If you're getting this, you must have signed up for my newsletter. I quit a job that I loved several months ago because I couldn't stop thinking about community. How we might arrange our homes so that we get the kind of organic connection we want, but in a way that's easily arranged and long-lasting? Since then, I've spent hundreds of hours interviewing other communities, traveled across the country to see how community works in other cities, interviewed State Senator Scott Wiener, brainstormed community with the SF Planning Commission, and become interim Head of Product for Maxwell Social. You can read previous issues here: month one, month two, month three.
Honestly: the reason I'm doing all this is fear. I'm scared of gradually drifting apart from my friends once people start families. Seems to me that this happens to everyone as we age. And that's profoundly fucked.
I love this Louis CK joke about his kids' friends' parents: "Our kids chose each other for literally no reason. They're friends because they're the same size. They don't care who they make me hang out with."
A year ago, I was pushing cohousing at the Archive. But most of my friends were noncommittal. Cohousing is scary, too: it's too expensive, long-term, and difficult. I was frustrated, because I didn't think there was a better solution.
But this month feels like the beginning of a breakthrough. I've been talking about a different idea, and it resonates in a way that cohousing never did.
The new idea is for a diverse group of values-aligned folks to gradually rent or buy a bunch of houses within walking distance of each other. Houses would be coliving or single family, and they'd each run independently: they'd have their own recruiting and governance. Houses would be loosely federated to coordinate shared spaces and events.
One house could turn their garage into the gym and hosts group workouts every morning. Another house could turn a spare room into a library, and friends of the house would gain automatic access. Two adjacent houses could knock down the fence between their backyards and host events or a daycare. The sidewalk life would be lively and serendipitous. After a few years, the neighborhood would be large enough to franchise a daycare or a Montessori school.
It has the advantages of easy coordination, because houses are smaller and independent. It has the advantages of a large neighborhood, because there's access to so many people and amenities. It's far more durable than coliving houses, and easier to scale up or down than cohousing. Mechanisms for allowing nonresidents to access a common space could extend to folks that don't live in the neighborhood, which would ease recruiting.
Communal living, at its core, is just friends in close proximity bumping into each other at natural hangout spots.
My user interviews these last few months have surfaced a few consistent themes: we want to spend time mainly with our friends, and not be obligated to spend time with non-friends. We'd like this time to be regular, easy, and organic. We like spontaneity, but not at the expense of our responsibilities and routines. We still want to protect our privacy and be able to choose solitude. But we also appreciate serendipity, and want to be connected to a large network of interesting acquaintances. In a neighborhood, especially one with some well-designed social norms and technology, I think all of these are possible.
My question for you: what would you call such a neighborhood? I'm on the hunt for a great concept handle:
I'd also be interested to hear your ideas, feedback, or concerns. My DMs are always open.
PS: comments can go on this public FB post.