Refugees of modern society – exiting the conventional life


Even if you love all the rise of technology right now, one has to admit that our technological advancements bring consequences with them. Some good and some are troublesome like the ever increasing energy consumption and varies detrimental impacts on our ecosystems. Increasing consumerism combined with globalisations conveys the feeling of being powerless and helpless. Yes, we like the new tablet, smartphone or the freedom to travel where ever we can think of, but every now and then we feel guilty being showered with all this boundlessness. Guilty of recognising the harm we are causing to the environment and being unable to exit the hamster wheel of destructive behaviour despite our awareness.
On the never ending search for “utopia” many unconventional forms of living together have been experimented with, only few of them have been lasting and so far none has gained the mastery.

The remains of former communes

Famously in the 1960ies and 70ies, the time of the hippie era, many communes were founded on the basis of counterculture ideals in order to allow a purpose-driven life. Fed up with with social norms, people left their conventional lives to leave traditional conventions behind and share with others a common notion of life and goal, and celebrating a culture of sharing goods, property, resources and social duties.”The Farm” in Tennessee is one of the few examples existing until today. In the 1980ties it was the largest commune in the US with 1500 members. The Farm’s ideals are based on principles of non-violence and respect of earth combined with environmental, political and spiritual awareness. As shown in a brilliant documentary “American commune” residents were praising freedom of self-expression and trying to build a self-sufficient economy. However, it had become harder and harder to juggle the freedom and communal duty. After a mass exodus of most of its members due to its economic instability it shrank to 150 inhabitants today.

Urban communes

But these classical hippie communes were not the only ones being established in the 1970ies. In 1970 the architect Paolo Soleri founded the town “Arcosanti” in Arizona desert on the idea of arcology, a fusion of architecture and ecology. This still existing utopian city, also called urban laboratory, should become a prototype of space dedicated to improve urban conditions while minimising destructive impact on the planet. The town makes its living on selling the self-made ceramic and bronze wind bells. Arconauts, how the inhabitants are named, are either employed in one of Arcosanti’s companies or work outside the community. Currently 60 people live in this town permanently. The resident number fluctuates throughout the year as volunteers join the community for 5-week-workshops, in which they are taught the principles of arcology and participate in on-going constructions. All residents share common facilities like swimming pool, laundry facitily and art studio spaces. As modern green culture can be seen as just another form of consumerism, the Arcosanti community seeks to develope a truely sustainable environment.

Utopian cities – the future communes

Strikingly, modern collectives are quite different compared to the former Hippie communes. People nowadays join forces to share their way of living and appear more “tamed” as most want to live a middle class life. Ecological thinking is the common denominator, but individuals have diverse political, spiritual or life aims goals. This marks a clear shift from communes devoted to reach a common meaningfull life to loosly defined collective with a common purpose. One such modern example is the Ecovillage Ithaca, founded 1996 and based on a co-housing principle. The 175 people live in 75 houses in three co-housing neighborhoods (Frog, Song or Tree). The ecological footprint of one person living in the green village is 70% less than an average American. The residential life in the village is characterised by an extensive sharing culture (sharing of clothes, toys and a running car pool), but not at an expense of comfort and modern life. To be able to live there, one needs to spend 2 to 3 h a week voluteering for the village’s community.  The Ecovillage Ithaca does not possess any shared commercial businesses and all inhabitants work off side. It is merely a space to live eco-friendly and contemporary at the same time.

As history shows, there will be always brave people escaping the norms of society and pioneering new ways of living together. The past has also proofed that once a community reaches a certain size it becomes troublesome to keep up the common vision, communal duty and freedom under one umbrella. But of course, projects of big scale utopian cities are already on the way. For example New Songdo in South Korea or Masdar City in Abu Dabi, are two cities which are being built from scratch and aim to open space for many people to life in sustainable cities!

Header image credits royalty free

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About Lisa Landskron

Being a scientist in the field of molecular biology & leading the TEDxVienna Blogger team, Lisa loves to do biochemical as well as digital experiments to create and spread ideas.

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