Jonathan and “the Good Society”

Each of us has in idea of the way the world should be. You might call it “the good society,” the one we would create, if we could.

The idea of the Jonathan Association comes close to mine. I moved into the Jonathan Association, America’s first “New Town”- the dream of Henry McKnight, last spring without knowing much about it, except for the reputation it had received because of a raucous Annual Meeting four years.  Back then and again this year (read the Chaska Herald story), those who wish to withdraw from Jonathan have almost succeeded in destroying the Association by maneuvering to dismiss the entire all-volunteer Board. What happened at this year’s annual meeting reminds me how ugliness and beauty are in the eye of the beholder. To the detractors, Jonathan is ugly. To me, it’s beautiful.

The world I chose to live in exceeds my expectations and makes me scratch my head over the attempts to do it in. Like all other homeowners within Jonathan, I pay an annual fee. Others resent the Association dues. They don’t see the return.

What do I get for it? And what would I lose if the Jonathan Assocation suddenly vanished?

I get a neighborhood with 10 miles of well-kept, snow-cleared walking trails, large open spaces (“common” spaces) like the field adjacent to the sledding hill and “Purple Martin Heaven “ (76 Purple Martin houses) to which 100+ Purple Martins return each spring to swoop and dive across the open space. There’s Lake Grace and McKnight Lake, the streams, and the beautiful well-kept woods of giant willow trees, maples, oaks, flowering crab and cherry trees…and doggie bags for my morning and evening walks with Maggie and Sebastian.

I get the legacy of Jonathan founder Henry McKnight’s vision. McKnight believed that “the major opportunity with a New Town, such as Jonathan, is to plan the community for minimum negative impact on the environment, while making sure that the people who live there will enjoy that quality of life that makes living worthwhile.” Jonathan was to be an experimental, utopian community (eventually growing its population to 50,000) that would co-exist in perfect harmony with surrounding nature – an outcome different from the suburban sprawl that he found so disorderly and unpleasant. “We must utilize the land with full regard for the quality of the environment people seek,” McKnight said. “Planning a New Town like Jonathan offers us the opportunities to preserve the natural environment, conserve our remaining resources, and even improve the countryside.”

But I love Jonathan for more than its natural beauty. More than its commitment to conservation and good stewardship of the land. Jonathan is more than itself, a dream of a a society worthy of our highest aspirations. It’s a dream of a real community of belonging. Wealthy one-percenters, low-income, and middle class – private homes and affordable housing, rich and poor and middle class TOGETHER, not separated by freeways or gatekeepers. White, black, yellow, red and brown living side by side because that’s the way the world should be. Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists, Baha’i’s ,secular humanists Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Independents, and Tea Partiers living in together respectfully. It’s a place for people who want neighbors and who want be a neighbor. What a concept. In Jonathan I deal with the world, not escape it, and it’s a microcosm of what I wish for the world itself.

Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. But maybe that’s its beauty. It’s a collection of imperfect folks doing the best we can to answer Rodney King’s protest against a world divided against itself, “Can’t we all just get along?” Yes, we can. If we try. If we choose to do so. If we work at it.

Jonathan began as Mr. McKnight’s personal vision.  He died unexpectedly at the age of 59 before he could realize the dream. Now it is up to us who have inherited his vision to continue it, embrace it, and strengthen it as our own.

The Jonathan I now know by experience bears no resemblance to the loud noise a few of the neighbors who think they’re getting nothing for their modest annual assessment, or that they should get something for nothing, or that Mr. McKnight’s vision was wrong, and that we should have no trails, no parks, no shared common spaces, no Purple Martin Heavens, no snow-cleared walking trails, or cared-for common areas. Maybe just a jungle of selfishness would feel better. But my dogs know better. They’re so glad my neighbors and I pay to make their walks a thing of beauty and joy.  Sometimes our pets know better than we to give thanks for what we too easily take for granted.

13 thoughts on “Jonathan and “the Good Society”

  1. Jonathan was meant to eventually house 50,000 people. As I understand it when Henry McKnight died in 72 the remaining 4500 acres was sold by 1st National Bank of St.Paul for $3 mill. to Chaska Investment, a private company based in Edina.


      • Chaska Investment owns uptown Chaska, i.e., the whole intersection of 41 & Pioneer, downtown Burnsvllie, downtown Lakeville, large amounts of the 494 strip in Bloomington. It’s investors are Sicilians, Swiss banks & Trizec , the investment arm of Canada’s Seagrams Liquor. This last bit of info. came from an art. in the Chaska Herald about 10 yrs. ago.


  2. Home Associations are the perfect classroom for learning to live peaceably together, by building “community” at a grassroots level. One of the challenges is the very basic of basics — speaking face-to-face with our neighbors. It is there that we can begin to understand each other’s dreams, needs, and diverse personalities. Although I spend a good deal of time “social-networking” on my trusty computer, my most trusted way of achieving unity with others is looking my new friend in the eye, shaking his/her hand, sharing a hug, laughing at the antics of our dogs. The value of this? PRICELESS. Makes home owner assoc. dues fade in comparison to the benefits. Oh, and sharing bird stories glues us together!


    • I’ve belonged to two different Homeowner Associations over the past 10 years. I prefer being “associated” to “un-associated” in every way. Have I lost my independence? No way. I’m freer now than I was when I owned an unaffiliated home. But its real value is I get to be a neighbor, a REAL neighbor, where we know each other by name and do our best to create and mmaintain respectful and caring relationships. In my case Jonathan is the larger Association. Village Point (the 16 unit “urban townhome condominiums”) are my sub-association. I pay for both and consider it a value because as soon as I step off the Village Point property, I’m walking on the trails or biking through a well-cared for city with the City of Chaska. Chaska itself is a wonderful place to live, the only jurisdiction in Carver County committed to affordable housing. God bless Chaska. And God bless Henry McKnight’s vision and the Jonathan Association.


  3. Thank you for this update! I remember (back in the dream-big 70s, I’m pretty sure) when Jonathan was first being proposed, described, and, eventually, built. It sounded exciting, but I’ve hardly ever heard about it since, to the point that I wasn’t even sure it ever actually happened!

    I do confess surprise that it has resident malcontents. Jonathan doesn’t seem like the kind of place one can move into “by accident.”


    • I’ts curious, isn’t it, that such a gem would fly under the public radar screen except when there’s a flare-up at the Annual Meeting. The reality is that many recent home buyers have had no idea they were moving into Jonathan until they signed the contract when the purchase agreement called it to their attention. Those of us who live in Jonathan have an opportunity right now to inform those who don’t know what Jonathan was and is. I love it here.


      • “The reality is that many recent home buyers have had no idea they were moving into Jonathan until they signed the contract when the purchase agreement called it to their attention.”

        That’s too bad, it sounds like negligence on the part of some realtors, whose job it is to know this stuff and make sure their clients know it before making an offer…

        While I’m here, I can’t resist pointing out that your description in the 4th to last paragraph sounds an awful lot like my neighborhood of Longfellow, in South Mpls. We even have plenty of natural beauty, with trails, along the Mississippi and in Minnehaha Falls Park. It sounds like Jonathan is an attempt to remake what used to be called “neighborhoods” in the old days. These places are still very much the norm in the “inner cities.”


        • You’re on the mark on both points. The Longfellow neighborhood is one of those gems in Minneapolis. It’s a shame that the realtors don’t do a better job informing clients of the benefits and responsibilities of living in Jonathan. Thanks for the comments.


  4. I live in Jonathan too – and you have given me even more things to be grateful for by pointing out the things I did not even know about, such as the martin house (you’ll have to give me directions so I can admire it this spring). I did not know too much about the association although we pay and are glad for the returns. I hope it continues on – let me know what I can do, living in Jonathan, to make sure it continues on as it is. I also love your depiction of all walks of life living side by side…I had not even noticed.


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