Inspiration Station: Freestate SWOMP and Thoughts on Communal Living

From This Tiny House:

Freestate SWOMP is a squatting community, a “transition town”, a living protest against homelessness, and a creative way to prepare for a sustainable future. It is in Pijp, Amsterdam, and an excellent example of tiny trailers used in community.

…originally an abandoned school that was demolished against the wishes of the neighborhood…Four travel trailers were brought into the empty lot and a structure was built around them (to make it more difficult for police to evict the squatters). Solar panels were set up, water was tapped into, permaculture gardens began to grow, and it was declared a free state. A straw bale house is currently being built on the lot, in keeping with the carbon-neutral attitude of the residents.

SWOMP (in Dutch) is an acronym for Slimme Woonwagenbewoners Op Mooie Plekjes and roughly translates to Smart Wagon-people on Beautiful Places. Because the local residents are largely supportive of the project, it may take a long time for bureaucratic forces to shut it down. In the words of one SWOMPer, “It’s just a logical step to take in a time like this.”

You can check in on their progress on their website, loosely translated to English here.

I’ve been interested in the idea of successful communal living for a while now. SWOMP seems like it will prevail because 1. The people inhabiting it seem to all be on the same page 2. Those people are not only making a statement against the problems of society at present, but are showing solutions and 3. The surrounding community supports its presence.

A similar, but more well-established community can be found at Wagonplatz in Germany. Inhabitant Click Clack Gorilla blogs direct from her Wagon, and recently answered a 20-questions of sorts (part 1 and part 2) on the ins and outs and what-have-yous of communal living on wheels. I especially respect her straightforward answers on the reality/issues of living communally, because it ain’t as easy as the hippies would have you believe!

I do believe that under the right circumstances, anyone can live happily in a communal situation…so what went wrong for me? Well, I will be the first to admit that I am one of those people who relishes “my own space” not to mention really likes things “a certain way,” but I’m also fairly open to others’ needs, as long as I feel like I’m getting respect in return. And I think that’s what my problem became during my time at the Farm – an obvious lack of respect towards anyone who questioned the way things were (mainly, me).  With there being no set house-rules or shared ideology, or anyone who felt like they ought to fulfill the responsible role of unbiased mediator, any issues I had with general cleanliness or community were met with barely concealed exasperation at best. For any existing eco-village/commune to be successful, it should employ a fair participatory governance (ie. open-floor airing of grievances and consensus decisions) instead of making one person feel like a bitchy pariah just because they have (sometimes brutally honest, but usually quite rational) suggestions. It can’t just be a mindless bee-hive ruled by a faultless queen…that’s the sort of environment that most people leave behind when joining up with such a community.

I know – Boo! Hiss! It’s been a while since I had a good rant here at F that S…To my credit I did try to stay positively involved with the Farm once I took steps to distance myself from what I felt affected me negatively. But all my efforts at keeping in touch were ignored, so I GOT THE HINT, and now I can say whatever I want on my own blog. But don’t shed a tear for little ol’ me: Between my other volunteer activities, starting an all-girls crafty/book/wine drinking club and joining the North Country Arts Council’s education committee, I’m still finding ways to be involved with the community in a personally enriching way.

Photos from This Tiny House

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6 thoughts on “Inspiration Station: Freestate SWOMP and Thoughts on Communal Living

  1. I agree with you. I wouldn’t want to live somewhere if I felt like my needs weren’t being met or respected. You’re on the educational committee with the NCAC? That’s awesome! I did not know that. Sigh. Grad classes are taking up so much of my time… I want to do more in the community but I have to wait for now. I’m so excite about the stitch and bitch group! It will be great. Can’t wait to see you!

  2. Hey! Thanks for the kind words. I was glad to hear that you felt like I gave a balanced perspective on community life, as I’m always trying to safeguard my writing against over romanticization and all. And nice blog by the way. 🙂 Cheers.

  3. The education committee is a fairly new thing…and it’s volunteer, but its exactly the type of thing I’ve been trying to be a part of since moving up here. We’ll see where it leads!

  4. Pingback: Big (Green) Deal: UN Names 2012 International Year of Cooperatives « F that S

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