There’s not a lot to do in Syracuse, N.Y. when you’re living alone and a winter storm system dumps 3 feet of snow on the city. There’s no going outside, but there’s no staying inside — at least not for too long — if you want to remain sane. A dinner with friends would be nice; so would a yoga class or a shared movie and a good long talk. And when that’s all done, it would also be nice to have just a little bit of that wintertime solitude, watching the snow fall, all alone, from the privacy of your own home.
At one place in Syracuse, all of that happens on those long snow-filled nights. That place is Commonspace, a “co-housing” community on the fourth and fifth floors of a restored 19th-century office building. The community is made up of 25 mini-apartments, fully equipped with their own kitchenettes and baths, with access to a larger, shared chef’s kitchen, library nook, game room, coffee lounge and media room. The 27 residents (couples are welcome) live together — but only sort of — in private apartments that are, once you step outside your door, un-private too. And they’re part of a growing trend in an increasingly lonely country: intentional communities.
In cities and towns across the U.S., individuals and families are coming to the conclusion that while the commune experiment of the 1960s was overwhelmed by problems, the idea of living in close — but not too close — cooperation with other people has a lot of appeal. An intentional community is a very different beast from the more familiar planned communities, which can be big, unwieldy things — hundreds or thousands of families living on small parcels across hundreds of acres of land. While there may be some common facilities — a swimming pool or golf course or community lake — the communities are really just villages writ large or cities writ small, easy places to be anonymous.