Wash. Post Article
From: ann zabaldo (annzlibertyvillage.com)
Date: Sun, 7 Jun 1998 20:02:30 -0500
Thought it might make it easier for you to comment on this article if
you could actually read the article first.  Here 'tis:

Neo-Counterculture
                  My Uncle's Life Away From the Mainstream

                  By Alissa Quart

                  Sunday, June 7, 1998; Page C01

                  SEATTLE?I used to visit my Uncle Martin and Aunt
Margaret in their
                  Manhattan loft 10 years ago and listen to their
views on the sorry state of
                  American culture. As we ate hijiki and listened to
spooky postmodern
                  dance music, I found myself agreeing with them
until they started
                  denouncing some cultural retrograde anachronism --
like reading the New
                  York Times or studying history -- that was helping
me to survive my
                  adolescence. Then, I would shrink in my chair.

                  Now, at age 60, Uncle Martin is living out his
dreams of authenticity on
                  Vashon Island outside of Seattle with Aunt Margaret
and their three small
                  children. They have been here for three years and I
can finally test the
                  reality of the once-baffling terms he threw at me:
"intentional community"
                  and "co-housing." These are the bywords for a
growing quasi-utopian
                  residential living movement that is visible from
Liberty Village in Frederick
                  County, Md., to East Wind in Tecumseh, Mo., to
Vashon Island here in
                  Washington state.

                  These communities are the newest expression of the
300-year-old
                  American impulse to build a non-hierarchical
community with values
                  uncorrupted by the society at large. The desire to
form a new, ideal
                  community brought the Pilgrims to Massachusetts Bay
in the early 17th
                  century. It motivated the Shakers and the Mormons
and a welter of
                  millenarian, socialist and utopian communes in the
19th century. And in the
                  1960s and '70s, it brought another wave of communal
living as hippies and
                  others set out to organize countercultural
communities. To someone born
                  after most of these initial attempts at commune
living, they always seemed
                  to me both wonderfully antidotal and deeply
maddening. Was my uncle
                  consorting with industrious idealists or needy
naturalists?

                  While many of those communes have since faded,
there has been a slow
                  but steady rise in intentional community-building
in the '90s, attracting
                  thousands of people like Uncle Martin. These new
communes are often
                  more pragmatic in their idealism -- although the
individuals who live
                  together separately are close enough physically to
really get on each other's
                  nerves. Laird Schaub, the secretary of the
Fellowship for Intentional
                  Community, based in Rutledge, Mo., says of the '60s
generation, "We
                  knew what we were against but we didn't know what
we were for." There
                  are now approximately 540 intentional communities
in North America,
                  according to Schaub. The fellowship gets word of
about eight new
                  communities a month, he says, and has sold 32,000
copies of its listing of
                  communities.

                  There have been social experiments around Seattle
and the Puget Sound
                  since the 19th century, when a semi-anarchistic
collective called Home and
                  a socialistic one called Equality Colony were
thriving. Vashon Island is a
                  natural place for people who want to start a new
life. Home to about
                  10,000 people, it has a working-class hippie feel,
with many a young
                  woman clad in velvet curtain-like skirts and woven
hats making espresso
                  for a living.

                  Vashon Co-Housing was founded in 1989 by Evan
Simmons, a carpenter,
                  and his friend Mark Musick. Originally, you could
purchase the land for
                  your house for $25,000; now the same site costs
$64,000. Uncle Martin,
                  having decided to flee New York for the Pacific
Northwest, found Vashon
                  Island on a list of intentional communities in
1989. He attended a couple of
                  meetings and decided to move in.

                  In all intentional communities, the guiding
philosophy is to foster closer ties
                  among neighbors. In the co-housing model, residents
live in separate
                  dwellings but dedicate themselves to a more
communal lifestyle. At Vashon
                  Co-Housing, there are 18 home sites and a communal
building under
                  construction. The houses are connected by dirt
roads and there are 13
                  acres of communal land. All cars must be parked in
an area away from the
                  houses. Daily life is governed by written
covenants. Every house must have
                  a front porch for socializing; every roof must have
cedar shingles. All
                  residents attend bimonthly meetings at which
everything from new
                  members to garbage disposal is discussed. Once a
month there is a work
                  party in which everybody pitches in with
landscaping and outdoor chores.

                  "This is the way people should be living in the
future," Uncle Martin said.
                  His house, which he built, looks like the picture
of a home in a children's
                  storybook -- unpainted with a shingled roof. It
smells like fresh wood
                  inside, where there's a wood stove and bright fish
painted on the floor of
                  the kids' room.

                  When we sat down to dinner during my recent
week-long visit, he talked
                  about the community and how all the houses are
built in accordance with
                  the dicta of Christopher Alexander's 1977 book, "A
Pattern Language."
                  Ceiling heights vary in the homes of Vashon
Co-Housing because
                  Alexander said that a "building in which the
ceiling heights are all the same
                  is virtually incapable of making people
comfortable." And each house in
                  Vashon Co-Housing has windows on at least two sides
because "in rooms
                  lit on one side, the glare which surrounds people's
faces prevents people
                  from understanding each other."

                  Some intentional communities have been organized by
Christian
                  fundamentalists who, like my uncle, advocate home
schooling. Some are
                  organized around a craft. Twin Oaks, an intentional
community in Louisa,
                  Va., assigns each member a full workweek of labor
at one of the
                  community businesses, which include a hammock
factory and a tofu plant.
                  Some stress communal living more than others: At
Twin Oaks, for
                  example, the 100 residents have a single bank
account and no private cars
                  or private homes.

                  What unites the intentional community movement is
its members' proud
                  rejection of mainstream values. Vashon Co-Housing
and other collectives
                  in the Seattle area are only tiny islands in a sea
of software engineers now
                  buying up pricey, cream-colored condos with profits
from their stock
                  options. Uncle Martin, by contrast, doesn't know
how to use a computer.
                  He and his family live on little money, forbid
anything with the Disney label
                  on it and distrust individualized ambition. Instead
of playing Myst on the
                  computer, the family spends evenings pulling the
nails out of 19th-century
                  schoolhouse floorboards to create an authentic new
floor for their house.

                  All of which is a great relief to Uncle Martin. "I
was under siege in New
                  York. I fought landlords and I fought the city.
Those are some
                  shark-infested waters," he said. "In Vashon
Co-Housing, you can't say
                  'screw you' like you can in New York. You have to
see these people
                  tomorrow."

                  "In Vashon, people care about their neighbors,"
Aunt Margaret said.
                  "Nobody gave back to the community in New York."

                  I felt awfully inspired by their life until the
next morning when Uncle Martin
                  talked, over brown rice puffs and soy milk, about
how home schooling will
                  spare his children from the culture's values. In a
flash, I remembered how I
                  have resented his purism as often as I admire it.
No matter how
                  stripped-down their new life is, there will always
be some evil my uncle
                  would call "processed," some imperfection to crop
up and threaten his
                  detoxified peace. Like other Americans living off
the grid of conventional
                  life, my uncle and aunt are angry at the
"gentrifiers," wherever they might
                  be. But Uncle Martin and Aunt Margaret shop at
Ikea, just like the
                  gentrifiers.

                  While my uncle has made his peace with
mass-produced Shaker-style
                  furnishings, he must contend with mass culture that
he finds far more
                  troubling. One day, as we watched one of my cousins
play with a plastic
                  gun, Uncle Martin asked me, "Where does the
hostility come from?"
                  Hadn't these boys had their television curtailed,
attained the right mix of
                  acids and bases in their diets? Hadn't they been
nurtured by a bunch of
                  parental figures who taught them bird names and
conflict resolution? I
                  watched, mildly distressed to see my assumptions
confirmed: Kids still play
                  war games and lord and serf games, even under the
influence of an entire
                  community's idealism.

                  At sundown, the boys tease the girls, shouting out
insults as they always
                  have. Another of my cousins, an 8-year-old girl,
has a better understanding
                  than most kids her age, though. She asks my aunt
whether she had
                  provoked the boys to "act out." "We should get
along. We're all in
                  co-housing together," the cousin said. Then she
turned to me, grinning.
                  "Still, girls are better than boys."

                  "Humans are best," said my 4-year-old cousin, as
she adjusts her
                  oversized tutu. Her parents laughed approvingly.
Later, my 8-year-old
                  cousin referees a fight between her younger
siblings. She will tell them they
                  can't have more than their tiny allotment of sweets
because sugar is bad.

                  By my last day on Vashon Island, I had a better
appreciation of my uncle's
                  crusade for an uncooked life with a bit of
Emersonian richness left in it.
                  Through the island-only bartering program, old
clothes are exchanged for
                  haircuts. My uncle did a photographic portrait of a
neighbor; the neighbor
                  fixed Martin's water pipes. And everyone celebrates
the holidays together.
                  For Saint Lucia Day, the Swedish celebration of the
solstice, my
                  8-year-old cousin wore a crown of lit candles.

                  When I returned to New York, the drive home took me
past billboards
                  and mammoth housing projects. The life of the city
seemed faster and less
                  humane than when I left. I was thinking of my
cousins, home-schooled in
                  glaciers and rain. Perhaps they won't know who
Benjamin Franklin is or
                  memorize their multiplication tables on time. They
also probably won't care
                  how much Bill Gates is worth. They are running
around on unpaved roads,
                  growing up in a place where all the adults know
their names, where the
                  future is becoming the past. Perhaps the pastoral
wing of my family is on to
                  a good thing.

                  Alissa Quart has written for the Village Voice, New
York magazine and
                  the Independent of London.

                           © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post
Company

--
_______________________
Best -- Ann Zabaldo
Liberty Village Cohousing (:~
annz [at] libertyvillage.com



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