These days, most of us don’t consider the intentionality behind the places we live. No one questions why New York is New York and how people come to live there. But there are new communities popping up all the time, intentional communities where like minded people choose to come together with similar goals and beliefs to try to make a go of life in a way that may be a little different from what the rest of us are used to. Could be as simple as a group of vegans wanting to live in peace with nature. Of course, some of these communes do get a little weirder.
10. Kingdom of the Little People
It’s not every commune that can be described as a tourist attraction and also an exploitative cash grab depending on who you ask, but that’s what China’s Kingdom of the Little People has going for it. It’s either a place where little people can live together in peace and make a living, or it’s a modern day sideshow where little people are exploited for profit. Maybe it’s both.
The Kingdom was founded in 2009 and the alleged purpose was to give security and purpose to little people in China. Chinese culture can be more harsh to little people than we are accustomed to in the Western world and, let’s be honest, people are pretty harsh to little people over here, too.
The commune is a tourist attraction, where the residents are seen to live in houses that resemble toadstools. They put on performances like parades and dances and gymnastics shows. Tourists pay and cheer and it seems to run like a theme park.
The performers, all little people, really do live here, though. Not in toadstool houses, but real homes away from the tourists. Only people under a certain height may live there. If they aren’t performers, they can get real city jobs like security, cleaning, or food prep. They have an elected government. These are the sorts of jobs that little people are unable to get in most places in China. And, perhaps of even greater benefit, they are not mocked, teased, or harassed here, which is a serious problem elsewhere.
Residents tell reporters they are happy, though the exploitative and curiously constructed nature of the whole place is questioned. What can you say about a town where even the stray dogs come from tiny breeds like papillons and chihuahuas? Clearly, someone is forcing an idea here. But if the people truly are happy, maybe that’s okay.
9. The Oneida Community
If you have ever heard of Oneida silverware, you may be surprised to learn of the polyamorous commune that started the company that gives quality, affordable silverware to the masses. Silver-plated and in a velvety box, Oneida flatware has been around for decades. But before all of that, it started life as a Utopian society where there was less silver and more free love going around.
The commune began in 1848 and was remarkably forward thinking. Women were not considered second class citizens here and traditional gender roles were ignored in favor of a far more equal approach to work and life. Commune members had no personal property. Everyone worked for the shared good. Women worked alongside men. No one was better or more valuable. And at the end of the day, they believed the power of God could best be experienced through having multiple sexual experiences with numerous people.
So how does a community that believes having a lot of sex with fill them with the Holy Spirit turn into a silverware company? Slowly. To make money, the commune did a lot of things – they canned food and made animal traps and chain link. Some time in the 1870s, one member decided they could start making spoons. By the 1890s, it was all they did.
The commune faded, but the company lived on. In fact, the name is still around today though it was sold in 2006 to a larger corporation, so there’s much less love in any of the silverware you buy these days.
8. The Garden of Eden
There’s a fine line between commune and cult, and sometimes one can quickly become the other. Informally, the major difference between the two seems to hinge on some rickety understanding relating to how the members are treated. If you’re all just hippies growing squash and singing songs? That could be a commune. If your leader makes you marry him or wait for a UFO to take you away, that could be a cult.
The people of the Garden of Eden in North Texas were deemed a cult and were raided by a SWAT team that tore their commune apart. The reason? They were on the hunt for drugs and weapons. Those are also things that indicate your commune is probably a cult.
After the raid, the commune sued the city because the raid found nothing. Turns out police got a probable cause warrant based on four sketchy criteria. One was that the founder had been arrested on marijuana charges 2 months earlier, though there was no record of that. Next, the founder spoke to undercover officers about gardening, which is apparently bad. Their website used the words “uber dank” to describe the cuisine they make from the vegetables they grow which, to police, meant marijuana. Finally, an anonymous source told police there were guns at the farm.
Cops showed up and found tomatillo plants along with sweet potatoes and no guns or drugs. The commune sued the police department for 4th Amendment violations and the case was held up for some years for various reasons. But at the end of the day, it seems the commune was legitimately just a bunch of innocent, friendly hippies who don’t even grow weed.
7. Black Bear Ranch
Most communes are born from either a desire to express certain religious beliefs, or from a more secular sort of hippie vibe. Black Bear Ranch was the second kind. Started in the late 1960s, it was meant to be “free land for free people.”
The town was started in a ghost town, a long abandoned former mining town that residents bought with money from an LSD deal. Over the years, it grew into something much bigger. Not a lot of people live there, mind you, just several dozen at a time at most, but it’s been going strong for decades, so clearly some people are able to manage despite some weird history.
Commune members took up forestry as a means of support, fighting fires and planting new trees. They used peyote ritualistically and established rules to prevent people from accidentally falling into couplehood. No one was allowed to sleep with the same person more than two nights in a row. They even had a sign up chart so residents could mark off who they’d slept with. This led to an outbreak of VD. At one point, they had to ban people from sitting on kitchen counters thanks to a hepatitis outbreak.
The commune is still there today, though they seem to have refined the process of running things.
6. Jesus People USA
No doubt just hearing the name “Jesus People USA” forms an image in your mind of what these people may be like. What it doesn’t make clear is that the community was formed in the early 1970s. They claim about 200 members. And they all live in the same building in Chicago.
For decades, this community has lived in the same 10 story building on Chicago’s north side, eschewing that image of farm communes or compounds in the middle of nowhere. The group live together and work communally. No one earns money for themselves. They earn money for a community effort to pay expenses for the whole.
The group is heavily into music and even owns their own record company. Yoko Ono’s ex-husband Anthony Cox was a member and they’ve been associated with music festivals for years, not to mention being instrumental in the creation of Christian Rock. Despite that, everything isn’t always sunshine as the group has been accused of being a little shady and authoritarian in the past.
Obviously the group itself dismisses claims of abuse and nothing has been proven in court, so the Jesus People keep on keepin’ on in their modern day hippie tower.
5. The Federation of Damanhur
Founded in Italy back in 1975, the Federation of Damanhur is a commune of people linked sort of by religious belief but more by spiritual beliefs and ideals. For instance, they believe there are humanoids on other planets, and we can communicate with them through meditation. They also formed their society in secret without informing the Italian government what was happening. How’d they do that? Well, according to one member, when they were doing loud work like excavating a mountain, they put on records to cover the noise.
On a more practical level, 800 members live on site and there are other communes in other locations. Members don’t have to live on site and there are levels of involvement people can choose to partake. Members live communally with up to 20 people in a house and reflect on humanity, spirituality, the universe and everything in between.
The main feature of the commune are their temples, the ones they built secretly in a mountain and featuring some visually impressive artwork and design. The various rooms are as ornate as anything you’re likely to find anywhere in the world, and each one features a theme. The Blue Temple is dedicated to meditation while the Hall of Mirrors is dedicated to music and the sky. There are a host of others, and members can study or even sleep in them if they choose.
4. Maharishi Vedic City
The middle of nowhere in Iowa might be the last place you’d expect to find a place called Maharishi Vedic City, but that’s just where it is. It’s the first city to be incorporated in Iowa since 1982 and just under 300 people live there. The official language of the town is Sanskrit but most people conduct business in English because Duolingo still isn’t offering Sanskrit courses.
The town was conceived by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man responsible for sharing transcendental meditation with the Western world back in the 60s. According to him and his followers, there are ancient Sanskrit texts from some 2500 years ago that detail all kinds of knowledge regarding how ancient Indian Rishis had a natural understanding of science, the universe and everything else up to and including art, music and even architecture. So the town is meant to be the living embodiment of the ideas found in those texts, including architectural ones.
Development of the town cost tens of millions of dollars and though it is not as big as they planned, it’s still an impressive feat. Within the town limits, non-organic food is prohibited. They don’t use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and were the first entirely organic town in the country. They sell their own organic produce from a 160-acre farm locally and to retailers like Whole Foods.
Residents live a life of peace and harmony with themselves and nature according to the teachings of the ancient texts and visitors can partake of things like yogic flying. The goals in the future include going entirely off grid with wind and solar power and electric cars only.
3. Whittier, Alaska
Similar to the Jesus People in a practical, if not spiritual sense is the town of Whittier, Alaska. This community seems less like an intentional community in the sense of most communes and more like a necessary one. Nearly every single resident of Whittier, about 272 of them, live in the same building. The Begich Tower, a large pink and white condominium, serves as essentially the entire city in one place.
The building is 14 stories and features a laundromat, a store, a post office, a clinic, a church, and even a police station. There’s a school, and it’s connected to the building by an underground tunnel. Everything else is in the building, itself a former army barracks, and it’s also incredibly hard to reach. Boats can get there easiest. The town is located on the Passage Canal, about 60 miles from Anchorage. You can also get there by road, but there’s literally only one road, including a tunnel through the mountains, weather permitting, and sometimes it’s a one-way street. It also closes at night.
The town gets an average of 20 to 22 feet of snow per year, so most residents know not to drive in the winter. With all amenities of a town on site, residents don’t typically need to leave the building for any reason and word is some have not been outside in years.
2. Freetown Christiania
Located in the heart of the Danish city of Copenhagen, Freetown Christiania, or just Christiania, is a commune that basically stole an abandoned army base and called it home. You’ve heard that it can be hard to remove squatters if they show up on a property in America. Well, it seems even worse in Denmark. These squatters showed up in 1971 and haven’t left.
For many years, the commune operated as though it were an independent country smack in the middle of the city. They didn’t even technically observe the laws of Denmark, and government officials in Copenhagen let this go on for so long it seemed to get well out of hand. The commune freely sold marijuana for years while police pretended not to notice, but they finally cracked down on that in 2004. By 2010, the commune agreed to adhere to Danish law if they wanted to stay where they were. That said, weed is still available here and there and the police conduct raids now and then. Other residents want it gone because of the violence the drug trade brings. These are Danish hippies, after all.
The original commune was started by artists and drifters who chose to take over the massive but unused military base that had been constructed all the way back in 1617. It last saw use in World War II and had been empty since the 1950s.
Locals finally stormed the gates and broke in, setting up shop in ‘71. They created their own currency and lived relatively freely for years, making art and getting high. There is a vibrant tourist trade with plenty of souvenir shops and restaurants to visit. Violence, hard drugs and stealing are all prohibited. Photography used to be, but that’s lightened up in recent years, though it’s still polite to ask.
Undoubtedly, the most unexpected community idea hatched in recent years was one not based around the hippie lifestyle, or a religion, or any spiritual belief. It was based around Ron Paul. A 50-acre gated community in Texas where supporters of three-time presidential candidate could live together in perfect, Paulfect harmony. It was to be called Paulville.
Ron Paul himself was not a fan of the idea of Paulville. He felt that people of like mind should actually spread out to be heard far and wide, not condense together and isolate. Still, the plan was for an unregulated libertarian ideal where things like planning regulations and other rules limiting personal freedoms would be left behind in the rest of the world.
High in the mountains, Paulville would make use of sunshine for solar power and stay off grid as much as possible. If people wanted to use the commune’s water or power, they could, but they didn’t need to. Freedom was the order of the day. 50 acres of land was purchased, and they even erected a town sign. Then things kind of fell apart.
In 2008, shortly after announcing the plan, the website went dead. The commune never truly came to be, but for a brief time, it was close to the only town in America inspired by a living politician who had no interest in it.