In order to survive peak oil, climate change, economic failure, and ecological collapse we must make fundamental shifts in our collective way of life. Individual change is necessary but not enough because our means of survival are embedded in complex social and economic systems. On the other hand, direct change of the massive business and government institutions we now depend upon is unrealistic because the nature of all large institutions is self-perpetuation, not transformation. The practical domain in which we can effectively create a sustainable way of life is our local community.

We can understand the social process of cultivating a sustainable community as a collaborative cycle that emerges through four phases. The first encompasses how we connect with one another. The second, how we communicate with each another. Third, how we co-create our community together. And lastly, how we coordinate our on-going social, economic, and political relationships. All four phases, connection, communication, co-creation, and coordination are essential for healthy community, and build one upon the other.


In our present cultural milieu, independence and self-sufficiency are valued far above cooperation and collaboration. We pass our time in separate homes, cars, jobs, and mindsets, severely limiting how often we meet and interrelate with one another. This, in turn, limits the mutual understanding necessary to create and maintain a healthy, sustainable society. Our very first order of business, therefore, is to structure ways in which community members can connect on an ongoing basis. We need permanent commons spaces in which we may come together freely and often.

Occupy Wall Street was able to sustain its occupation for an extended time partly because its people had the opportunity to get to know one another and build real solidarity. By being together over long periods of time they were able to find common ground and develop organizational processes that made them collectively strong in the face of official opposition. And they made real progress on the long road toward a more just and sustainable society.

If we now establish more permanent commons spaces in our communities, we can come together and cultivate the meaningful relationships necessary for sustainable social change. As we learn more about who we are as a community, we can collaboratively evolve practical new social, economic, and political systems. One way is to create Community Coops where we together cultivate a just, cooperative local society.


How we perceive and what we believe about who we are governs our behavior in all its dimensions. Our understanding of ourselves and each other, therefore, is a major determinant of the kind of society we will organize or accept. That is why conditioning and coercion have commonly been used by hierarchical institutions to try to induce people to adopt various belief systems.

If, instead of being passively conditioned by existing institutions, we get to truly know one another and discover who we are as people, we can begin to sustainably reorganize our social, economic, and political relationships and create just, cooperative communities. Our second order of business, then, is to develop effective processes through which we can communicate clearly and get to know and understand ourselves and one another.

Occupy again provides an inspiring example. It has not only offered opportunities for people to informally get to know one another, but has also experimented with processes within its assemblies, committees, and task forces through which people can communicate in more pragmatic ways. Myriad methods for facilitating group communication have been developed that can improve the effectiveness of all of our social systems. Some of these include Dynamic Facilitation, Art of Hosting, Sociocracy, and Open Space Technology.

Purposeful group processes are key to freeing ourselves from the tyranny of hierarchical institutions. Arranging our relationships and organizational structures around these will provide the engine for real social transformation. Seeking out and learning from those proficient in these skills and developing them ourselves will provide the heart and soul of a Community Coop.


Our social, economic, and political systems are expressions of our relationships, but they also condition and limit those same relationships and our understanding of them. This is why the struggle for power is routinely directed toward the organizational dimension of society. Our next order of business, then, is to collaboratively co-create new forms of social, economic, and political organization that reflect the understanding we gain when we connect and communicate effectively. Occupy has only just begun this process, but what they did provides a good start.

In a Community Coop we can choose from among a multitude of models other than institutional top-down command and control. We can learn from what others are doing as we synthesize and experiment. The idea of a Community Coop is to create a context and place where all kinds of people can come together in various cooperative forms to collectively meet their social and economic needs. It embodies sustainable economic and ecological principles and is based on love and caring rather than self-interest and competition. It revolves around a physical hub where conditions are cultivated for the emergence of a new culture. But it more broadly encompasses a whole community network of cooperation.

photo by Cindy Seigle

Only by working together can we create a coherently sustainable community out of the fragmented entropy we have inherited. Not the greatest genius among us is competent to concoct a grand scheme that will solve all our problems and meet all our needs. Top-down plans have always suffered from the law of unintended consequences. But with everyone connecting, communicating, and co-creating together we can, over time, develop new ways of living that will work for generations to come. When we experiment a little bit at a time and learn as we go, we can adjust and change course based upon our experience.


Simply creating new organizational structures is not enough, however. Over time we must evolve the processes and functions through which we can sustain healthy relationships between individuals, families, groups, localities, regions, and nations. Our fourth order of business, therefore, is to foster effective coordination of the various forms of organization that we co-create amongst ourselves.

Occupy has realized only the barest beginnings of this phase, but again, it represents a significant start. The Occupy movement burst onto the scene through the power of internet communication and social media faster, perhaps, than any other movement in American history. And it is still evolving rapidly. People hear about and learn from what others are doing elsewhere and share what they are doing in their own occupations. The meaning, strategies, and tactics of Occupy are evolving daily, even moment by moment, as new ideas hatch, then are tried and shared. This article is an example of that process, as the Occupy movement consists of all who are participating in and learning from the emergence of these new ways.

Throughout most of history, massive-scale social constructs such as religions, governments, corporations, and entire economies have been coordinated through top-down bureaucratic structures and processes that tend over time toward inefficiency, inequality, and environmental degradation. Natural systems, however, are coordinated through network structures and processes, which are more efficient and, of course, environmentally sustainable. The power of the internet now makes such networks available for social, economic, and political coordination. We have entered a new age where we can emulate resilient and robust natural systems in how we live together healthily and sustainably on this finite planet.

We are now participating in the rapid evolution of ways to circumvent the systems of force that have been exploiting people and destroying our planet from time immemorial. We are making an evolutionary leap to a new age characterized by the horizontal, sustainable coordination of all our ways of living.


A Community Coop is a context that facilitates connection, communication, co-creation, and coordination. Cultivating a healthy community and sustainable global society is a cyclical process where each phase builds upon the one before and each cycle builds upon those previous. In reality, however, these phases are not truly separate and distinct. They unfold in sequence but also operate simultaneously, forming a coherent whole.

Thus, connection provides a foundation that underlies the other three phases. Communication supplies a necessary framework that supports the others. Co-creation develops functional processes that make the entire cycle operative. And coordination sustains the relationships that develop along the way. All four functions work together to comprise one lively process.

It all starts with connection, however. A dedicated place, attractive experiences to bring people together, and resilient network systems to support the entire process are integral components of a successful Community Coop. How and in what spirit we come together are the most important first steps in the process. If we start by connecting just a small group of wise, caring, capable people we already have the seed of a healthy and sustainable new society. Nourish it with communication, co-creation, coordination, and more connection, and watch it grow.


This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution, Noncommercial license (no Share Alike as in Shareable's overall site license).





Barbara has worked as an herbalist, midwife, street artist, interpreter, massage therapist, and is currently the Program Manager of the Santa Barbara Green Living Co-op. She spent almost 20 years

Things I share: the kitchen, clothesline, garden space, fruit from the trees on the property, ideas, excitement, Timebank, labor in barn-raising community projects, used clothing (clothes swaps)...