Author: Tim Miller
Published in Communities Magazine Issue #143
Visions of Utopia, Part Two
Experiments in Sustainable Culture
A Documentary by Geoph Kozeny
Available from store.ic.org or 1-800-995-8342.
($30 plus shipping; or $50 plus shipping for Parts One and Two together; additional discount available to FIC Members.)
Geoph Kozeny lived in community for more than a decade and then created a new life for himself—one of community networker extraordinaire. He lived mainly out of his pickup truck for many years, traveling around the country and visiting hundreds of intentional communities. Along the way he devoted a great deal of energy to supporting the work of the Foundation for Intentional Community. It’s a fair statement that no one in recent memory has done more to promote communal living and to strengthen ties among America’s thousands of communities than Geoph Kozeny did.
I remember berating Geoph for keeping a vast library of information in his head but not recording it permanently. He said I shouldn’t worry about it. And he was right. The cream of Geoph’s info-trove has surfaced as his inspiring two-part video, Visions of Utopia. Part One came out in 2002, but Part Two needed to be issued posthumously, alas, because he died after completing the filming but not the editing of that portion of the project. Many of his friends then joined together to see that his project reached fruition.
Part One featured an overview of the long history of cooperative living and then provided video snapshots of seven communities founded since 1961. The new Part Two provides portraits of 10 more communities, all founded since 1970. One real strength of the video (both videos, really) is the diversity of the communities featured. In Part Two we visit Catholic Worker houses, which provide front-line service (food, housing) to persons in deep need. We take an excursion to the Farm, a classic hip commune that has evolved into an ecovillage that has changed its economic structure but kept its ideals largely intact. We drop in on Remote Village, a pseudonymously-named enclave in northern California so remote that its residents are snowed in four months of the year. We take a look at N Street Cohousing in Davis, California, whose residents have crafted a cohousing village from existing neighborhood homes. The other groups in Part Two are the Community Alternatives Society (with two locations in British Columbia, one urban and one rural); Ganas, of Staten Island, New York; the Goodenough Community of Seattle; Hearthaven, in Kansas City; the Miccosukee Land Cooperative, near Tallahassee, Florida; and Sandhill Farm, near Rutledge, Missouri.
I found it all both enjoyable and informative, and came away with a greater appreciation than ever for the real diversity that exists in today’s intentional communities. Indeed, diversity exists not only among communities, but within them. Ganas is especially intriguing in that regard; as one member says in the video, you can choose a level from total involvement, including income sharing, to not much involvement beyond sharing space with others. Several other featured communities, including Goodenough, Miccosukee, the Farm, and N Street Cohousing, are sufficiently decentralized to allow members to make their own choices about levels of involvement, even if they do not have income-sharing core groups. On the other hand, several communities retain tighter structures. The income-sharing Sandhill Farm, for example, really resembles nothing so much as a loving family.
I was also struck by the continuities American communities have with those of the past. The Catholic Worker houses remind us that intentional communities have long served the needs of the down-and-out of society. Sandhill Farm is still agriculture-based, something that has characterized communal life as far back as we can see. One particular historical reenactment is apparent in the Community Alternatives Society, with its two locations, including a rural one that lets the urban members spend time on the land. The intentional community that is usually reckoned the first of that genre in what became the United States, Plockhoy’s Commonwealth, or Swanendael, in Lewes, Delaware, had just that same dual-arrangement, with one base for the community’s urban merchants and another for the farm workers. (Or at least that was the community’s plan; it was wiped out by an invading army a year after its founding in 1663, a fate that most contemporary communities, happily, are not likely to face.)
At the end of the video I sat transfixed as the long list of credits scrolled across the screen. Again the power of the communitarian ideal was evident: all kinds of people pitched in to make this video happen. Yes, it’s Geoph’s idea, and his project, but its creation was truly a community effort. He could not have a more fitting memorial than this testimony to the power and vision of those who work toward a positive future for the human race by joining others to create a cooperative society.
Keep watching until the credits have finished. The video closes with a touching final scene. Geoph is on-camera to make a final statement. But he flubs his lines and kind of dissolves, laughing at himself. A very human being has made a visual document that testifies to the life commitment that he and thousands of others share. By all means get the video and pass it around. Get Part One as well, if you don’t have it yet. The world of competition and strife is too much with us; it’s high time that as many people as possible were introduced to other possible ways to live. There’s no better place to begin than right here.