• author
    • Julie Parker

    • May 5, 2014 in Columnists

    Someone else’s Utopia

    In the clay-animated film, “Creature Comforts,” animals are interviewed regarding life in a zoo. The mountain lion languidly declares, “Space. I need space.” I feel his pain. I have lived in apartments, duplexes, cottages and houses – from heavily populated cities to coastal neighborhoods. I dream of owning a few acres of space.

    As the world’s population continues to grow, some people select and/or create even denser environments.

    For example, there are “intentional communities.” I feel slightly claustrophobic just reading about them. These multi-roommate communities are forged for economic reasons, but each one requires that its residents have similar values or views, i.e., philosophical, artistic or political. The application process, as you might guess, is rather rigorous.  However, it is a popular concept, as The Fellowship for Intentional Community’s umbrella of around 3,000 communities will attest.

    This concept may be appealing to armchair gypsies, but to me, it sounds like a glorified dorm hall (eleven people living in a Victorian house in San Francisco, for example). Even with shared interests, there will still be the inevitable personality conflicts, such as that one resident who doesn’t wash dishes. I’d be good for only a couple of days in one of these places. Even with the option of closing a bedroom door for some privacy, the energy overload would be a deal breaker.

    Then there are contemporary communes referred to as “co-housing” which are popular with parents and seniors, and can number anywhere from 9 to 44 homes. Future residents of co-housing developments have the option of collaborating in the community design.

    Residents live in privately owned homes, which typically face each other across a pedestrian walkway or courtyard. There is a common building which may include a dining room, kitchen, workshop space, kids’ playroom, guest rooms, laundry, exercise room or craft room. Although residents naturally have private kitchens, they participate in the preparation of common meals in the common kitchen two to three times a week. Diners pay for their meals.

    If a co-housing community has a fire pit, does that mean you have to roast marshmallows and sing “Ragtime Cowboy Joe?” Wait. That actually sounds like fun.

    I understand parents’ attraction to built-in babysitters, with everyone watching everyone’s kids, but they’re also watching everyone else. This is clearly a community which embraces the Big Brother concept.

    Let’s also look at co-working spaces, since we spend most of our waking hours at work. This concept isn’t new, either, as it has a similar economic draw as co-housing – sharing rent, utilities, office equipment and a receptionist’s salary.

    Today, they’re cool, hip environments for startups which can step away from the isolating space at home. Co-working spaces are hives of buzzing worker bees who work independently, but may also brainstorm off one another, and the community itself may host networking events. Renting working space is ideal for traveling business folk, when a hotel room may not be the best working environment. Regus, for example, is an international company which offers spaces around the world, from one to eight hours a day.

    Periodically, during mid-afternoons, I have been seen typing away on my laptop at a bar (the slower time of day) because I needed some of that quiet, peripheral energy to stimulate my thought processes. But I couldn’t do it on a daily basis, because I also need times of intense quiet (sometimes utilizing ear plugs), so I definitely couldn’t share office space. It would be too distracting.

    And we all know what happens to worker bees.

    Amongst its eight acres of plants for sale, Hidden Hills Nursery in Utica showcases imaginative sculptures. In a large grassy area stands a door surrounded only by nature. Door closed for privacy, but wide open space for being.


    Hidden Hills nursery

    Hidden Hills nursery

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