and wind or water, depending on the setting.  As much as possible of the community’s needs will be satisfied locally, using permaculture techniques and the cultivation of fruit and nut trees adapted to the environment.  I imagine chickens, goats, sheep and cows kept mainly for their milk products, and draft horses to plow and fertilize the fields.

I suppose I am envisioning something like what the Amish have held on to all these years, much to the derision of “modern” Americans.


Might it be possible to adopt the low-tech subsistence model of the Amish (like subsistence farmers worldwide) without necessarily forgoing a) the connectivity of the World Wide Web and b) the freedom of thought and expression encouraged in modern society?

My fear about intentional communities, as they have so far been established, is that they tend to demand strict loyalty and conformism, to such a degree that creativity and growth is suppressed.

I am not willing to give up creative freedom in exchange for material security.

So I am wondering whether it might be possible to form an intentional community based on principles of energy sustainability and a subsistence (as opposed to accumulating or growth) economy, which did not at the same time limit its members creative freedom and growth?

If any models exist, I would appreciate it if readers would point me to them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne I have been thinking about recently is the Lammas Community, in Wales, which I especially love for its marvelous hobbit-style homes.  There are eco-villages throughout EuropeFindhorn is probably the best known—but I am less familiar with similar experiments here in the U.S.

Americans, here is our challenge: to create environmentally sustainable eco-villages that are explicitly designed to weather the climate and social shocks of the coming years, while also allowing for the social and creative free thinking that we have come to cherish at the turn of this century.


Can we achieve this?  Do we have time?  Do we have the will?  Can we afford not to?

Leave a comment


  1. leavergirl

     /  April 12, 2013

    Ah. My favorite topic! Check out this place in Snowdonia…

    Jennifer, tell more what you mean by conformity in ecovillages?

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  April 13, 2013

      In this I was thinking about religious-based intentional communities; and other communities built around loyalty to a particular way of seeing and inhabiting the world, like Steiner communities. I suppose I also want an intentional community based on a philosophy–“work together to live lightly”–but I wonder if it’s possible to be on the same page in this respect, while still fostering tolerance for difference and creativity in other aspects of life. Maybe not!

      • leavergirl

         /  April 13, 2013

        So I still don’t understand. You want to “work together to live lightly” but are saying that if you actually expected all members to cleave to this as a core value, it would somehow damage “tolerance for difference and creativity”?

  2. Anna

     /  April 13, 2013

    I get “dibs” on the first dwelling — the one with purple herbs growing on the roof! LOL 🙂

    I wonder if there are licensed earth-sheltered-home building contractors who are poised to provide the expertise to plan and design substainable communities.

    Great idea for a discussion!

    • leavergirl

       /  April 13, 2013

      Dancing Rabbit has many folks with experience… and so do other communities. Looks like lavender growing on that roof… mmm good…

  3. Anna

     /  April 13, 2013

    Earthaven is another ecovillage located in the mountains of North Carolina, 40 miles away from Asheville.

  4. A while ago I was really interested in Orange Twin, an eco-village outside of Athens, GA. You can learn more about it here:
    These also remind me of many hippie / New Left communes in the ’60s, some of which I’m sure are still around. I’d be interested to see how your search turns out!

  5. What do you think of Earthships?

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  April 27, 2013

      I am very interested in Earthships, and all other innovative architectural designs that may be able to withstand all that the elements are going to be throwing at us this century–

  6. Diana’s two books are good resource for what you are looking for:

  7. I am interested in ‘intentionalizing’ community — i.e. building up the resilient connections to share, inspire, and manifest better models for living lightly on earth. I wish to do this in our existing vicinity, rather than uprooting to Wales, or NC, etc. My vicinity is the Hilltowns of the Berkshire mountains of Western Ma. — Middlefield MA. It is already a friendly community of only 200+ year-round homes. I’ve created a community center hub, which could provide a place for workshops, meetings, or anything people have the interest and enthusiasm to try doing together. See the Blossom Community Center page at:

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  July 21, 2015

      Thank you, Tamarin, your community sounds wonderful and I would like to visit, as I’m just around the corner in the Berkshires. Let’s be in touch!


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