Second lives: Alternative communities you can join

Second lives: Alternative communities you can join

Tired of "regular life"? Swap yours for one outside the mainstream

If Thom York had figured out how to build an intentional community like the following people, Radiohead may not have written "Creep," with lyrics such as "I don't belong here."

For some, regular society holds no draw, so these alternative communities, some created decades ago, provide a perfect solution.

The best part is they welcome newcomers too.


Arcosanti, Arizona, United States: Frugal architects' community

Arcosanti-Bell FactoryThe Lars homestead from "Star Wars"? Nope, just Arcosanti's Bell Factory.

What: An outlandish town built in the 1970s by architect Paolo Soleri and his Cosanti Foundation in the middle of the Arizona desert.

To visit: Open to the public. Tours are offered daily, suggested donation of US$5-24 for various tours

To be a resident: Go through a five-week construction workshop

“Arcosanti is not an intentional community; it is rather an accidental community at this stage,” says Jeff Stein, an architect and president of the Cosanti Foundation.

“It's an ‘urban laboratory’ made up of people brought together by the power of Paolo Soleri’s architecture, and the promise that Arcosanti holds of modeling a design that could allow cities to function with Earth’s ecology.”

Soleri’s concept is called "Arcology," meaning the interaction between architecture and ecology, an alternative to urban sprawl.

Arcosanti-apartment and officeApartments and offices in Arcosanti.

“Frugality” is the building mantra here. Stein says Americans live in two spheres, public and domestic, using twice as many materials and energy as they need.

In Arcosanti, building materials are minimized and residents work, play and live within a small, connected area.

Stein first stayed in Arcosanti when he was a young student 30 years ago. He returned to live in Arcosanti a year ago.

Although built to accommodate 5,000 people, there are only 85 permanent Arcosanti residents -- the youngest is two-year-old Rowan Chao, the oldest 93-year-old Soleri -- mostly aspiring architects or interns.

"A normal day in Arcosanti is pretty much like urban life in cities everywhere," says Stein. "Except there are no cars driving through town, so the sounds one hears are from birds, construction and human voices."

A community-wide morning meeting is held to discuss important matters daily. At night, instead of watching TV at home alone, residents can see movies, concerts and performances together in their evening meeting at Arcosanti's East Crescent, a public arena.

The experimental town is also famous for producing over 20,000 beautiful Soleri Bells annually, each with a unique tone and shape.

In addition to exotic architecture, Arcosanti, sitting a kilometer above sea level in the desert, is an ideal site for star-gazing.

104 kilometers north of Phoenix, just off I-17, exit 262 (Cordes Junction),

Federation of Damanhur, Italy: Artists' underground holyland

Damanhur - Hall of EarthHall of Earth: 16 years to build, a lifetime to enjoy.

What: A spiritual eco-community in northern Italy, hidden away in the foothills of the Piedmont Alps.

To visit: Various guided tours are available for booking online. Spiritual courses are usually included in a visit. Prices and details can be found here.

To be a resident: Visitors can join a three-month New Life program, (€550 (US$686) per month, which includes daily expenses). 

Founded in 1975 with 24 followers, it is now a federation of 26 communities totaling 600 residents. All believe in the power of positive thought and try to live in harmony with nature.

Damanhurians are classified into four categories from permanent residents to practicing citizens abroad. And all are self-taught artists and researchers.

Damanhur - Art work by FormicaThe first artwork by Coriandolo, which can still be seen in the Temples.Citizens choose an animal name and a plant name along with their legal names, to symbolize their intimacy with nature. 

50-year-old Formica Coriandolo, formerly known as Angela Toninelli, came to Damanhur when she was 21 years old.

“I was attracted to this place because of the people -- so smiling, courageous and capable to create a new society based on their dreams,” says Coriandolo. “I was impressed because they were really able to trust each other in order to create a real dream and I am still impressed after living here for 29 years!” 

The most impressive scene is tucked underground. 

In 1978, a falling star was seen over the sky of Damanhur. The residents decided it was a sign for them to build a series of secret underground temples. It took them 16 years to finish the Temples of Humankind, comprising various halls and rooms.

The beautiful but unauthorized structure was revealed to the public in 1992. Despite its illegitimate nature, the profound beauty of the temple is said to have touched the heart of the prosecutor, who allowed it to remain.

10080 Baldissero Canavese (TO) - Via Pramarzo n.3, Piedmount (40 kilometers north of Turin),

More on CNN: 25 weird places to do just about anything

Findhorn, Scotland: The most eco-friendly communities

Findhorn, where the smallest ecological footprints are made.

What: One of the biggest intentional communities in Britain, Findhorn focuses on "sustainable living, connecting with people and nature, living and working together in harmony," according to Christine Lines, a resident.

To visit: You can join the short term guest programs (under six days). Details are here.

To be a resident: After joining one of the pre-requisite programs -- Living in Community, Essence of the Arts or Foundation, one can enroll in the Living Education Apprentice Program.

Findhorn is an eco-village as well as a Scottish charitable trust that runs educational programs for the public. The United Nations has awarded it a Habitat Best Practice designation.

The eco-village has one of the smallest ecological footprints in the world. Residents grow most of the products, live in ecological houses and have their own currencies for the local store and pub.

A house made from whiskey barrels.
Instead of earning a living, Lines says she works in exchange for accommodation, food and education.

She receives a small monthly allowance and as a staff member, she also receives a meal allowance to spend in the community center or local shop.

Currently, there are about 120 residents in Findhorn and 600 members worldwide. All are committed to a sustainable way of living and the Common Ground statement of values, which outline Findhorn’s citizens’ ways of living from how to communicate with an open heart to how to resolve conflicts.

Lines says a day usually starts with meditative Taize singing and community meditation before work hours.

Days include daily attunement sessions for workers to share their feelings, morning tea break and a 90-minute lunch break. Then, more mediation after work.

Lines has lived in Findhorn since 2010 and is the communication officer for the community. But sometimes she will be a community bus driver, or a steward at an event. Residents also share pantry duties and homecare responsibilities in shifts.

Moray Firth coast, around eight kilometers from the town of Forres,

Christiania, Copenhagen: Hippie haven

The coolest place in Scandinavia?

What: A home for artists, hippies, idealists and anarchists in an abandoned army barracks in the middle of Copenhagen.

To visit: Open to the public, but heed the "dos and don'ts" at the entrance; photography is strictly prohibited.

To be a resident: There is not a systematic way to be a resident of Christiania but there is a board who decide if you can stay ... or go.

In 1971, a group of hippies squatted in an abandoned army barracks in the heart of Copenhagen and called the place “Freetown Christiania.”

Since then it has become a home for artists, hippies, idealists and anarchists.

Christiania’s history is a constant struggle with the government, mostly on drugs. Soft drugs are illegal in Denmark, but due to numerous failed attempts to purge them from Christiania, they are essentially condoned within the community limits.

Many of the normalization attempts fail and it remains one of the biggest attractions in Copenhagen. It attracts more than 500,000 visitors every year.

Not a part of EU, spiritually.

Currently around 1,000 people live in Christiania and run the autonomous community based on consent-democracy.

They also have their own institutions like kindergarten and attractions.

Pusher street is the best-known thoroughfare in Christiania where you can pick up anything from souvenirs to marijuana.

Café Nemoland throws free concerts every Sunday in the summer. Morgenstedet is a friendly vegetarian restaurant. Loppen is an old army hall, and also an alternative concert venue, a flea market, restaurant and art gallery.

The car-free community is famous for making Christiania bikes. The bike, with a spacious crate in front, is the most common means of transportation in the community. You can spot them around Copenhagen as well.

The recent court ruling -- of the lawsuit between the government, who technically owns the area, and Christiania -- said that the community needs to come up with US$13.4 million to buy the area. The payment installments have already started.

Does that make the place less cool for being more legalized? Not if the sign at the exit remains. It reads: “Now you are entering the EU.”

Bådsmandsstræde 43 1407 København,

More on CNN: Copenhagen: Just another brick in the wall?

Hiufu Wong is CNN Travel's staff writer.

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