Sunday, September 29, 2013

Issues in Community: Urban and/or Rural

(I'm returning to this series while my life sorts itself out.)

In the 1990s, I was part of creating an urban community that affiliated with the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC).  Since then I've lived in three different city co-op households.  Last year I did three week visits to Acorn, Twin Oaks (twice!), and Dancing Rabbit, all of which are in very rural areas, and did very brief (several hours) visits to four other communities near them.  And at the moment I'm involved with a group that's trying to start a rural farming community in upstate New York.

I like both urban and rural communities and have had conversations with folks over the years about creating a hybrid that a friend called 'City Mouse/Country Mouse'--a community which would have a house in the city and a house out in the country.  (However, I have no interest in suburban communities. Let's not go there.)

As far as I'm concerned, the advantages of urban communities are close proximity to all that cities have to offer: a large, diverse population nearby and lots of things happening.  However, that's also the biggest disadvantage--urban living offers many distractions that can make it hard to pull a close-knit community together.  (As I found out when I tried to create a community in Cambridge, MA, a couple of years ago.)

The advantages of rural communities are closeness to nature, much larger capacity to grow food, and generally a cleaner environment.  The biggest disadvantage that I can see is isolation. A large community like Twin Oaks (and to a smaller degree, Dancing Rabbit) offsets that by having a lot going on within the community--and a larger population within the community to interact with.

I think different settings encourage different types of communities.  Most co-op houses I know of are either in cities or near more rural colleges and universities.  I think a lot of co-housing is urban as well. On the other hand, many ecovillages are located in rural settings and most of the FEC 'communes' are rural.

There are notable exceptions to this, rural or semi-rural cohousing and urban ecovillages (like the Los Angeles Ecovillage).  In fact, there has to be exceptions given the number of cohousing developments that also call themselves ecovillages.

And, within the FEC, there are two urban communes (the Emma Goldman Finishing School and the FEC's newest member, the Midden).  Having been part of an urban FEC community, I'm happy to see others carry on the tradition.

Meanwhile, I'd love to know if anyone is aware of any successful urban/rural communities.  I know that Ganas in New York tried it for a while.  Someone that I talked with at the communities conference said it fell apart because they were spreading themselves too thin.  I also read a passage by Gary Snyder on a community in Japan in the 1970s where the members hitchhiked between a house in the city, a house in the mountains, and a house on an island.  (I think it's long gone.)

Quote of the Day: "...radical sustainability promotes the development of autonomous communities--that is, egalitarian communities that value equality, justice, and mutualism.  ... Autonomous communities can exist everywhere--from rural to urban, north to south.  Autonomous communities are especially adapted to creating and maintaining a sustainable world." - Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Circling Around to the Communities Conference

Folks following my journeys over the past year may remember that I started my travels when I left the group house I started the year before and went to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference (see my post entitled Update 1: The Twin Oaks Community Conference, 9/9/12).  I spent the last couple of weeks in Virginia, spending a week with cousins that I love, then a couple of days at Twin Oaks proper (working on gardening, food prep, kitchen help, and, naturally, some of the preparations for the conference), before spending the weekend at the conference.  I thought attending the conference again was a fitting way to finish the year long cycle.

This year, three of the people from the group in NY that I'm currently exploring building community with joined me.  Friday night began with dinner, an award ceremony for Ira Wallace (a long time communitarian and one of the pillars of the Acorn community), an exercise on exploring the reasons for joining community, and an introduction to Transparency Tools.  I found the Transparency Tools to be a particularly useful set of exercises.

On Saturday, our community presented during the 'Meet the Communities' and I got to network with folks from other communities.  I took workshops on 'Permaculture in Community' (which focused on applying permaculture principles like 'Design from Patterns to Details' and 'Use Small and Slow Solutions' to community building and living--one point the presenter put out was that "Human communities are a great example of renewable and regenerative resources") and 'Zones of Intimacy' (which applied the permaculture concept of building in 'zones' to human relationships, with zone 0 being the self, zone 1 described as 'marriage'--not only to people but to whatever or whoever is of primary importance to you, zone 2 as 'Strong Allies'--those folks that you can count on and who can count on you, zone 3 as your 'Affinity Group'--your real friends, zone 4 as aquaintances or--as the presenter said--'semi-strangers', and zone 5 being absolute strangers).  Both workshops were facilitated by self-described activists from Earthaven Ecovillage.

On Sunday I took a morning workshop on 'Embodied Intimacy', which was great, but left me wanting to do less brief workshops on intimacy and more time building real long-term intimacy.  In the afternoon I went to an 'Open Space' workshop on 'Polyamory 301' with Paxus Calta where he and I ended up rehashing the dialogue we had on his blog about 'egalitarian relationships'.  Our group stayed for the 'Closing Circle' on Sunday and then left to head north.  The circle ended with a powerful chant that I later found out was from the Rainbow Gatherings:

We are circling
Circling together
We are singing
Singing our heart song
This is family
This is unity
This is celebration
This is sacred

Quote of the Day:  "I think that there are two extreme philosophies of community building. The first is the Field of Dreams Model: if you build it (buildings, infrastructure, gardens) they (community members) will come. The second is the Take Care of the Relationships Model. The relationships between the people building the community are the most important thing, and the strength of the community depends on the strength of these relationships and their ability to successfully work through conflicts. If the relationships are strong, any other problem is manageable by the group. ... I think that the elements of the Relationships Model tends to get overlooked more frequently than the elements of the Field of Dreams Model. People get excited about a shared vision and shared values, and in all the excitement this vital piece can get overlooked; often with detrimental results down the line." - Paxus Calta