BLOG: Eco-Communities in an Urban Future

By Anitra Nelson

Eco-communities have been created and operate in challenging unsustainable, inequitable and urban contexts. Working towards more environmentally sustainable lifestyles and one planet footprints within market-based economies oriented towards infinite growth results in perpetual contradictions. Inequalities that arise as an essential social and economic dynamic of capitalism reverberate through all the practices and processes of eco-communities. Arguably, the urban eco-community faces heightened issues, as increasingly unaffordable and unsustainable city environments are also increasingly vulnerable to incipient climate change.

Yet it is precisely because we all face these challenging and contradictory environments of global capitalism deepening environmental crises that the most exemplary of such eco-communities can be significant. The eco-communities I refer to here are termed ‘eco-collaborative housing’ in my book Small is Necessary: Shared Living on a Shared Planetwhich includes all those cohousing, ecovillages, shared houses and land, political squatters and self-managing housing cooperatives that endeavour to achieve the level of environmental sustainability that might ultimately, if not right now, approximate one planet footprints.

Such eco-communities are significant in and of themselves because they assert the solidarity of an intentionally cooperative community-oriented group in a world where individualism and competition reign. They are significant because self-managing and pro-active intentional communities have the potential to be more influential than either an individual or a household. Cases such as the Los Angeles Eco-Village(LAEV) in Los Angeles, California, United States (US), benefit from their internal scale — the diverse cultures and skills of their membership and the regenerative energy created by their multiple social interactions and achievements.

Moreover, most eco-communities operate on the bases of direct democracy, horizontal organisation and rotating delegation demonstrating that such practices can be successful bases of self-organisation in intimate, perpetual and reproductive ways. In as much as they are productive, not simply consumptive, communities — collectively growing and grazing their own food, building and applying associated trades, employing crafts and caring activities — they become hybrids pointing towards post-capitalist futures on community-based modes of production. A case in point is Twin Oaks Communityin Virginia (US).

To the extent that eco-communities experiment and demonstrate more sustainable living 24/7 — as do UfaFabrikin Berlin (Germany) and Can Masdeu(Barcelona) — they have the potential to show others how low impact living might be achieved. Simply by sharing they achieve economies in material and energy use and emotional and social co-benefits. Many have a mission to educate and train those outside the community in more sustainable techniques for living whether in terms of the built environment, household practices or social organisation. Many invent new appropriate technologies, encourage such creativity and share their experiential knowledge with visitors and short-term guests.

Best practice eco-communities have inclusive and accessible processes of entry and exit, offer some kind of income redistribution or income-sharing relating to housing and other expenses, and operate with internally transparent, open and tolerant criteria. Examples include the Low Impact Living Affordable Community(LILAC) in Leeds (UK) where a financial Mutual Home Ownership Society model, which has made the eco-community highly affordable, was developed and the social housing tenant model for low-income earners developed by the founders ofMurundaka Cohousing Communityin a suburb of Greater Melbourne (Victoria, Australia).

For all these reasons, eco-communities, arguably, have great potential significance in urban futures. They are models, in and of themselves, of ecologically sustainable living. Moreover, their impacts and influence range far and wide. They spawn self-same communities and share their knowledge, skills, progressive forms of organisation and achievements with their neighbourhoods, all who come to knock on  their doors, or even seek more information at their prolific websites.

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