sharing an excellent article by Tom Sine re: the needs and benefits of alternative community for our generation

4 07 2010

originally posted on his blog last month…

Community… a coming crisis and a creative opportunity 2010 to 2020

by Tom Sine

As we emerge from the worst recession in 70 years we learn that nearly 3,000,000 Americans lost their homes in 2009. But as we race into the second decade of the 21st century we are likely to face some other housing challenges that few are talking about.

First, as the economy begins to recover, housing prices are going to begin to rise again. Historically housing prices in North America have risen much more rapidly than the general economy. As a consequence we are likely to see growing numbers of 20, 30 and 40 year olds priced out of the housing market in 2010 to 2020. It is already happened in Santa Barbara, California and Vancouver, British Columbia where housing prices start at $700,000.

The problem is the middle class young have all been scripted to live out their parents’ affluent suburban lifestyles. I’ve yet to find a Christian college or church that is informing the next generation about the looming reality that growing numbers of them are unlikely to achieve the lifestyles they were raised with, and most will be unable to buy homes in the communities in which they were raised. These are just a couple of changes coming to the economy for the middle class.

While those of us who are part of the silent generation seldom spent more than 20% of one income for rent or mortgage, young couples today often spend 40% to 50% of two incomes to purchase their first home. As a consequence they have much less time and resources to invest in the work of God’s kingdom.

Increasingly were seeing couples like Jeremy and Janice, who bought a house together with another Christian couple in Colorado Springs. Each couple has their own floor in the home and their monthly mortgage costs are significantly lower. As a consequence of this decision, Jeremy and Janice were able to locate much closer to the college where they are involved in campus ministry, plus they are enjoying community with the other couple.

Not only is the single-family detached -housing option likely to be less sustainable economically, it is also likely to be less sustainable environmentally. In his new book Eaarth, Bill McKibben’s makes a convincing case that we could hit the peak oil tipping point where the cost of gas doubles or triples in the very near future. As a consequence all of us, and particularly those who are starting out, will need to create a range of new housing options that have a much smaller environmental footprint.

The cohousing movement is creating a spectrum of new cooperative communities all over the country that are not only less energy and land intensive but also create mutually supportive communities that will become increasingly essential for life in the turbulent times ahead.

The Bartimaeus community in Silverdale, Washington is the first Christian cohousing community in the Northwest. They have clustered their 25 units closely together on 3 1/2 acres with cars at the perimeter. Instead of backyards they use their land more intensively by creating one place where the children play together, and another area where members garden together. They meet several times a week in a common building and operate like a large extended family, not only caring for one another in their community, but reaching out and serving their neighbors in Silverdale as well.

Since growing numbers of those who are graduating from our Christian colleges are unlikely to be able to afford the single-family detached option, we are urging Christian colleges to help expand their students’ range of housing options for the future. We propose that instead of building yet another luxury dorm, they construct intergenerational cohousing communities. In this environment students would not only experience a community -based lifestyle but also discover a more sustainable and less expensive way of living.

In the last five years we have seen a range of experimental communities developed in Australia, Canada and the United States. These new communities are primarily composed of younger Christians who want to live in a way in which they are able to more authentically be a difference and make a difference in our world.

For example, Jonathan and Leah started the Rutba community in inner-city Durham, North Carolina. The members of this community live in three different homes. They not only share life together but they do morning and evening prayers and also enjoy sharing life and hospitality with their neighbors. They have discovered this cooperative lifestyle enables them to significantly reduce their living costs so they are able to free up both more time and money to invest in the lives of young people in their neighborhood.

Christine and I decided it’s not enough to write about people creating experimental new communities; we needed to join them. Four years ago we started Mustard Seed House with Eliacin and Ricci and their kids, who live upstairs in out tri-plex, and Peter and Anneka Geel who lived downstairs. We started meeting weekly over a meal to share our life and faith together as well as doing morning and evening prayers five days a week. Being very concerned about sustainability, we raise about 40% of our vegetables on an urban lot and enjoy doing hospitality with friends near and far.

We are also in the process of designing a Celtic eco-village on 40 acres on Camano Island, north of Seattle. Our hope is to have a permanent monastic community living on the land that models a much more sustainable lifestyle set to a very different spiritual rhythm. We plan to put a very high premium on sustainable design, including alternative energy sources as well as a large organic garden. Initially we are exploring creating a residential unit to host 25 to 35 students at a time who want to experience a simpler, more sustainable and celebrative way of life. {Be sure to read Christine’s more in-depth description in the Seed Shares.}

We plan to offer courses on sustainable living and sustainable spiritual practices for life in an increasingly volatile future. We would love to have friends from all over the planet join us in imagining and creating this new model for a more cooperative, sustainable way of life that could be replicated in other communities where you live and serve God.

Imagine the difference it could make if followers of Jesus started creating a spectrum of new experimental alternatives of cooperative communities which are more sustainable, celebrative, and less expensive and which also make a little difference in our troubled world.




One response

17 08 2012

I have to say I haven’t heard about co-housing and other practical ways that Tim introduced until I read this article. In many ways, I think they are facisnating ideas and I’m glad it’s already coming ture. Although he mentioned about building relationship with neighbours and having prayer time together, I wonder wheather it is too focused on self-sustainability or not, and how much this kind of community can reach out to Non- Christian which is also very important obligation to us as Christians.

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