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The Life-Changing Decision You're Not Prioritizing: Living Near Friends

The home I grew up in was unconventional. My parents co-owned their house in rural Australia with another couple, forming what they called an "intentional community." We ate dinner together six nights a week. Next door lived close family friends with 4 kids, and next to them, another couple we knew well.

Weekly, we had a "community dinner." Often, all seven kids from across the households would be in one house watching a movie or playing games, while the adults gathered elsewhere, sharing wine, laughter and conversation. This remarkable community came together because of incredibly intentional effort over ~8 years or so.

As a kid, I was self-conscious about this setup and tried to hide it from school friends because I knew that it wasn’t normal. But as I matured, I began to appreciate what I now recognize as a safe, special environment. It offered a unique balance of friendship, support, and community, while still providing the space and privacy that introverts need.

As I got older and I thought about how I wanted to live, it seemed self-evident to me that this way of living was worth aspiring to. My parents managed to do it in rural Australia, where space is abundant, and with people they shared faith and community with through their church. It wasn’t clear whether it was possible in an inner city context without the convening power of a shared faith community. But I knew I wanted to try, and thankfully so did my partner Viv, who had seen the joy and support that came from living like this when she regularly stayed on a piece of land on which five families and three generations of her immediate family lived and farmed in the Philippines.

We’ve now been intentionally working on living this way since 2013, and have made attempts in Melbourne Australia (failed!), Oakland, California (partially succeeded as renters!), and Brooklyn, New York (success, co-bought with friends!).

Since 2021 we’ve lived in a 3-unit brownstone that we co-own with three others. And there have been some ripple effects; in 2022, three other friends used our model and lessons to do the same thing. They now live a few blocks away in their own 3-unit brownstone. We have weekly ‘Family Dinners’ on Sunday night, hang out on the stoop together multiple times a week (usually with 5-10 mins notice), and have helped each other through high highs and low lows of health, career, love and day to day life.

Over the years, I've had countless conversations with people who dream of creating something similar. They recognize that the default assumption of single-family homes isn't ideal, but they're unsure how to make an alternative work, especially in urban settings.

In this post, I'll make the case that creating an intentional community should be one of your top life priorities, and explain why the benefits far outweigh the challenges. In another post I’m going to go into more detail on lessons we learned on how to do it; the logistics, the financing, the norm creation and more. But I wanted to start with more detail on the why

Because while I encounter plenty of people who are curious, interested and in theory would like something like this… I honestly think that if most people really internalized the why, they would understand that it’s worth moving heaven and earth, and compromising on most other things in order to make this happen.


The case for Intentional Communities

The traditional model of single-family homes, while deeply ingrained in our culture, kinda sucks.

It's not just a matter of preference; the evidence is clear and overwhelming. Isolation, a common byproduct of this living arrangement, especially in urban areas, is taking a severe toll on our society.

Loneliness has become a silent epidemic. About one in three adults in the U.S. experience loneliness at least once a week, with 10% feeling lonely every day. This isn't just an emotional issue; it's a public health crisis. The U.S. Surgeon General reports that loneliness increases the risk of premature death by 26%, and isolation by 29%. It's linked to increased risks of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, addiction, and dementia.

The financial burden of single-family homeownership in cities is equally unsustainable. High property prices, maintenance costs, and utilities strain budgets, leaving little room for other life experiences or savings. This financial stress only compounds the emotional isolation many face.

But there's a solution, and it's backed by robust scientific evidence. Living in close proximity to friends isn't just about convenience; it's about creating a support network that can significantly improve your quality of life. Consider these facts:

  • Friends living within a mile of each other are 25% more likely to feel happy.

  • Strong social connections with friends, family, neighbors, or colleagues improve the odds of survival by 50% compared to those with low social ties; this is from a study following 300k+ people over eight years and held true across all age groups and demographics. Another study found a 91% improvement!

  • High-quality friendships are linked to numerous health benefits, including a 9% increase in likelihood to exercise, a 17% reduced risk of depression, and a 19% lower likelihood of having a stroke.

  • Social support and integration are associated with the lowest relative odds of mortality compared to many other well-accepted risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The impact of social connections on our health is so significant that low social interaction has been reported to be similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, more harmful than not exercising, and twice as harmful as obesity.

From an evolutionary perspective, humans are social creatures. We've spent most of our history living in close-knit groups, relying on each other for survival and emotional support. The recent shift to isolated nuclear families is, in many ways, at odds with our fundamental nature.

By creating intentional communities, we're not just improving our individual lives; we're strengthening the social fabric of our society. This can lead to increased civic engagement and mutual support on a broader scale. The strongest sense of community and belonging comes from being among family (65%), friends (53%), or neighbors (20%).

The evidence is clear: living in close proximity to friends and creating intentional communities isn't just a nice idea – it's a crucial step towards better health, increased happiness, and a more fulfilling life. 

Most people I talk to about the idea of living in an intentional community are ‘intentional community curious’. They’re attracted to the idea. They’d like to do it in theory. But when push comes to shove, they’re not taking active steps towards it, and they’re unwilling to make the compromises necessary to make it happen.

I think this is the wrong way to think about it. I think living in close proximity to friends is worth treating as a top 2-3 life priority. We should invest as much - if not more - time, effort and money into achieving this goal as we do in finding our romantic partners, in the education we pursue, or the way we develop our careers.


The Trade-Offs and Challenges

I don’t think there’s ever a “free lunch”, where you get everything you want without any trade-offs. Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely lying to either themselves or you.

So I don’t want to pretend there aren’t downsides that may be necessary. 

Location. You might have to let go of your "ideal" neighborhood. This means potentially living further from work, dealing with a longer commute, or settling for a less desirable school district. Your perfect coffee shop, park, or local amenities might not be just around the corner. You're choosing community over convenience, prioritizing who you live near over where exactly you live.

Finances. You'll need to align with your group's diverse budgets. While there’s often significant financial advantages to pooling your resources with others, if you could afford a more upscale property or trendier neighborhood on your own, you might have to scale back to make it accessible to the people in your group. 

Complexity. Shared ownership or coordinated renting is complex. You'll spend considerable time and effort drafting agreements on expenses, contributions, and exit strategies. It's far more involved than simply buying or renting on your own. Be prepared for detailed financial discussions and direct conversations about how to make it work.

Commitment. This is a long-term commitment. Building a strong community takes time - we're talking years, not months. You'll need to be ready to stay put for a while, which could limit your career flexibility. If you're someone who likes to move frequently or might need to relocate for work, this lifestyle could pose challenges.

Relationships. Lastly, living close to friends means actively managing those relationships. You'll need to develop strong communication skills and strategies for resolving conflicts. It's not always easy. You'll have disagreements and tensions. But working through these challenges can lead to deeper bonds and personal growth.

And there are a range of other factors that can make this easier or harder. Obviously financial privilege makes the process easier, though I’ve seen or been part of successful efforts at intentional community in both low and higher income communities. Similarly, different local housing markets and regulations can have different levels of difficulty that can affect the process a lot. 

These are real trade-offs. 


Putting it all together

When you add up the overall costs and benefits, for me at least, it’s not even close. Would you exchange significantly higher lifelong happiness and health, for less location and financial flexibility together with some initial coordination costs? I think it’s worth making that trade every day of the week. 

If you believe that this is possibly or even probably true, I think it’s worth asking the question: what does it look like to behave as if this is one of the top three most important things to achieve in your life? 

In a later post I’ll share what we learned about how to make it happen at a practical level. From finding the right people, to how to make it work legally, financial considerations and more. 

But I really believe that if you behave as if this is one of the three most important things to achieve in your life, and invest a commensurate amount of time, money and energy into achieving it… then you won’t even need my ‘how to’ guide, you’ll find a way anyway.


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