[below is an email i sent to my friends Yolanda, Susan, and Fili to explore some ideas related to creating a sustainable spiritual community/center near chicagoland]


here are a number of aspects about the community and some ideas for each of them. please let me know how all of you [or y’all, down heres in the south] feel about them. if something is totally off from what you’re envisioning or wanting, please let me/us know. if some parts really resonate, please say which ones so we can focus more on defining those. there are a lot of potentials, and a lot of the details i wrote will be more long-term based.. to start, a solution for housing and growing some food would work (which could be as simple as building a self-sustaining earthship home and sharing the space, or getting a lot of land to park a few tiny homes and grow food around them).

alignment / intention — we’ll have to collectively decide + determine what the overall intention is for the community and base our creation of it on how well each aspect is aligned with the intention/purpose. [i don’t want to have too many rules or limitations, though it’d be good to find a way to make sure what we’re all doing is energetically aligned with the community intentions and flows smoothly]

overall — the community/center could be a blend of some or all of the following: a self-sustaining off-grid community, a spiritual retreat center, a holistic health / wellness center, an organic farm, a tiny home / alternate / experimental housing development or resort, a natural park/garden, an ashram

sustainability — all aspects of the community should consider sustainability (and self-sustainability) as an important criteria in making decisions.

farming — both fields + greenhouse(s) to grow a variety of edible plants. fruit-producing trees would great too. i’d highly prefer not to have animals on site (especially any that cause strong odors), though possibly free-range chickens could be considered for egg production. food production would go to provide food to those living on the community grounds, for community meals, and could be sold at events to anyone visiting the community (and we could possibly have a farm stand on the main road / community entrance or have pickup/delivery of produce for local restaurants).

off-grid — depending on location, could consider water collection, re-use/recycling, waste treatment (earthship homes have a good approach using the water 4 times). on-site renewable solar + wind energy would be good. for heating + cooling of permanent buildings, an earth-bermed approach (like earthships or bermed monolithic domes, with windows facing south) would be good to eliminate the need for usage of most/any energy to heat/cool.

nature — ideally the surrounding area would be very natural, such as a preserve or park, or possibly agricultural (plant-based, preferably organic or non-spray). if we have an abundance of land with a large acreage, we can keep a natural area around the edge of the community as a preserve (with nature trails). a pond, creek, or other water area would be nice if possible.

location — quiet, peaceful, safe, natural, away from pollution sources (including air, noise, emf/emr, main roads, industrial/commercial areas, etc). i would describe the ideal setting as what one would find in a quiet national park/forest, followed by a rural or semi-rural area. ideally the land will be quiet + private, yet not too far from health food stores, flowering heart center, etc

meditation gardens — a nicely kept garden for meditation or nature walks would be beautiful. depending on how we want to run/design the community, this could be something that we could charge admission to (or request donations from) for the public. a labyrinth or other meditation circle would be neat to have too.

nature trails (walking + biking) — nice quiet trails around the community would be great for exploration, walking meditation, exercise, etc. depending on landscape, potentially a boardwalk like found in nature parks. a lookout tower or elevated walkway would be great where one can see the surrounding nature, sunset, and parts of the farm or community. treehouses could be neat to have as a space for meditation, gatherings, or camping.

landscaping — ideally landscaping will be kept natural or with minimal impact to the environment. landscaping should not require use of any gas-powered lawn care equipment that causes noise + air pollution.

housing — i see multiple potentials.. parking spots for movable tiny houses, small permament housing, shared housing in larger homes or dorms. anything built on site should consider sustainable building methods + energy-efficiency, such as passive house standards, monolithic domes, earthships, etc. ideally, the feel of any buildings (and the entire community) should invoke peacefulness, relaxation, sacredness, serenity, etc. minimalism in design would be good. a feeling closer to a nice resort would much be preferred rather than an art colony (though perhaps both kinds can exist on different parts of the land). this resort feeling doesn’t necessarily mean high-end expensive materials/finishes, but rather a clean, minimalistic, calm, flowing experience. this part is a little trickier – i don’t want too many rules or for everything to conform (as i don’t like the limitations of things like HOA’s), though good design considerations will help the overall feel of the community. i think a part of this will depend upon the density and placement of the homes. if homes are further apart in the woods / fields / nature, then there’d be more room for differences in home types / looks [though at the same time, a row of closely-spaced + brightly colored tiny homes could be neat too]. ideally the buildings should blend in or work well with the natural landscaping and be able to keep as much of the surrounding trees, plants, etc as possible, and there would be natural areas between each building / home. [some of these ideas are starting to go in different directions, exploring other possibilities i’ve imagined, such as master-planned residential developments/communities done with tiny homes or alternative housing types.. if these aspects aren’t aligned with what we are all looking for, i’m open to excluding them]

community areas — an outdoor gazebo or field for gathering would be nice, as well as a place for a fire pit/circle for social events or spiritual rituals.

community hall — a large hall would be great for various community gatherings and events. this could be rented out to (or profits split with) other conscious/spiritual teachers/groups to help cover the community expenses. a shared kitchen in the hall would be great so we could prepare meals for events and regularly as a community [we could also invite others whom don’t live on site and request donations for the meals].

business model — the ideal classification may be a non-profit church to avoid both property taxes and taxes on donations/revenue. regarding ownership of the grounds + buildings, it may be best to have everything owned by the community non-profit organization with rooms/homes or parking spaces for tiny homes rented out to those staying (one idea to explore would be classifying the stay as a spiritual retreat, as this may give us more flexibility compared to a more typical apartment/land lease, and potentially may be required if the organization is a non-profit or church). we could work something out where those of us starting/running the community or working the farm can live on site for free or at a reduced rate. another potential business model to consider would be that of a campground where spots are rented either short term or monthly/annually, and there can be park/destination models that are more permanent, as well as lodges/cabins or tiny homes / rv’s that can be rented from the campground for anyone who doesn’t have their own to park. or, if we are more farm-based, we could model after (or be part of) WWOOF where individuals volunteer on the farm in exchange for accomodation and meals. in the future if there are events that will bring in people from out of town and if we are to have a housing building with multiple rooms, we could run part of it like a bed and breakfast, dorm/hostel, or resort. regarding housing, we may be able to partner with a tiny house company to get free homes to rent out and split the proceeds (i know of one company currently distributing homes for this purpose).

income sources — rental of rooms, homes, or parking spaces for tiny homes. selling meals + extra produce. renting space in community hall for events/workshops. donations from those visiting the gardens. hosting our own workshops, classes, and other events. potentially a shop selling artwork, cds, books, crystals, etc. other donations, investments, etc.

roads — internal roads should be carefully considered (and minimized) so traffic does not become a hinderance to the quiet natural space of the community. to avoid air + noise pollution, it’d be good to consider only allowing zero emission vehicles on the internal roads, and having a parking lot/area near the main road / community entrance for internal combustion engine vehicles and visitors. during winter months when temperatures are below freezing, we could consider allowing any vehicle to use the internal roads if the grounds are large.

activities — community members could lead various activities such as meditation/blessing circles, community dinners, drum circles, sound healing, nature walks, yoga, qi gong, kai chi do, movie night, chanting, reiki share, etc. conscious celebration, singing, dancing, theatre, comedy, performances, and other fun activities would be great too (as long as they are aligned with the overall intention of the community). it’d be good to have both planned events and spontaneous activities that are inspired in the moment or that day. one idea might be to alternate between days of planned activities and quiet days, so anyone who wants to embrace silence and simply be has the quiet space to do so regularly. silent community meals would be a neat practice [it doesn’t have to be for all of them]. we could get a bus and go on community field trips to go explore local places. [the bus could also serve as a way to pick up a group who’s traveling to our community from the city or elsewhere via train]

education — the community could have regular classes for anyone whom lives on site or nearby (or online). the classes could be in the areas related to what we are doing, such as sustainability, spirituality, wellness, healing, etc

density — i see different levels of density available. there could be a row of closely-spaced tiny homes or buildings for a main street type feel, as well as larger buildings with individual rooms/units rented out. these would be near the community hall. there would also be buildings or tiny homes spaced out on larger pieces of land. these would have room for one’s own yard if one desires and natural or farm areas surrounding the units. some could be spaced much further apart with plenty of natural area around for the feeling of being completely immmersed in nature yet be walking or biking distance to the other homes + hall [this is ideally what i would like for my spot].

inspiration — the center/community can serve as a model for others to follow to create their own sustainable communities elsewhere. [in the future, we could also expand our community and create our own additional locations] we could host workshops or tours to show and teach others what we’ve done and how well its worked, and potentially offer consulting to anyone who wants to start their own community up.

here’s something i wrote earlier this year (scroll down to the very long paragraph) that has some additional ideas in it:
markmarano.com/2018/01/29/17928/ (Fili, i already sent this one to you back when i wrote it)