Communal dreams: your ideal community is closer than you think

Don't look too far in the distance - or future - for community.

written by oz chen

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I have this dream of living like the characters in Friends, who all live in the same apartment building.

Impromptu couch hangouts, dinners, and “popping by” just to shoot the shit.

Easy connection.

Talking to friends, I was surprised to hear this was a common fantasy.

If 4 of us pool money to buy a multi-family unit, we can all live together.
You should move to my neighborhood, it’s great!
Let’s all buy a plot of land and build nuclear bunkers there!

Here’s my favorite version: a friend dreams of living in a siheyuan, a traditional Chinese design featuring a central courtyard, bounded by houses on each side.

siheyuan, a traditional chinese courtyard. Courtesy of

These fantasies are especially enticing in Los Angeles, where car is king, sprawl is wide and home prices astronomical.

Here’s the rub: every one of these conversations is framed as “someday” dreams, not to be worked on in the present. So everything else (primarily work), takes precedence.

With dreams of community in my head, I often google “Communes in Los Angeles,” which are pretty sparse in LA.

Whatever I find either lacks availability, or has a very specific set of rules.

6 months in 3 phases? This is harder than any job interview I’ve had.

Going down this rabbit hole made me question whether I’d even want to live in a commune at all.

It forced me think about other options, which led to me to a forehead-smacking realization.

Looking in my own backyard

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had roommates.
Growing up in my mom’s house. College. Post college. The present day.
Roommates are just about as communal as it gets.

What have I done to create community with the people physically closest to me?

*crickets* I think about…

  • My literal next door neighbors. We’ve hung out once and always say “we should do this again sometimes.”
  • The friends down the street who I see once in a blue moon.
  • Most telling—I live with one of my friends, and we rarely hang out.

Why is there this inclination to look far – into the future, or distance – before we look near for community?

Firstly, I think it’s because this is a not a clearly defined problem.

We all grok at some level that happiness is related to how close we feel to others. But this is a fuzzy problem without clear metrics, so “life gets in the way” and we end up prioritizing other things like work and romantic relationships. These have a clear payoff, whereas making friends as an adult is awkward AF.

The first place to start towards our communal dreams is to not defer it into the future, but prioritize it in our minds.

Closing the social distance

There’s no need to buy a plot of land, join or a commune or become a real estate developer.

The first place to start is invitation.

What is the next thing I can invite someone to? Communities are built one invitation at a time.

I think of the amazing psyops campaign my friends conducted on me over the years. Every time I talked to them, they mentioned how much they enjoyed their neighborhood, and would invite me to hang out in their area.

To hear “You should move here!” is a strong invitation that starts to infect the mind.

Introduce the idea of living closer in your conversations, and bit by bit you’ll also start infecting – and inspiring other minds.

Second, compare the difficulty of community building to other “projects

There are many projects in life that can be harder than moving closer to friends.
Deciding which college to attend or major in. Switching careers. Starting a side hustle.

Here’s a list of communal “projects” that I ranked from easiest to hardest:

  1. Host hangouts and events, from casual board game nights to cocktail parties.
  2. Move closer to your friends, or invite them to move closer to you. (This is what I did).
  3. Find a remote job, which can help you become more location-independent.
  4. Find apartment complexes with multiple vacancies, then conspire with your friends to move in.
  5. Rent a multi-family unit together and make your friend group the envy of the town.
  6. Have a home? Build an extra unit so that friends or family can stay over. Or, if your parents have a home and you can’t afford one yet, offer to chip into building an ADU on their unit.
  7. Move to another city or country where community is easier. You’d have to restart from scratch, but the long term connections might be worth it.
  8. Win the lottery, buy a plot of land and build out homes on the lot. Invite your friends to buy your units at cheap prices. (People don’t appreciate free things. I’ve thought through this).

Options 1-4 may not be more difficult than say, planning an international trip.

But I acknowledge that all of this is still work.

And that’s okay, as long as it’s a priority for you.

I read a story once about a superconnector who was loved by everybody.

When he died, friends discovered a document he kept of his relationships.

He literally worked at maintaining friendships, keeping a spreadsheet taking notes of people’s birthdays, their kids’ names, what they cared about. He’d proactively reach out to people.

I have so much to say about this subject, and you bet I’ll be writing more about community.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this thought:

What if we treated community (and by extension, our mental health) as rigorously as a we treat our jobs?
Our hobbies? Or any other project we care about?

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