This isn’t to discourage anyone from trying the “forty acres and my friends” approach. However, the beautiful vision of “let’s get all my friends together, buy some land, and live happily together forever” has a tendency to gloss over some of the very real issues that communities have to deal with. Here are a few:
1. A Compelling Vision — A social historian once observed that many well-formed utopian communities have failed due to boredom. Once you’ve got everyone together, what distinct lifestyle advantages does your community offer over their previous living arrangements?
2. Proximity to Town — Is your community accessible to public resources like schools, colleges, employment, shopping, a library, a hospital, and a church? Or can your community provide those resources?
3. Financing — (disclaimer: I’m not a financial expert, so I can’t guarantee the accuracy of this section.) There are essentially two ways to purchase the real estate needed for your community: co-operatively or entrepreneurially. So you’ve found the ideal location and it costs $3 million. In the co-operative approach, you and, say, 14 of your friends purchase the land together. That means it comes out to about $200,000 per person. The biggest problem here is that if one person becomes unable to make payments, the rest of you have to pick up the difference, otherwise the bank can foreclose on the whole group. In the entrepreneurial approach, one person will get financing for the entire $3 million spot, and everyone else will purchase their lots from that person. This approach isn’t very communitarian, but probably a lot more reliable.
4. Kids — Does your community take into account the needs of babies, children, and teenagers? Are there playgrounds and parks for the younger kids? Is there entertainment for the older kids? Bored teenagers is not a recipe for community harmony.
5. Affordability — Have you designed the community in a way that the people you want to have there can afford to live there?
6. Social Norms — If your community has common areas, how will acceptable behavior be defined and managed? Things like appropriate movies, alcohol usage, noise and music selections, etc. will result in varying viewpoints.
7. Conflict Resolution — Blogs can ban trolls, but communities can’t exile undesirables. What mechanisms will you put in place to facilitate harmony when people refuse to get along?
8. “Tragedy of the Commons” — People don’t take care of community property as carefully as they take care of their own. How will you keep things in a state of good repair? If your community has assigned responsibilities (grounds maintenance, meal preparation, cleaning, etc.) what will you do to ensure that those jobs are carried out?
9. Governance — Who is going to be in charge of what? How will that be determined, what authority will people have, and how will their authority be enforced?