Why eight Texas friends built their own town

Four couples with 20 years of friendship under their belts decided to build their own town, popularly referred to as 'Bestie Row.' Is the new modern commune something others should consider?

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
The sun sets in Texas. Four couples started "Bestie Row," a communal living set up to enable them to be each other's neighbors.

After 20 years of friendship, four couples decided to take it to the next level. They bought some land in Texas, hired an architect, and created their own little town so they could be each others’ neighbors.

Popularly known as “Bestie Row,” this communal living plan has been gaining attention, particularly for its uniqueness, as well as its use of “tiny homes.” As these friends' plan gains popularity on social media, perhaps others in the US will consider the pros and cons of living in close quarters.

Fred Zipp, the former editor of the Austin American-Statesman, said he, his wife Jodi, and three other couples were looking for an escape from the busy life of Austin. After searching local real estate, they found a rocky ridge by the Llano River, about an hour and a half away from Austin, that showed potential.

“When we first looked at it, it was not really that inviting,” Mr. Zipp said, reported Garden and Gun, a southern magazine. “This is a magical place, but it’s arid.”

Though it would need plenty of work to become habitable, they purchased the land, and named their project the Llano Exit Strategy. They wanted to create a place where the four couples could live, to reconnect with nature, and recharge from their busy lives. They also wanted to remain environmentally conscious, focusing on minimizing their carbon footprints.

Matt Garcia, an architect and San Antonio native, drew out the plans for four 400-square-foot cabins for each couple, inspired by the nascent tiny house movement. The buildings' roofs collect rainwater, and each unit contains a double bed, kitchenette, and bathroom. Garcia also built a larger central cabin, about 1,500 square feet, with a large kitchen, and living room for communal living. The buildings are close together, but do not obstruct each other’s views.

Lucy Cavendish, a writer for the Telegraph, has discussed the potential upsides and downsides of communal living. She said that she came from a “free-flowing” childhood, and that there are many valuable things to be gained from living with others. In addition to the social aspect, there is a deeper connection and support group that can develop.

“It [is] also the ideology behind it: a pulling-together by living together,” Ms. Cavendish wrote last year. “It seems to me that now, in 2014, with increasing amounts of people facing an uncertain future, perhaps we need to find a more flexible way to live … how we are going to live and sustain ourselves in an ever-changing society where relationships come to an end more frequently and we are all living longer.”

Communal living can also present challenges. Therese Charvet, who runs Sacred Groves, an intentional community in Washington state, says that sharing space can be difficult at times. She said challenges include getting enough personal space and time for yourself, distributing chores, dealing with disagreements, and giving each other privacy. It requires that people be flexible, and while this can be difficult, she said the benefits show it is worth it. Ms. Charvet wrote on the blog, Offbeat Home and Life:

“Each of us has to deal with our personal control issues regularly; community living does not make it easy to be a control freak. It flushes out what you are attached to, that's for sure! But the rewards are worth the effort! These rewards include spiritual and personal development and participating in the evolution of human consciousness toward a more cooperative society. That's big work, work the world really needs right now.”

The New York Times reported that even some strangers have the same idea as the friends from “Bestie Row.” On Craigslist, roommate and housemate advertisements flood the page, looking for people with specific interests and personalities that can live as part of a community rather than simply as someone who shares common space. It’s the era of the modern commune.

“It’s hard to feel supported in a place like New York City, especially without a partner, or consistent person or group that you are able to connect with daily,” Mariel Berger told The New York Times. “And I’d rather have a lot of people to share my day with.”

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