Called “intentional communities,” these group homes are occupied by strangers who live together based on core values, such as intergenerational child-rearing, environmental sustainability or the attempt to live out Catholic social teaching.
They have manifestos on the fridge, nightly house dinners, monthly “feelings and needs” meetings, and commitments to shared decision-making. Is a clothes dryer wasteful? Should non-married couples be allowed as residents? What’s a “Jewish” way to ease poverty?
There are at least two dozen of these homes just in and around the Northwest neighborhood of Petworth, a large enough constellation to gather for a regular potluck and an “Olympics” with such events as a compost-toss.
With their mostly progressive, war-opposing, meat-eschewing bent, the homes can feel reminiscent of 1960s communes made up of people who sought to escape mainstream life. But this is intentional living 2013, D.C.-style. These houses are filled with advocates and political organizers who are likely to do their civil rights work for the Justice Department or have a meeting at the White House after morning prayer. The potluck can be a networking opportunity for someone advocating for affordable housing or LGBT Catholic inclusion. (Perhaps the emblem of this is D.C. Council member David Grosso, I-At Large, who was raised in a Petworth group home filled with Catholic anti-violence activists, including clergy.)
In fact, an inside joke among intentional communities involves that tension between being a typical Washington go-getter and the desire for a purer life that’s more about what’s in the community garden than what’s on the résumé.
Laird Schaub, executive secretary of the Fellowship for Intentional Community, said there’s been a boomlet in intentional living since about 2005. His organization — one of the bigger clearinghouses for intentional living — has been getting 10 to 15 percent more Web traffic each year lately, and he estimates that at least 100,000 people in the United States live in an intentional community organized around spiritual, political or other principles.
Unlike in the ’60s and ’70s, he said, typical Americans are more likely to yearn for more “community” around them. Also, more people older than 50 are expressing interest in intentional living, Schaub said.
People “say there has been more alienation and fragmentation, more divisiveness and tension, less sense of neighborliness than when they grew up,” he said. “The reason [the homes] are important is because in intentional communities we are learning about or recovering the ability to get along with one another and solve problems.” Below are three models of modern-day communes: