Episode-1035- How I Would Personally Design a Sustainable Community

We just had Brian Newhouse on with a discussion on Permaville.  Since then I have been reading his book and while I like a lot of it, there are some compoenents I don’t agree with.  Such as having land “where no human may step”.

Though my view is if anyone buys land individually or collectively it is their land to do with as they please.  Hell there are definitely some parts of my heavily wooded 5 acres I haven’t stepped on, at least a few square feet of thick brambles or two.  Of course it is by choice, not decree.

This got me thinking that I have often described in pieces and parts what my vision for what we could call my own version of Permaville would be like but I have never described it deeply.   So I am going to do that today.  If you hear anything you think is “totally wrong” remember that anyone could build a community anyway they choose if you can find others to willing do it with you.

Just to be clear my ideas here would be for my community and any rules or ways of things confined to the borders of a privately held piece of land.  It is in no way how I think others should live.  When it comes to my day to day life I am a libertarian, but when it comes to my ideology, I am a voluntarist, please keep that in mind today.

Join Me Today As We Discuss…

  • My community would be started from scratch so all involvement is voluntary
  • There would only be 5 main rules
    • 1st rule would be individuals may use personal property as they choose, period
    • 2′nd rule would be people must attempt to solve problems directly first
    • 3′rd rule seek community arbitration before “contacting authorities”
    • 4th rule no one may harm another or take their property
    • 5th rule common areas have their own rules
  • The concept of private property and collective ownership
    • Each land unit is one “share” of the whole
    • Common areas are managed for community and commercial use
    • Community needs before commercial gain
    • Commercial gain is distributed based on share holdings
    • Expenditures and purchases are voted on by share holders
    • All “community dues” are voluntary
    • Community dues can be sweat, commodity or monetary
  • Functions, Goals and Operations
    • Individual home sites in the 1 acre range
    • Approximately 20% of total land should be common or infrastructure
    • Property should be as off grid as possible (about regulations not polar bears)
    • Lots are privately held and common areas are in a land based trust
    • Common areas are use for community production, education and commercial production

This isn’t a full picture just the basic components but I feel a society run this way would be tight nit, highly resilient and solve almost all of its own problems.   Someday I may formalize this into a book and call it Perma Libertyville.

Resources for today’s show…

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30 Responses to Episode-1035- How I Would Personally Design a Sustainable Community

  1. I’ve thought about this also, and was thinking that I would consider a provision that if anyone wishes to sell that it is offered to the members of the community (for a reasonable price and time) before marketing outside. A lot of thought would be needed on that because you’d want new blood coming in but it also gives members who want to expand (for them or family members) the opportunity to do so. Downside is you could end up with one family owning the majority and riding roughshod over the others…

    Just food for thought.

  2. wouldnt the whole not being able to sell your own property as you see fit break rule number one. i see why you want that rule but it does make it hard to have liberty if your sixth rule takes it away.
    if you have the community and the tight net group that jack is trying to foster then you would foster that kind of thinking on its own. making it possible to avoid more and more regulations trying to get the people to act as you want them to. instead you you could just have faith that people are generally good and that when in a good community they try to do what is best for that said community.

    • Modern Survival

      You could just require that the buyer agree to what the original member agreed to, that would take care of 90% or more of potential issues. No different then buying a property in an existing HOA except it would not suck.

  3. As usual you have lots of good common sense ideas, and only lack of experience keeps them from being a stronger set. You have thought of many facets, but not all are as realistic as they seem at first blush. Having lived in a small intentional community owned by three men where they ruled, lived in a closed community in Korea (with rights to an acre with house), and explored The Farm (good but just not for me), I can see how to make such a community and still I would probably get part of it wrong. Some communities need a screening process as it is possible to attract undesirables, moochers, and slackards. btw at the farm, a person can sell only to a ‘screened’ person but only for what money they have in it. I stayed with a couple who bought a three story, 8 bedroom house for 9K because that’s all it cost when it was built. If they sell, they can only get that or show receipts for upgrades and repairs. There’s no incentive/motive to profit. Annual fees of $100 gives voting rights. An arbitration board is elected. On community work days, if a person can’t work for any reason they are expected to provide food for the workers. The community owns it’s own heavy equipment operated by the residents. Some of the newer houses exceed 3-400K. As my dad used to say, “everything looks good on paper”, and ideas are beautiful while they’re in the head. I still think this is a wonderful idea, and I know I want to be part of one of these. The people who would come to my place in an emergency are not the people I’d want to be in a community with…..lordy,lordy, the possibility alone makes me shudder. Can you think of a way for us to network with other listeners in our areas securely? Keep thinking and comparing if you think this can come to fruition for you. Consensus is one way, and I’ve observed how that morphs in time, too.

    • @Aayla -
      Maybe you should fill out the ‘get on the show’ form.

      I’ve read a lot about intentional communities and co-housing, and spent a few years in a commune as a child, but I have no practical experience as an adult. It would be interesting, and educational to hear about your experiences.

      As for the ‘drop ins’ after an ‘event’.. I think we all have the same problem. People who aren’t interested in prepping, or personal responsibility, that for reasons of blood feel some claim on our support/resources. This is another interesting topic.. if you have your community, what prohibitions/rules/limits are there on drop ins? The libertarian in me would answer ‘none’, but it could be a real community problem if three dozen of my ‘deadbeat’ relatives decided to come live with me. (for dramatic effect.. there are only two dozen or so) ;-)

      • Modern Survival

        @Insidious

        Drops in are at best a minor concern. First in a full scale Armageddon assuming you had resources if anything you would be recruiting warm bodies. In a full scale break down not that many are going to get to such a location anyway, they would be dead before they got that far in the type of scenario that would drive more then a handful your way.

        The whole “others may want what you built” is nothing but the same old bullshit excuse people use over and over to avoid doing anything significant.

        On Aayla’s original comments I don’t think much of what she relates applies. What she describes is so removed from what I am describing you may as well compare my idea to a conventional suburb.

        • I’m thinking more in terms of the Great Depression where families moved in with relatives or passed out the kids (with each relative taking one or two). The issue being that the community ‘approved’ the original family for entry (due to their fitness and character), but not the in laws. This of course would be dependent on how ‘tight’ and interdependent the community was.

          Nothing that can’t be handled by your community bylaws (‘no more than x dwellings per property without agreement from the community’ or ‘no more than x rusted cars in the yard..’). =)

  4. Jack great show, I am a brick mason for the past 20 years, and couldn’t agree with you more about unemployment. As you can imagine in 20 years of this kind of seasonal work in Nebraska, I have needed to draw from the unemployment insurance pool a few times. This type of insurance is paid into a pool by my employer, and is only drawn in times of need by us hard working construction professionals. We are not free-loaders (like some would think). We only use it in times of foul weather, or no work, till the next job is started. Anyway, I greatly appreciate what you are doing. Your message is inspirational. Thanks

  5. Jack, I think you should game simulate your community idea. Write up the community rule set. write up some simple gaming rules to simulate the environment (Turns, time, monopoly money, start and end, roles, etc.). Play it out a few times. Create conflicts along the way and see how players solve them. create “roles” were people play as if they were; camping once a month, live full time, time rich money poor, money rich time poor, horders, meth heads, job loss, land experience, city guy, and so on.

    great episode.

  6. Jack, I like your vision and your ethics, but I have to wonder how well things would work regarding communal land.

    What do you think people will do when they see someone not working hard, or maybe not working at all? It would diminish the incentive to work on communal land, especially for the sort of long-term investments that really pay off. People would probably try to keep the land from getting trashed, keep the roads cleared, etc. But why would you go through the investment of time, money and effort to even plant a fruit tree in a common area, to get maybe 1/20 of the production, when you could plant it on your own property for 100%?

    Thanks for supporting the Free Staters — there’s only about 1,000 of them in NH and they’re already a real political force with about a dozen members elected to the state house.

    • Modern Survival

      Well first if mostly the place is planted with perennials there isn’t much daily work to do. Frankly if run for profit much of the required maintenance could be given to some members as a job and they could be paid for doing it. Most people that want to live this way actually want to do some work. The majority of the hard work could be funded by the initial purchase of the land.

      Watch this video of and find the part about the place called Village Homes in CA in it. If those lazy ass hippies can pull something like this off a bunch of preppers can do even better. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSJjB7GttqE

      It starts around 16:20

      The problem is most of you guys just don’t get how little maintenance a permaculture system really requires. I imagine there would be some people that don’t do shit and that is okay. Some would do a little here and there just to keep it clean because they want to. If you want to eat go get your share or pay someone to do it for you.

      It is almost like some people have a hard time understanding true freedom?

      I am an owner still in a few businesses I haven’t done much for other then to act as an adviser here and there for in years. I am still an owner, I still get my dividends from them, it they sell I get my piece, that is OWNERSHIP.

      If an operation has a profit labor costs are not an issue. Yet I am telling you some people are going to want to do some stuff just because they feel like it.

    • Jack, that makes total sense — I was worried that you thought all this would just happen by volunteer effort. I guess you would have one or two managers paid part-time or full time to lead things. Just like a building manager, except for the land. And of course if you had someone like Lawton do the initial design, it would be easier to charge enough of a premium for land to cover startup costs.

      • Modern Survival

        Well see there is this Spirko guy who is about 85% as sharp as Lawton. The Spirko guy is also a sharp business person and marketer. The Lawton fellow is about to spend a week living in the Spirko guys house teaching him everything about earth works design. So like this Spirko guy could then do the main frame design every bit as good as Lawton (well DAMN CLOSE) many more times after that and unlike Lawton guy he knows how to run a business at very good margins.

        • You know, now that you remind me, this Spirko guy probably has more personal brand power than Lawton as it is.

          And I know you’ve pointed this out before, but it probably deserves emphasis — someone good at business is an expert at financial sustainability, which is essential if any of this permaculture stuff is going to become mainstream.

    • Modern Survival

      @BeninMA let me add to this about the concept of people being mad because they worked harder then others. THOSE people are actually the bigger problem. I have a simple solution to it as well, such people will be screened and such people will be told, “sorry your application has not been approved”.

      Like I said I don’t think anyone should “have to do shit” once they buy in, it is all by choice. In the early stages when there isn’t enough surplus for real profit such people get the leftovers from the harvest. Once there is a profit a small paid labor force takes on the role of getting product to market.

      The main “business” would be education, it brings a easily defined profit. Instructors and coordinators are paid a fair wage directly from the fees of the students. Profit is held and used by or distributed by the land trust based on needs and based on share holder voting.

      Basically if you define everything going in people that don’t want what you have won’t be willing to come up with 15-30K to buy in. This isn’t some 4th world concept I am talking about.

    • Jack, I mostly agree. Although I’m skeptical that screening will weed out all the slackers. I can imagine people wanting to live in a permaculture paradise, and perhaps even being genuinely interested in doing the work, but then not participating when it really comes down to it.

      • Modern Survival

        You don’t get it, I have no need to screen out a slacker as you call them, I would likely screen you out, you are too damn worried about a so called slacker. The people of this community are OWNERS, not employees.

        Some business owners work in the businesses they own, others serve on the board and others don’t do shit. That is the prerogative of being an owner.

        I ain’t being a dick I am just saying strait up if I was interviewing you and this subject came up, I gave an answer like I did here and you asked “well how do you ensure no slackers” my response would be I don’t but that isn’t your problem because your application has been denied.

        Again the slacker isn’t the issue the person worrying about what others do or don’t is. What part of liberty are you struggling to comprehend?

      • Jack — sorry, I misread your first paragraph and I see your point. As I said before, I think it could work. Like any other business it would just depend on the quality of the business plan and the people implementing it.

  7. Matthew Sailors

    Great show, Mr. Spirko. I and my immediate family are trying to live prepared, and your checks and balances b/tw. individual agency and community rules are ideas we will try to implement (w/tweaks) on our plot of land as our family goes forward.

    We live on a 1-acre lot outside of San Antonio, and many in our community (like many Americans, unfortunately) are not yet into sustaining themselves because they are, as you say, the “mainstream [non-survivalist] Americans.” Our immediate neighbors seem to be closer to our thinking, however, and they are trying to restore some old wells on their property. We all have decent resources in our land and possesions, but are limited in funds; so we are looking to mutually help each other in a bad scenario. Is there any limit to how small a sustainable community (like the kind you are talking about) can be, i.e. with a few neighbors in a lower/ middle class position? Thank you for any intel.

    • Modern Survival

      @Matthew there is no limit to anything. If you look around the world the people in the most poverty are the most sustainable. You and I are rich by comparison to such people. Lot’s to learn from that.

  8. I too am libertarian. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that the ideal situation for survivalists is for there to be a community set up that can live harmoniously even in the face of a disaster. Why is it so hard to make this work before the disaster strikes?!

    We need to be prepared for anything the way this country is going. The following site has some very valuable information that will help us with the ever more controlling government.

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  9. Couldn’t find the link, but I vaguely remember a sub segment of one of Mollison’s Global Gardener series where he covered a fairly sized permacutlure “village” in California somewhere built in the 70s AIR that intersects a few of the core ideas here.

  10. The old Catholic “Distributist” economic theorists G. K. Chesterton said, “The problem with capitalism is there are too few capitalists, not too many.”

    • Modern Survival

      Well I agree with that, the greatest enemy to capitalism is socialists who think you can make capitalism okay with proper controls.

  11. Ragnar Danneskjold

    Jack, how does your own 10% rule come into play here. I don’t mean to sound too dismal, but I think you’re giving humanity a little too much credit. Human nature is just a little too destructive, lazy, and selfish for this to go off with a few problems as it seems like you’re foreseeing. I think issues of moochers, slackers, thieves, and vandals within the community would crop up a lot more than you think, even with a screening process. Anytime something is supposed to be taken care of communally it almost always falls apart. People just don’t care about something as much if it’s not “theirs”. And I know you’ll say it is “theirs” but not really since the communal stuff would belong to everyone who contributed. When push comes to shove, most people, even the most well intentioned people, will take some degree of a “won’t someone else do it?” attitude. And unfortunately there’s a snowball effect. 1 member of your community decides that he’s not going to mow the grass or clean up the tractor because his job takes too much of his time. He wants to, but he doesn’t have time, and after all, there’s so many other owners. Someone else will do it. Well those other people see him not doing it, but the tractor does still get worked on and grass gets mowed, so a few more decide “if I maybe take a week off from communal upkeep here and there, no one will really notice”. Then things start getting worse, and the few people left who did help just say “screw it, if I’m the only one busting my ass for something 50 people can use, I’m done helping”

    And of course someone has to administrate all the little things. Who sets the grass mowing schedule? Who manages money brought in by teaching or selling crops? Who handles purchases of equipment and supplies? Pretty soon all those little tasks build up to where you need someone or even a panel of people who need to spend quite a bit of time on it. Now you have a communal government. And who would volunteer to do such tasks? The same kind of shifty power hungry person who wants to be in every government from HOAs to Congress.

    Essentially what you seem to be saying is that some form of Communism (root word community) would work fine if you just had the right people to do it. I know, each family would still have their 1 acre that really is theirs and so forth. But all the “community property” that’s “owned equally be everyone” is pretty much textbook-ideal Communism. Just like all the starry eyed nonsense that came out of the USSR about community farms that “The People” owned and all that. None of it worked in reality. Human beings just don’t work very well when they do not get to keep the rewards of their work for themselves. And I don’t think any amount of screening can keep that human nature out of your community. Don’t forget, even the original Plymouth Plantation under William Bradford experimented with community farming and shared burdens. And it almost killed them off. Humans don’t work like that. It may sound nice, but that shared burden philosophy has never worked, ever.

    • Modern Survival

      First what the hell is the problem with all of you asking about people being “lazy”, what part of shareholder and ownership do you not understand? What part of a person doesn’t have to do shit other then buy in do you have trouble understanding. You are yet another person who if I was screening you I would tell you that you have nothing to worry about as you are not accepted.

      As for problems you are going to have people causing problems anywhere. The first thing that keeps out people who are problems is MONEY, look man a place like this will likely cost you 30K just to buy a lot and get “in” and yea you are going to be screened and GET IT before you get in and man you don’t get it.

      People that want to do work are free to simply because they feel like it. The required work would be done by people PAID to do it, these could be people who are community members or just people that want to work for money. I don’t get why people has such a hard time grasping the concepts of

      1. Ownership
      2. Liberty
      3. Non Interference

      It seems you are concerned say Joe will buy a lot, set up his house, do no work and focus on his acre and do no work on the community property and only collect his dividend when it begins being paid out. I couldn’t give a crap is Joe does that, WHY DO YOU? I am not talking about a commune here. Joe is free to do as he pleases but no one is free to make a big damn deal about anyone else “not doing enough” it would not be any of your damn business what I or anyone else does or does not do.

      If you bought a condo and there was a common area and some of it was gardens and you CHOSE to plant some stuff in one of those and they guy across the hall didn’t do anything would you care? If so you have a problem. IF I own a farm and a partner also owns part of it and I want to work and he doesn’t is that really a problem? Can’t the farm pay me a fair wage as it would a non owning employee? Is my partner not equally entitled to his dividend after wages? He is an OWNER he INVESTED.

      Some of you people are so divorced from freedom and true capitalism it makes me VERY SAD.

      You have no idea what Communism is! That is where 100 people take the property of say 10 by force and give everyone an equal share including the original 10 and expect them to shut up and be happy. What I described is PURE CAPITALISM, you BUY a lot and a SHARE in something owned collectively OF YOUR OWN FREE WILL. This is no different then buying a piece of a company or a given number of shares of stock.

      I realize now I have a LOT of teaching to do. Collective ownership isn’t Communism. Every pubic company is collectively owned by thousands of individuals but it isn’t communism as they all PURCHASED A SHARE. Some gain shares by reinvesting dividends.

      I am honestly shocked that anyone thinks BUYING a share of anything is equivalent to communism, wow, just wow.

      As for the 10% rule you have that problem in a typical neighborhood and it would be a much bigger problem.

    • Jack, I think there’s just some misunderstanding here. I could be wrong, but in the show I don’t recall you saying there would be paid staff to run the common areas like an independent business. As a community model, that really doesn’t bother me at all, although it does prompt a number of thoughts that would occur to any smart buyer:

      1) Ok, not only do I have to evaluate the suitability of this piece of land I’m going to buy, but I also have to evaluate this business I’m now going to invest in.

      2) What happens if this business goes bust?

      3) Will I be able to meet other potential shareholders (ie, my potential new business partners) before parting with my money?

      I do think it’s a really cool idea, which would bring much greater productivity to land that would normally not be used much, or at all. You could also have a system in which the business leased parts of people’s land, just as we see today in rural areas. Even food forests could be established with long term leases. Some people don’t want to be too close to agriculture — but attitudes would change if you’re talking about a spray-free food forest with chickens run through it once a month and maybe pigs less frequently than that.

  12. This is my opinion of where the confusion might be. I think what might be confusing to some is the fact that what Jack is describing is NOT a commune, if it is a business. In the case of a commune, a free loader is potentially a bigger concern because the community shares in everything, food, clothing, transportation… So if they don’t pull there weight and still get to eat every meal from the community food supply etc., that would be concerning. I don’t think that is what Jack is describing, I think in Jack’s vision, personal food, comfort clothes, transportation etc, is still the individuals responsiblity. Buying into Jack’s Community is just like purchasing stock. if you purchase stock in a company, you aren’t expected to work for the dividends…

  13. And a follow up, Sorry I didn’t read Jack’s last message which pretty much says what I said, albeit a little more brusquely. I would say, Jack, what your describing is a new concept, and people are applying their old paradigm (Commune) to it. Give them a chance to catch up ….