Sunday, September 6, 2015

Hull House and Communal Life

Today is the birthday of Jane Addams, creator of communal living environments extraordinaire. She created a communal house in England, before returning to the states to transform Chicago. Well, perhaps that's a stretch. But maybe not. Two thousand people each week used the social services and spaces (day care, library, meeting spaces) provided by Hull House. She was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

I've always been fascinated by communal living experiments, and have done some dabbling of my own; in the 90's, my spouse and I had 2 housemates, both good friends, and their pets. I continue to think about that experiment and ways it could be improved upon. At the same time, I've gone to monasteries, which have been doing communal living in successful ways for thousands of years.

I wonder if having a spiritual focus helps communal projects have longevity. If a community gathers together to pray regularly, perhaps it's harder to fight or carry a grudge.

I wonder if having an artistic focus helps communal projects have longevity. If a community supports artistic visions and enables people to live out those visions, will people be more committed?

I continue to have this dream of a huge piece of land where every resident would have his or her own cottage. There would be communal spaces, like a kitchen, a media center, a chapel, a library, a studio with art supplies of every kind. There would be hiking trails, a huge garden, and perhaps some small animals, like chickens and goats.

Could such a place be self-supporting? Perhaps by selling eggs, produce, goat cheese? Or by having visitors come for retreats? Is this just a crazy utopian dream?

My grandmother, who grew up on a farm that supported several generations, used to scoff at my ideas of returning to the land. She told me that I had no idea how hard it was. But I've always been attracted to the idea of being self-sufficient. My great-uncle (my grandmother's brother) always pointed out that the family had been well fed during the Great Depression, and able to feed others. They may have had to wear their shoes with the holes in the soles patched up, but they never went hungry.

Communal living continues to appeal to me, as does the idea of self-sufficiency. The idea of such a place also supporting people's spiritual and creative aspirations makes it an even sweeter dream.

Or perhaps I'd rather just have a sailboat.

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