Friday, May 31, 2013

Land Use Planning

Tuesday I attended a workshop on Land Use Planning run by Tony Sirna, one
of the founders of Dancing Rabbit.  It was fascinating because it focused
on the social and relational aspects of buildings.

Tony started out by pointing out that DR was built using the 'village'
model.  A major influence was the book A Pattern Language by Christopher
Alexander.  Tony said that they modeled the layout of DR on how New
England villages and European villages are structured.  They focused on
things like courtyards between the buildings and creating social spaces.
They looked at questions like 'Where do people gather?', 'Where do the
accidental interactions occur?', and 'How can you create situations where
more of these accidental interactions happen?'

One method is to have the houses at angles to each other, so that their
front doors open facing each other.  He pointed out that buildings
generally have a 'primary access side' and a 'secondary access side'--the
primary side gets used a lot more and so it's important that this is the
side that faces other buildings.

He also pointed out that a problem with using classic permaculture zones
in creating houses in ecovillages is that the way that these zones are
applied to people's houses is as if each house was a homestead in
isolation from other properties.  But at DR what people do with each house
affects the houses around it.  For example: people have the house face
south for solar gain and classically would plant large trees in the north
as a wind break.  But, as he said, 'One person's north side is the person
behind them's south side and trees planted in the north can diminish their
neighbor's solar gain.

Tony made it clear that it didn't make sense to build the community by
adding a house here and then another house much further away and just
slowly filling in the pieces.  He suggested starting by building
'microcosms'--modeling what the eventual community will look like by what
you build initially.

Finally, he said that one difference between Dancing Rabbit and Earthaven (the two most famous of the ecovillages) is that Earthaven is in a highly forested area and DR is being built in former farmland, so at Earthaven they have to cut down trees to build houses and at DR people not only don't have to cut down any trees to build but they're actually planting trees all over the place.

Quote of the Day: "People will not feel comfortable in their houses unless
a group of houses forms a cluster...  The most obvious and tribal-like
cluster--the homes on either side and across the street--forms roughly a
circle, and it is there that most contact occurs." - Christopher
Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

First Week at Dancing Rabbit

This is the beginning of my second week at Dancing Rabbit.  DR is an
'ecovillage' in the small town of Rutledge, Missouri--deep in the
northeast part of the state.  As I've written before, it's one of three intentional communities in Rutledge.

And it's by far the biggest--there's over seventy people here, and that
includes a good number of children.  (Not as many older folks as Twin Oaks
but I'm sure there's a few in their sixties and one of the newest members
is seventy, I believe.)

I'm here with a visitor's group that started off with nine adults (and a
one year old), but we just lost someone who had only signed up for a one
week visit. I'm living in a tent, which has been challenging--especially
during some really rainy weather--but it hasn't leaked much, so I'm happy.

I feel like I'm learning so much being here.  We've had an orientation
tour of DR, and later a longer walk exploring their land, and we've done
workshops on their ecological agreements, consensus decision making, and deepening communication.  On Thursday we did back to back workshops on alternative construction and alternative energy complete with being able to look at examples of different ways that construction and energy is being done at DR.  DR has dozens of amazing buildings, no clothes dryers or flush
toilets, four communal cars for everyone, and lots of very friendly people.

Quote of the Day:  "At Dancing Rabbit we strive to be ecologically and
socially conscientious--to put our ideals into practice, and to have the
strength and patience to work hard for their achievement."  - from Dancing
Rabbit's 'Building Sustainable Community' brochure

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Off to Missouri

As I said a couple of posts ago, I won't remain settled in Boston for long.  (See Life Erupts, 5/1/13)   I've gotten into the visiting program that I applied for at Dancing Rabbit and I'll be leaving Boston Sunday, May 19th (less than two weeks from now) and getting to Missouri the next night.

While I've talked about this before (see my post on Communities of Communities, 6/9/12), I'm going to recap my community info so you don't have to look so hard.  If you do want more info on this, you should look up that old post. Dancing Rabbit (DR) is one of three intentional communities in the small town of Rutledge, MO--Sandhill (a small income sharing community that's been in Rutledge since the 1970s) and Red Earth Farms (a homesteading community that split off from DR and is located right across the road) are located nearby.  But DR, with 70 or so members, is by far the largest.

I'm going to DR, first of all, because I want to learn how it works. Along with Earthaven in North Carolina, it's one of the best known rural ecovillages.  I also want to see and understand the connections and cooperation between the three Rutledge communities.  What I've seen makes me think of the way that Twin Oaks, Acorn, and Living Energy Farm work together.  I've seen that first-hand, now I'm going to get to check out how they do it in the 'Show-Me' state.

While I'm out there, I may also visit the Possibility Alliance, a community forty miles away in La Plata (which is also where the train station is).  I haven't arranged that yet so we'll see if that happens.

Meanwhile, I'm learning to take life as it comes and not plan too much, because I'm never quite sure what comes next.  And so the journey continues...

Quote of the Day: " seems to me that knowing where we are going encourages us to stop seeing and hearing and allows us to fall asleep....
"Not knowing where you are going creates more than uncertainty; it fosters a sense of aliveness, an appreciation of the particulars around you....
"The truth is that we are always moving toward mystery and so we are far closer to what is real when we do not see our destination clearly." - Rachel Naomi Remen

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Issues in Community: Decision Making

The Spring 2013 issue of Communities magazine has a very interesting article by Diana Leafe Christian entitled "Consensus and the Burden of Added Process: Are There Easier Ways to Make Decisions?"  This is part three in a series that she has been writing on the problems with consensus and alternatives to it.  What I find interesting about it is that with previous articles she focused on her issues with 'consensus-with-unanimity', here she seems to realize that it actually does work for some communities.

In this article, she seems to be saying what I've been thinking for a while.  For certain communities it seems to work (she suggests these are communities formed in the eighties or earlier, but Acorn is one of the communities I know where it seems to work and Acorn was founded in 1993--I also know several co-op households, founded in this millennium, where consensus seems to work as well), whereas for others ('founded after the 1980s' and she specifically cites cohousing and ecovillages) it often becomes a burden and can "lead to disharmony, distrust, lower morale, and dwindling meeting attendance".  The whole article is worth reading--even multiple times.  (In fact, the whole series, including various people's replies to the articles, can give you quite an education in the nuances of consensus and other forms of decision making.) Here I'm simply focusing on which communities consensus works for.

I think she's absolutely right on why this type of consensus doesn't work for most cohousing and many ecovillage-type communities.  A large, very diverse group will probably need something more structured and less open to what she (and others) refer to as 'tyranny of the minority'.  She points out that not everyone is willing to go through the intense processing that this type of consensus can require. On the other hand, it's been my experience that many smaller households and communities (regardless of when they were founded), especially if they share common core values, are willing to do the work of building closeness with each other by working through conflict.

I want to be clear--I don't think that one situation is superior to the other. Diana has a sidebar to this article listing the reasons that 'Cohousers and Ecovillagers Join Community', and I can really understand them. Many of them become impatient with endless processing, especially if building the closeness and trust that comes with this isn't one of their priorities.  I don't believe in 'one size fits all' when it comes to community. In one of the earliest posts on this blog (Looking for The Answer?, 6/28/08) I wrote that I didn't think there was any one solution to our problems.  Like anything else, consensus is just one of the tools in the decision-making toolbox.  It's quite useful, but I know that it won't work for all communities.  I'm glad that Diana has pushed us to look at this, and I'm glad she's realized that this can vary from community to community.  The moral here is that as you're building community, think about what kind of community you want, and then explore what decision-making tools can help build that.

Quote of the Day: "I agree that some people do join communities mostly to experience deeper relationships and are willing to put in the time required.  But I don't think most people join for this reason.  Most cohousers and ecovillagers that I know seem to have other reasons for living in community." - Diana Leafe Christian

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Life Erupts

It's full spring once again. May Day, Beltaine, whatever you want to call it.  The time of year when life not only renews itself, it bursts forth in a vibrant, pulsating frenzy.

I'm currently staying in Dorchester, a rather gritty neighborhood of Boston.  Quite urban. But you can't avoid noticing this resurrection.  I've got a third floor room and on the deck outside the kitchen a maple tree is exploding into new being, thrusting yellow-green blossoms at me every time I go out there. Walking around the block confronts me with flowers of purple, yellow, pink, blue, and white. The daffodils still linger and several houses have a riot of many-colored tulips in their yards.  At the end of the street, a tree has wrapped itself in a shimmer of greenish-white.

The street itself is only slightly busy, so a group of boys stuck a basketball net on the curb and were using the road to dribble and shoot hoops from, moving out of the way briefly when the occasional car would come by.  A girl down the other end of the street leapt at a branch of a tree with pink blossoms, pulling it down and collecting a bouquet of petals to bring home.

And my life is renewing as well.  I am reconnecting with a nearby co-op house that I used to live in, where I'll be cooking and eating over the next few months.  I just got an email from Dancing Rabbit in Missouri and I'll be visiting there at the end of May.  And I've been slowly connecting with people who say that they want to create or be part of income sharing communities in New England or nearby.  I've been doing this too long to believe that most of these connections will lead to something, but who knows? Life erupts and right now I'm cruising on the pure joy of that.

Quote of the Day: "Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are." - Marianne Williamson