Cul-De-Sac Commune

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"So architect and social designer Stephanie Smith, who runs the company Ecoshack, took me to the first official cul-de-sac commune potluck at the end of January on a newly developed bluff in Topanga Canyon, three months after she came up with the idea.

"We're finally here," Smith said.

Weeks earlier, Smith sat in her office explaining that she launched her project "Wanna Start A Commune?" after having an epiphany in the first moments of the economy's collapse.

"It couldn't possibly be that I have to keep having to buy in order to be green," Smith said. "I have to buy a Prius. I have to buy a fluorescent light bulb. I have to buy a solar array. And I just frankly just couldn't afford to be green — and that scared me."

Coming together to share resources is the basic premise of Smith's vision for the cul-de-sac commune. Hoping to learn what kinds of tools she should design to help facilitate sharing, Smith listened to Scott Vineberg, who lives in the commune, and his progressive-thinking neighbors as they brainstormed ways to go off the grid together, raise chickens and manage their stress levels.

"I'd like a communal massage, get somebody who comes up, you get a reduced rate, it's all outside... Ahh, that would be amazing, we should do that!" says commune member Helena Kriel.

The stay-at-home convenience of the cul-de-sac commune is, as Smith sees it, a solution to the biggest design flaw of its predecessors.

"In the past, utopian communities have often failed because people who started them have really insisted that the best way is to leave your old community, leave society, leave culture and start over, and it's a valid idea in many cases, but, it also leads to failure," she said. "So what we're interested in doing is make them effective as part of a culture, not a counterculture this time."

By some strange coincidence, the very spot where this first cul-de-sac commune gathering was taking place is exactly where Topanga Canyon's biggest 1970s commune once lived.

And if there's anyone who disagrees with Smith's strategy, it's that commune's founder, Sridhar Silberfein, whose divorce from society has gotten only deeper as his commitment to communal living has grown.

"I think there are going to be more and more people coming into communes — that's really where the future's going to be now," Silberfein says. "Because the economy is really breaking itself down, the government is breaking down, all the systems are breaking down. And all that's going to be left is going to be small communities living together and sharing the land."

I asked him what he imagines will happen to Los Angeles, for example.

"I think big cities are finished," he said. "That's why I left." (