12/10/2009 10:32 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Social Experiment: Cul-de-sac Communes

In the neighborhood where I live, few people know each other. Neighbors avert their eyes to keep from speaking during afternoon jogs, and garage doors close as quickly as they opened. Witnessing a game of flashlight tag with neighborhood children this week was the most community I've felt since moving in here in April. I am trying to change this environment, as my immediate neighbors Ken and Melissa will tell you, but it is a slow-turning ship. Neighbors just aren't very neighborly anymore.

To combat this trend, architect and social designer Stephanie Smith decided to launch a social experiment in suburban Los Angeles. Smith is the founder of Ecoshack, an entrepreneurial company focusing on low impact design and alternative forms of community, which put the project together. The project took a suburban cul-de-sac and transformed it into a commune. Residents now share the land, food, and their lives with each other.

Smith claims that the reason communes have failed to produce utopian living spaces in the past is they insist on leaving old communities to start new ones. Smith believes this idea could be successful because it allows people to remain in established communities while reconfiguring the way they currently function.

"Every single neighborhood in America and around the world is a commune," Ecoshack's Smith told NPR. "And every single apartment building is, and every office building is, and every single thing is built new using guidelines around sharing resources. Nothing less than that." These cul-de-sac communities are now popping up all over California. (Read or listen to the full NPR story.)

I don't live in a cul-de-sac, but part of me wishes I could turn my own neighborhood into a place where neighbors shared meals together and tangibly supported each other. Suburban living leaves a lot to be desired for a generation that craves community. Maybe Smith is onto something.

Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer and author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. He blogs regularly at