Intentional Community and the yuppie in me

Harmony Hazard, 24, wanted “A safe place for book groups and hula hoops”; Sara Teitelbaum, 23, wanted “People to bring warmth to a home”; Rupert Poole, 30, wanted “Community building, skill-sharing, gardening”; Mariel Berger, 28, wanted “Social, political, and artistic collaborations”; Johanna Bronk, 23, wanted “Communal vegetarian meals and chickens.”

Myself wanting almost all these things, I have to laugh at the yuppie-ness from the outside. However, these quotes weren’t culled from Stuff White People Like, but from the newspaper white people like, the New York Times. The article is about overeducated hipsters trying to mesh postmodernism with humanism. The title, “A Modern Answer to the Commune,” displays their unoriginal originality, and their unradical radicalism.

A quick conservative response is simple. Intentional community? Duhhh … the family.

I’ll keep going, though, because I myself have been enamored with ideas about modern intentional community ever since living in its ideal and origin, the college dorm. Let’s admit it, many of us found exhilarating realizations about life and living while in a dorm – which we did not find in our nuclear family. Part of this is the culture of a single age group; part is also the struggle to reassemble order and humane-ness to our lives after the liberation from family bonds.

In a culture with decreasing social interdicts to define and revere social roles that have been constructed to bring out aspects of our humanity, modern intentional community is certainly a useful tool. Forced social activity is a necessary way to refine and recognize relational and human goods.

Additionally, the nuclear family has rarely been enough, historically, to create community-oriented values. In some ways, modern intentional community fills the gap left by extended family and neighbors, among whom it was possible to exercise a greater degree of choice.

But here is a point I want to stress. The physical infrastructure of our cities and towns are often built without regard (or with disregard) for broader sociality, with social places such as strip malls and restaurants occupying distinct areas from residential, “private” spaces. More importantly, in a country with freedom of religion, the spiritual community is necessarily fractured, a situation that often makes intentional communities attractive to the spiritually sensitive. The bonds of common belief, common cause, and commonly-formed desires through religion find intense connection when coming together. If the hipster Craiglist-formed community is attractive to me, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” is the deeper desideratum.


  • October 1, 2009

    Nathan P Origer

    I’d suggest that one of the biggest problems — beyond the point you make about returning to the most fundamental of these, to wit, the family — here is the looseness with which we all too often play with the word “community”. Phil Bess, I confess, makes a somewhat compelling argument, deriving it from the Politics, that any group of people (within reason, anyway) living together/working toward a shared end constitutes a “community”, but I find myself itching with uncertainty and angst about dubbing five urban hipster/yuppie types, who decide that theirs is a “community”, without obvious regard for the actual community (the polis within which their smaller community exists), a community, as do I feel this way about any “intentional community” that doesn’t evolve organically.

  • October 2, 2009

    Bryan Wandel

    Certainly community has various levels, just like “relationship” has various levels. So it is certainly possible to strive for intense community in one specific place, and for that group to hope to engage those around them as well. The question was not addressed in the article, so I can’t speak for them – but out of my own experience that is how good church communities seem to work.
    And the spiritual aspect of community is what I was driving at in the end of the post. In many relationships, proximity enables interaction, but commonality drives connection. Beliefs and drives are going to play a significant role here. In our plural society, natural gravitations occur within divisions. It is hard to think of ideal communities forming without common purpose, passions, and worldview, to some degree.
    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying we should exclude those unlike ourselves. However, purely organic development is not going to produce the deepest community because some of the deepest forces for community will be found elsewhere.
    The unspoken debate going on in my head here is between Christian community that focuses deeply on itself in order to develop, and that which blends in to those around in order to infuse and evangelize. The question is whether relational drive follows belief and passion, or vice versa. I don’t mean to dichotomize too strongly here, because there are other options. However, I do mean to say that intentionality can be a good thing sometimes in community development, even in choosing one’s community – not all the time or in all ways … but it supplements the defects of organic development (including frustration).

  • October 3, 2009

    Adam D'Luzansky

    I don’t understand why Nathan feels angst about inorganic intentional community. I think Bryan in his follow up comment made the distinction that organic community and intentional community are different from each other.

    I think regardless of how cities are built or how organic communities form, we should be involved more intentionally with the people around us. So I think the point to worry about is not whether we’ve defined community properly, but rather that we strive to love and serve those around us.

    I’m reminded of Luke 6:32-33:

    “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”

  • October 3, 2009


    To me, “intentionality” is just another word for “choosing tradition.”