Interview with the Community Builder: Diana Leafe Christian

Diana offers consultation-workshops for individual communities, as well as public workshops.

Interview by Willi Paul

We have so many problems associated with families these days, how do you both heal and build communities with total strangers?

If you mean, “Do intentional communities heal problems associated with families?”, No. Intentional communities are not usually set up as therapeutic places for people with problems in their families.

And, people don’t usually start communities with total strangers. Community founders must get to know each other well in the process of starting a successful new community. And in terms of how one starts a successful new community, it usually involves a group knowing the general location where they want to start a community and whether they want it to be urban or rural; having shared values and creating a common mission & purpose; choosing and learning to use a fair, participatory decision-making process (and if it’s consensus, getting trained in it before using it, and requiring incoming group members to get trained before granting them the right to block a proposal); creating a system of community self-governance, including whole-group meetings and committees; making good communication skills a priority early in the group’s life (including having a conflict resolution method in place _before_ there’s much conflict); creating a membership policy (including for the forming group, and for when people live on the property); creating a list of site criteria; finding and financing property (including dealing with zoning issues if necessary); developing or renovating the property; thenliving on the property together with all these policies in place, and . . . enjoying community life!

What are the key traits that individuals need to bring to intentional community building?

Vision (the willingness to see and believe in somethng that doesn’t exist yet), confidence, an entrepreneurial spirit (experience in successfully taking risks), willingness to listen to others and make decisions cooperatively, people skills, organizational skills, financial skills, and time to work in work parties, attend community meetings, work on committees, and share meals and have fun together.

What you propose has to be very expense, right?

It can be expensive to start a new community if you buy land and develop or renovate property, in that it can often cost about as much per person as it does to buy a house in the same area. And not, it’s not expensive if you create community by all renting a place together.

In terms of joining a community, most communities have a membership fee or buy-in fee, etc., which helps reimburse the founders for the cost of buying and developing or renovating the property and servicing the property-purchase debt. If you join an income-sharing community, there’s no joining fee, and Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri, an independent-income community (“independent income” means it’s not income-sharing), has no joining fee either.

What is meant by a “communitarian path?”

If you are asking, “How do people who live in intentional communities differ from people who live in mainstream culture?”, I’d say they tend to become more willing to listen to others and make decisions cooperatively, more aware of how their actions may affect others (since in community everyone is “downstream” of everyone else), and more conscious and self-aware — particularly about their own unique faults and virtues.

What is the state-of-the-art with alternative currency? What are some success stories?

Intentional communities which successfully use alternative currencies include Findhorn in Scotland, which uses the EKO; Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina, where I live, which uses the Leap (both paper currencies), and Damanhur in Italy, which uses the Credito (a silver coin designed and minted onsite). At Findhorn, for example, a local credit union created by a group of Findhorn Association members, Ekopia Resource Exchange, issues the EKO as its local currency. (Ekopia Resource Exchange has 200 members and approximately $1,200,000.00 in investment capital.) EKOs can be used interchangeably with British Pounds Sterling and Euros to buy goods and services from other Findhorn members and member-owned businesses and co-ops. Some of the local Scottish shops in the area will take EKOs as well.

On and offline participatory decision-making has been around a long time. How is this different in your practice?

I don’t know anything about online participatory decision-making, however in actual communities, many, if not most, use consensus or some modification of it, and some communities now use Sociocracy, a decison-making and self-governance method from The Netherlands.

My own favorite method is the form of consensus used by N Street Cohousing in Davis, California. There, if someone blocks a proposal, the blocking person must meet with two or three people who wanted the proposal in a series of meetings to come up with a new proposal that addresses the same issues as the first proposal. If they do, the new proposal is brought to the next meeting, and most likely would pass. If not, the original proposal is brought back to the group for a 75% super-majority vote, which most likely would pass. For more details, see the article about this on my free online newsletter, “Ecovillages”:

What is a “Gather-in?”

I believe you’re referring to the event sponsored by Gaia University at Huehuecoyotl Ecovillage in Mexico in another article in Ecovillages newsletter ( )

I think that by “gather-in” Gaia University means a “gathering,” and is using playful language to describe it.

(9) Who are your heroes?

In the communities movement, my heroes are Robert Gilman, Albert Bates, Max Lindegger, Hildur and Ross Jackson, and the other cofounders of the global ecovillage movement and GEN (Global Ecovillage Network) back in the early 1990s; Penelope Reyes, one of the founders of Pintig Ecovillage in the Philippines; Jan Gudman-Høyer, the architect who developed the cohousing concept in Denmark; and Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCammant, who brought cohousing to North America with their 1996 book, Cohousing.

What myths are you incorporating into your work? Are you making new ones?

Perhaps all the activists in the intentional communities movement — and this includes ecovillage activists and cohousing activists — are creating a new myth, or perhaps a new culture, in which shared resources, cooperative decision-making and participatory self-governance, ecological sustainability, local food self-reliance, and a local economy are the norm. I’d want to live in a world like this!


Bio: Diana Leafe Christian

Ms. Christian is the author of Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities and Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community. Editor of Communities magazine for 14 years, she publishes “Ecovillages,” a free online publication

Diana leads workshops, offers consultations on process and communication issues, and speaks at conferences internationally. Her articles have appeared in Mother Earth News, Cohousing magazine, Permaculture Activist, and the Encyclopedia of Community.

She has been interviewed by Time Magazine, the New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, AARP magazine, New Dimensions Radio, Peak Moment TV, NPR, and the BBC. Diana writes about consensus and process and communication skills for the website of the Cohousing Association of the U.S. She lives at Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina.


Growing a Successful Ecovillage or Intentional Community
; Berkeley, CA. July 11-12, 2009, Sustainable Communities Center, 9:00am – 5:30pm.

Co-sponsored by Cohousing Coaches at Planning for Sustainable Communities, and East Bay Cohousing. Registration: $200 (after July 4). One-day attendance: $120. Contact Raines Cohen: 510-868-1627.

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