Green Living 2.0, Sustainable Communities

320px-Lost_Valley_Nature_Center_(Dexter,_Oregon)_6Many of the Baby Boomers were born or grew up the 1960s and 1970s, which set the stage for all kinds of sustainable concepts from communal or community living to vegetarianism, or not eating meat. Woodstock and free love, though only tangentially part of the movement, received so much attention that people failed to realize the deep and lasting impact commune living had on an entire generation.

Then that generation woke up, started having babies and focused on college funds and braces. Many of the established communes downsized. Now that the Boomers are retiring and experiencing the “empty nest” syndrome, the half-century dream of living in a “green community” is re-emerging. The choices are fewer, but for die-hard flower people the stereotypical hippie commune is still extant. If that seems too quaint, there are more modern ecovillages, urban housing cooperatives, alternative communities and – for Boomer children – student co-ops!

If it all sounds too airy-fairy, consider this: America was founded by individuals who favored the community living principle. One of these communities was Plymouth Colony, started in 1620 in the city of the same name, in the state of Massachusetts. In fact, the community charter (bylaws, etc.) explicitly outlined a system of communal property use, including a fair assignment of chores. Other communes included Shakers and Mormons, who also operated communal land under a charter.

Fast forward to today and take a trip to one of the 21st Century’s communities. If you live on the Pacific Coast, this could well be Lost Valley in Western Oregon. Here, an ecovillage operates on 87 acres of mostly forested land near the town of Eugene.

Founded in 1989, it contains a nonprofit educational center teaching a message of non-hostile communication, permaculture, simple living and, of course, sustainability. But Lost Village is only one of several shared living and learning (or teaching) communities in Oregon. Others include Cougar Mountain Farms, the Aprovecho community (Spanish for usefulness), and Maitreya Village.

Another, in Michigan, called Lake Village was founded 36 years ago by Roger Ulrich, who says that residents are:

“…longing to get back to the earth. It’s really nostalgia for peace, not the hippie lifestyle.”

This desire, to live in a community where everyone not only knows everyone else, but trusts almost everyone enough to keep doors unlocked and send kids to the playground alone, is something our largely hostile and distancing culture in the United States has made obsolete.

As in most intentional communities, however, reality intrudes. May Lake Village residents work at outside jobs, and some belong to organizations which seem antithetical to communal living and sharing. The same is true to a greater or lesser extent of the approximately 10,000 intentional communities across the United States. And, while this number is far down from the 1970s peak of about 40,000, it also represents a more adult (and resultantly more capable and experienced) population.

If you want to combine communal living with an escape to a quieter and less frenetic culture, try Ireland. There, the Cloughjordan Ecovillage, a non-profit vested in sustainable living, features 114 low-energy homes, 16 live/work dwellings, a solar and wood-burning heating system, 50 acres of land to provide gardens for everyone who wants one, a green hotel for visitors, and walking paths graced by fruit and nut trees and a burbling stream.

If you have farmland and think you can provide a better intentional living community, try starting one. You don’t need to spend a fortune bringing in builders, landscape experts and horticulturalists. Take it a step at a time, and keep it simple. The people who actually want to live in $500,000 houses aren’t the kind you want in your commune anyway.


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