Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Real Models 3: Other Models

Although I concentrated on Twin Oaks (and other FEC communities) and Gaviotas in my last two posts (9/30/10 and 10/6/10), I want to make it clear that they are far from the only models out there. In this post I want to explore a variety of other models--some of them not as close to my simple, equal, communal, and sustainable society as I might like but all of them real, interesting, and holding lots that we can learn from. To use John Michael Greer's term again, here we have more Dissensus in Action. (See my post of 9/27/10 for more on the term and a very different example of dissensus.)

To begin with, there is the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. The FIC (a much larger and more expansive organization than the FEC) tries to be open to all types of 'Intentional Communities', which it defines as "an inclusive term for ecovillages, cohousing communities, residential land trusts, communes, student co-ops, urban housing cooperatives, intentional living, alternative communities, cooperative living, and other projects where people strive together with a common vision." Their website includes a directory which list hundreds of 'ecovillages, communes, cohousing, and co-ops'. Diversity and dissensus, indeed.

Aside from the FEC communes, I'd like to single out one very different, very long term community, The Farm in Tennessee. Here is another example of a 'hippy commune' that hasn't disappeared and is in fact flourishing, with around 200 residents and a variety of organizations serving its principles of nonviolence, respect for the environment, and living lightly on the earth. It is, however, an example of a community that has evolved and gone through great changes as it evolved. It began as a very communal spiritual community under the leadership of Stephen Gaskin, who had been teaching a class in San Francisco on psychedelic experiences and world religions called the 'Monday Night Class'. Over time, and especially through rethinking and reorganization in the eighties, it became a more democratic and less communal model. It currently bills itself as an ecovillage and is involved in many service projects throughout the world.

Going from the communal to the more individual, I want to point out the Riot for Austerity as an example of a group of people who took on the goal of living (at least temporarily) at the level of 1/10th of what the average American lives on. (For more on these folks, read my post of 9/28/08, called Riot!) Another inspiration to me is man named Colin Beavan, who calls himself 'No Impact Man' and began by attempting to live in a way that would cause 'no net impact on the environment' while living in New York City. His attempt to do this with his family in tow has been made into a book and a movie.

Some of the most amazing groups, as far as I'm concerned, focusing on sustainablity are the Rhizome Collective in Austin, TX (which is in the process of undergoing some major changes) and the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center in Albany, NY, and the training they have created which is called RUST--Radical Urban Sustainability Training.[] (I've written about the Radix Center and RUST in my post entitled RUST, 7/13/10.)

A somewhat different group that also focuses on sustainability is out in Portland, OR. City Repair believes "that localization - of culture, of economy, of decision-making - is a necessary foundation of sustainability." These folks do 'intersection repair', 'de-paving', natural building, and 'placemaking'. They also hold a Village Building Convergence every year.

Another vision of what can be done is Growing Power, an urban farm and greenhouse in Milwaukee, WI that states its mission as "Inspiring communities to build sustainable food systems that are equitable and ecologically sound, creating a just world, one food-secure community at a time." It involves young people, elderly, farmers, and community folks, and has expanded to include farms in Chicago and rural Wisconsin, and is networking with farmers across the US through their Rainbow Farmers Cooperative. Boston's version of this is The Food Project, which I wrote about in my post on Feeding Ourselves in the Future, 7/24/08.

We can also learn from real models that are no longer around. Many community groups have been inspired by the utopian communites of the nineteenth century. For anyone who thinks that the hippies in the sixties were the first to build communes that practiced 'free love', some of these groups may be a revelation. Above all we should know that these models are really not new. (One of my favorite models is the Diggers from seventeenth century England.) For more on communities in the 1800s, see my post on Utopian Communities and New Religious Groups, 1/25/09.

Two experiments in sustainability from the 1970s are also models for me. The Integral Urban House was a project begun in 1974 in Berkeley, CA, that included solar power, composting toilets, a vegetable garden, chickens, rabbits, and beehives, all in an integrated system. The book, The Integral Urban House, recently republished by New Society Publishers, is a classic of eco-homesteading. At around the same time on the east coast of the US, the New Alchemy Institute was exploring "renewable energy, agriculture aquaculture, housing and landscapes." New Alchemy lasted twenty years (from 1971 to 1991) and was a major influence on many of the ideas I and other people have on sustainable living.

When I think about the utopian communities of the 1800s and the eco-experiments of the 1970s, I try to learn what worked, and what didn't, as well as why they ended. I think these 'post-mortems' can be useful before you try new experiments, and I will focus on this (on some of the living experiments that I've done) in my next post.

I know there are lots more models out there, and I am feeling pressed for time these days. But I do want to single out some Boston area (ie, local to me) models that are inspiring me. First of all there is the eco-homestead of my friends who do the DIO Skillshare. These folks live very simply and sustainably--growing most of their own food, collecting rainwater, reusing waste materials, and living with very low consumption, and they do this in an urban setting. Similarly, the JP GreenHouse crew try to also live as sustainably as they can. (I've written a bit about them in my post on Passive House, 1/24/10.) Haley House began in 1966 as an radical, spiritual attempt to help the homeless, and now has a live-in community, a soup kitchen, food pantry, low-income housing program, bakery training program, and organic farm. They model integrating service, social justice, and spirituality. And finally, the Pueblo group in Jamaica Plain models community building on a neighborhood level. I have been working with them to create a community garden from an abandoned piece of land near Egleston Square. They are encouraging relationships between people living around there and also encouraging people to buy houses in the area. They are looking into land trusts and other ways of creating community ownership.

All these groups and more are models of what can be done. Now we just need to get more people to do it.

Next: Post-mortems, what we can learn from no longer functioning alternatives.

Quote of the Day: "An appropriate symbol for the process of celebrating life, enduring limits, and resisting injustice ... is the beloved community.... The beloved community names the matrix within which life is celebrated, love is worshipped, and partial victories over injustice lay the groundwork for further acts of criticism and courageous defiance." - Sharon Welch

No comments: