Thursday, November 18, 2010

How to Use Communities Directory

In my last blog I started a four-part series on How to Focus Your Search for Community.

I. What does FIC already offer?
II. How to make full use of Communities Directory as a seeker's resource
III. Questions that will help you figure out what you're looking for
IV. How to get the most out of a community visit

Today I'll tackle the second question, on making the most of Communities Directory.

There are two parts to this: a) the straight forward stuff; and b) how to read between the lines.

In the print version of Communities Directory, one of the most potent tools in the book is the cross-reference chart, which sorts listings according to groups' answers to the most commonly sought objective criteria. Using the chart, you can quickly find which groups have what you're looking for if any of the following questions are potent for you:

o Is there a spiritual/religious orientation, and, if so, what?
o Is the group forming or established?
o Does the group identify as cohousing style?
o Does the group identify as an ecovillage?
o Does the group identify as a student co-op?
o Population
o Size of property
o Is the location urban, suburban, rural, or other (whatever that is)
o What are the community economics (income sharing or not)?
o How does the group make decisions (consensus, majority voting, council of elders, central leader, tea leaves)?
o Frequency of common meals (how often do members break bread together)
o Are there dietary restrictions or preferences?
o Who owns the land?
o When was the group founded?
o Is there a fee to join?
o Can you rent?
o Is the group looking for additional members?

While you can perform your own searches for these criteria using the built-in capabilities of the Online Directory, in the book it's already been done for you—which is worth the price of the book right there if you're doing any serious perusing.

Hidden Nuances
There's a practical limit to how many fields of information FIC can reasonably display in the cross-reference charts, and there is also a legal limit. To our chagrin, we are no longer allowed to collect and disseminate information about age range and number of children present (because of the potential for age discrimination, offering such data violates fair housing laws). That said, if you're looking for a multi-generational community, you can infer a considerable age range by looking at how long the group has been around. Most groups that have 20+ years under their collective belt are pretty sure to have a wide range of ages in their mix.

How much are you a pioneer—with a burning desire to create structure (agreements) and structures (buildings)? If you have that in your blood, look for groups that are not too far removed from their first birthday. These groups probably have more things still to build. Alternately, if you're more of a settler and are looking for stability, search for groups that have been longer in the saddle. As most groups fail before they reach their fifth birthday, ones older than are more likely to have found a productive groove.

If you want a community where people are rather deeply involved in each others' lives, I suggest you focus on income sharing groups—if members share money, their lives will necessarily be more intertwined. (If you dream is to eat meals together every night, serious income sharing tends to equate with serious meal sharing).

If you have limited financial resources and still want to jump into community living, you're better off concentrating on either income sharing groups (many of whom ask no fees to join) or places that have rental options.

If you're keen on a strong environmental commitment, be wary. The label "ecovillage" suggests such a commitment, yet there is no standard for what that term means, and you'll need to ask each group how that translates into everyday practices and ecological covenants. Don't assume their answer will be your answer!

While it's always a good idea to assess a prospective community for how well the members are able to name and work with power dynamics, be especially cautious if title to the land is held by one or more individuals instead by the whole group or a corporation.
Finally, a word of caution. The suggestions I've offered above are tendencies, not iron clad rules. After you've done all your sorting and whittled down your list to the most promising prospects, it's still a good idea to verify their reality before you buy their realty.

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