Confusing terminology and types of intentional communities explained!
If you have explored intentional communities you’ve probably noticed that there are a wide range of terms these places use to describe themselves — ecovillage, cohousing, co-op, senior community, commune — just to name a few.
It can be confusing to know what exactly is meant by some of these terms. For example, many people new to the movement assume that “cohousing” means that residents share a single home together, while this is actually the opposite of what cohousing typically means.
There are numerous ways someone could categorize the diversity of intentional communities out there. I have chosen to focus on the terms that most often show up in the Communities Directory and those that have a sizable network who identify with them.
Since I most often work with individuals who are looking to join an existing intentional community through my work as a community matchmaker, that’s the perspective from which I have created the following list.
But if you are setting about to start a new community, you may want to think about describing your community based on the driving motivation for your project. Yana Ludwig, FIC board member and instructor of the Starting a Community online course, has created another system for categorizing communities that’s based on motivation. Here’s a shortened list what her categories include.
Yana’s categorization of communities:
- Cultural Preservation (such as Amish and Hutterite)
- Economic Security (such as cooperatives and communes)
- Service-based (such as Camphill and Catholic Worker)
- Identity-based Refuges (such as queer and war resistor)
- Quality of Life Enhancing (such as cohousing)
It’s worth keeping in mind that it is up to each community to decide what it wants to call itself and not everyone uses these terms in the same way. Sometimes a group may use more than one label, such as being both an ecovillage and cohousing, or a senior cohousing, or a tiny house ecovillage. Some communities dispense with labels all together.
Don’t hold onto these labels too tightly and dig deeper to find out why a community calls itself what it does… or doesn’t.
15 Types of Intentional Communities
Below is a list of the common types of intentional communities and what they tend to mean, as well as examples and resources for further learning.
Note: The examples given for each community type below are mostly based in the USA, since that is the majority of readership of this magazine, but trust that intentional communities of all kinds can be found in nearly all parts of the world.
the fastest growing type of intentional community, model originally from Denmark, residents have their own housing units with many shared services and facilities
- Community example: Heartwood Cohousing, Colorado, USA
- Network example: Cohousing Association of the United States
refers to an intentional, traditional or urban community that is consciously designed through locally owned, participatory processes to regenerate their social and natural environments
- Community example: Earthaven Ecovillage, North Carolina, USA
- Network example: Global Ecovillage Network
Housing Cooperative (co-op)
community members live in housing they own and govern themselves, includes youth and student groups (see NASCO.coop)
- Community example: Madison Community Cooperative, a network of co-ops in the city of Madison, Wisconsin, USA
- Network example: National Association of Housing Cooperatives
unrelated people sharing housing for their mutual benefit, usually private bedrooms with shared kitchen and/or bath, sometimes called cohouseholding, homesharing, or commoning
- Community example: River City Housing Collective, Iowa, USA
- Network example: National Shared Housing Resource Center
recently developed type of community born out of the coworking movement. Residents typically rent fully furnished, more affordable, community-oriented spaces in urban areas, often based on a membership model that allows for moving amongst locations
- Community example: Outsite Santa Cruz – Natural Bridges, California, USA
- Network example: Embassy Network
communities organized around shared spiritual or religious beliefs, includes some of the oldest forms of intentional community (such as monasteries and ashrams)
Tiny House Village
communities that consist mainly of tiny houses or small homes, often with shared facilities. Increasingly found in urban communities with a few tiny houses in the backyard or as affordable living project for the unhoused
- Community example: Squareone Villages, a network of affordable tiny and small home communities in Eugene, Oregon, USA
- Network example: Search Tiny House Villages
intentional communities with 50+ or other age restrictions for membership, often cohousing
- Community example: Village Hearth Cohousing, North Carolina, USA
- Network example: SAGE Senior Cohousing Advocates
partial or full income-sharing communities, often work required of members
- Community example: Twin Oaks Community, Virginia, USA
- Network example: Federation of Egalitarian Communities
residential communities and schools designed for people with and without special needs, based on the principles of anthroposophy. L’Arche has a similar mission
- Community example: Camphill Village Copake, Upstate New York, USA
- Network example: The Camphill Association
collective communities in Israel that were traditionally based on agriculture although many are now private, growing number of Jewish kibbutz-inspired intentional communities
communities committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken inspired by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin
- Community example: White Rose Catholic Worker Farm, Missouri, USA
- Network example: The Catholic Worker Movement
Resident Owned Communities (ROC)
neighborhood of manufactured homes that’s owned by a cooperative of homeowners who live there as opposed to an outside landlord
Community-led Initiatives (CLI)
any form of action undertaken by self-organized groups to improve their social and environmental conditions. A term increasingly used in Europe to encompass a range of communities movements, including Transition Towns and countless neighborhoods fostering more intentionality
- Community example: Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Massachusetts, USA
- Network example: ECOLISE, European Network for Community-led Initiatives on Climate Change and Sustainability
And more types of intentional communities…
activist collectives, artist communities, agrihoods, retreat centers, ashrams, community land trusts, permaculture farms, pocket neighborhoods, veteran intentional communities, communities for the formerly incarcerated, reinhabited abandoned villages, decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), the list goes on!
What ties together all the above community types is that the residents choose to live near each other on the basis of explicit values. They share resources, facilities, group agreements, regular communication, and often a deeply held common purpose.
Whatever shared terms or labels they may identify with, one thing is certain, no two communities are alike. Each has created a unique culture that is best experienced by spending time with the people and their place.
Your Next Steps for Learning about the Types of Intentional Communities
To continue your search into intentional communities, I suggest exploring the Communities Directory that’s searchable online and as a print book. The Directory is intended to be an umbrella resource including all types of intentional communities. However, you may find additional communities through the websites and maps of the networks associated with each of the types listed above.
People tend to be attracted to one or more community types based on their values and interests. For quick guidance on the type of community that is a fit for you, take the free Community Type Quiz.
It can be challenging to know what type is best for you if you are just getting started exploring the thousands of intentional communities out there. That’s why I’ve developed a community matchmaking service to help folks determine which types of communities are a good fit and recommend specific communities to visit or join.
Copyright 2022, Cynthia Tina and Communities magazine. This article first appeared in Communities: Life in Cooperative Culture, September 2022; for further information on Communities: gen-us.net/communities.
Drop a comment if you think there is a category of community missing from the list. I’m looking forward to growing our collective knowledge of the movement with you!