I've been on a bit of a '70s kick lately. Perhaps entering my 40s has made me reflect back more than usual. That and a few awesome polyester shirts I recently scored. Anyway, the odd result of all that is my recent fascination with this book. The Alternative: Communal Life in New America, published in 1970.
Scary as it may seem, I admit that in my darker moments, I have fantasized about escaping it all and living on a commune. Altho I didn't quite imagine it like this (below), what appealed to me was probably the same impulse that drew thousands of drop-outs to the arid valleys of New Mexico, Arizona and California in the late '60s and early '70s. A sense of total independence from society's demands, and a need to just 'check out' for a while.
All told, the height of the mass hippie exodus (many from the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco) only lasted a few years. However, as Darwin would have it, some survivalists, with greater adaptability to the harsh reality of living on the land, managed to make this a long-term, viable alternative for themselves. These communes, which were notable for their experimental architecture, tended to attract people with advanced skills or knowledge in this field.
Those who chose to remain in urban settings were impelled by a desire to reach out to the larger community by offering education and health services, or open up a restaurant.
While communes may not exist in the same numbers as the late 1960s and early '70s (well into the thousands throughout the US, by the estimates of this book's authors), the search for greater freedom and independence does live on in some people today, but minus the desire to band together with like-minded people in the name of sharing and equality and peace (and free love and drugs!) that drove the hippie movement. When people today speak of living off the grid or going back to the land, they tend to do it alone. Maybe because they're not 21 anymore, and the desire to retreat, while still strong, is fuelled more by the weight of experience than any utopian dream.