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Common reasons an Ecovillage fails to get off the ground.  RSS feed

 
D. Logan
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Save the world. Work with like-minded neighbors. Enjoy a lifestyle full of healthy choices and cooperation. It seems like an all-around win/win situation doesn't it? So why do so many budding ecovillages fail to get out of the planning stages?

I am sure I am not the only person who has looked over lists of various intentional communities and ecovillages pondering future plans. No doubt if you have, you will notice the vast majority of those listed don't actually have any members, or if they do, a very limited number. So many of them never update their page past the first year or two. Quite a lot of them don't even get to a stage where land purchase or decision making can happen.

So why is that? I suspect it has a lot to do with our lofty plans rarely translating into a clear vision that others can get behind. Armchair activism makes it very easy to say you care about a cause, but when the time comes to get out and participate, things change. Joining a community is a huge jump. It isn't as easy as just paying your dues and going in gung-ho. There is a lot to consider.

I would like to open a line of dialogue where we can explore some of the most common reasons for this failure to gain traction. Some of you may have more direct experiences with those that failed to launch, while others have seen what it takes to succeed. Below, I am going to outline five reasons I have seen commonly popping up as hurdles to successfully starting a thriving ecovillage.

Web Presence

As of writing this, I have a blog with over 200 posts and a fully built webpage with sub pages and downloadable content. For this amazing amount of internet presence, I pay exactly ten dollars per year. Twenty if I want to keep my privacy on the whois searches. I use freehostia for my free webhosting, but there are many other companies that offer free hosting of your domain. Templates are easy to find and only a tiny bit of html knowledge lets you modify them into something far better. Even if you don't know any html, you can pick up wordpress and create an active website using nothing but that.

There is no real excuse for why a budding or existing ecovillage can't afford to have a web presence. The only excuse I can think of is if you wanted to limit your carbon footprint in terms of the internet usage, but even then you are probably listing your existence on the internet anyway so that others can find you. If you are doing that anyway, you might as well offer a useful site that has a chance of helping others better understand and embrace your views.

Transparency

There are two versions of transparency that seem very rare in my experience, but come up often in successful ecovillages. First is the mission statement and vision. These are probably the first thing people see about you. Are they clear? Do they come across as heavy handed? Are they so specific that only a tiny minutia of people who happen to find you will ever want to participate? There is a lot to consider there and making sure you have a clear and clean expression of your core values is going to be vital. Also, try not to micromanage minor things unless they are absolutely tied to your vision.

The other aspect of transparency that I wish more groups did is the membership. Do you have pictures of the people? Better yet, have short bios for all of your permanent residents and lots of pictures from daily life and special events. You can learn a great deal about the sort of mindset of the participants from these. In fact, I dare say readers will get a better idea of who you are from these than they will from the best vision statement in the world. Pictures paint a thousand words, so seeing your ecovillage in action, even if it is only just starting, will go a long way to entice like-minded people to join.

Land

Sorry to say this, but very few people are interested in putting lots of money towards an unknown variable. Either form the group first, or get the land first. Don't try to blend the two so that you are having people buy in on something that isn't even located yet. I see way too many groups of two or three people expressing glorious plans. All they need is X number of people to all chip in X thousands of dollars to buy the land. Prove yourself. If you don't have the land, show what you are doing with whatever land your members DO have.

Anyone can say they want to make a thriving ecovillage, but how can others know you won't drop out as soon as they go all in? Six months down the road, you realize your grand plans can't happen because you lack the knowledge and will take years gaining it. Members who never met in person are all now tied together by money put into a project. If they had met first, they would know if they can at least tolerate one another. If the land was already there, they can easily 'buy out' if things don't work out.

Barriers

I get it. You don't want anyone joining who isn't committed. Moreover, you have bills to pay. It makes sense. Here's the thing though, so many ecovillages that aren't established enough to be considered proven are all asking for funds. Paying someone for a lengthy probation is not at all enticing to new members. Be creative and find ways to work around this problem. Consider having interns who get room and board (no, not just a tent out back) that you treat as students instead of hired help. They can get to know you and if they find they love it there, the odds are they will consider joining. Then, if there is a fee, they will know exactly what they are getting into for that price.

Another option might be to make your probationary period free with the understanding that it is a work-for stay situation. If they decide not to stick around, the work they have done should help greatly and may have saved you just as much as you could have earned from charging them. Small monthly fees can be a steady source of funds that are cheaper than rent for them and more useful than one large lump sum to you. I suspect the huge chunks of money many are asking for are to pay off the land mortgage quicker, but when someone has to pay all of that, plus dues, plus the cost of building on the land, it is more than many can hope to give starting out.

Basically, avoid any form of barrier to ease of participation. Be selective about who can join, but be open about who can at least visit so you get as many potential members as possible to pick from. This goes equally true about petty issues. If you aren't having a religion-based ecovillage, don't bother mentioning any religions. Don't make restrictions on personal drinking as a restriction to joining if alcohol isn't an issue. If you are afraid of alcoholics somehow getting through your probationary period, make some limitation within your detailed rules about abuse of substances. Don't just summarily limit anyone who has a drink of wine on weekends. These are the sort of things that you have to decide about. Do they really matter to you enough to cut away large numbers of potential members?

Leadership

Last on this list, be clear on your leadership structure. Don't just give one sentence about it and move on. If I say we do things democratically, that is only the start of how things may or may not be. If you have an unusual leadership structure, explain how it works and perhaps (if you got that website I mentioned earlier) take the time to show examples of how it works in practice.

I know I am not the only person who has sat looking at a ten word sentence about the leadership structure of an IC or ecovillage and been utterly at a loss for how it could work in a practical setting. This is especially important with those just starting up. Anything other than “everyone gets a vote, majority rule” seems to turn a lot of people off if they can't quickly understand it. No one likes to feel like their votes mean nothing or that one person can single-handedly destroy all of their own work.

You have to find ways to assure them of its effectiveness and assuage their fears about how it might go wrong. Be honest about the strengths and the weaknesses of the system and explain how it is you are minimizing the weaknesses. It is painfully rare for this to be addressed in a meaningful way. All too often the framers of the leadership have a clear picture in their minds of what it means and forget that many people have absolutely no background to base an understanding of the system on.

More

So as I said before, I am just touching on some of the more obvious items that I have found to be potential pitfalls and stumbling blocks for getting a thriving ecovillage off the ground. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Maybe you think I have it all wrong here and that is fine too! We can explore this more fully together.
 
Jerry McIntire
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This interests me. I'm part of a "forming" ecovillage-- that is, we haven't hit the critical mass of members to go forward with putting in the infrastructure needed in order to build homes. (We will look like a cohousing community that is more green.)

Web presence: This is vital today. It's how people find you, and one of the important measures of your likelihood of success. If you can't get a web presence together, how will you clear the hurdles of permitting, etc.?
At Stone's Throw Ecovillage we have had one for over three years (meeting regularly for over four years). We purchased land this spring (2014). It's in my sig

Transparency: The more specifics you can give, the easier it is for people to self-select. Also easier for people to see that you've done your homework and are realistic.
We have a vision statement, some blogs about how we imagine life in our ecovillage will be, and a page of member bio's. Pictures are a good idea-- yours truly hasn't added them to the members page, but we have pictures of the land and links to our surrounding community.

Land: This is a big hurdle, and I don't think a group needs land to find serious, like-minded people. A clear sense of what you're looking for and where is necessary, yes.
Having land is an added draw for folks who can't imagine it, but we purchased land and it didn't result in a flood of new members. One new household, so we're halfway to our critical mass of ten. We purposely formed the group first and built cohesiveness, our decision-making ability, and a specific vision because those are the most crucial needs. Diana Leafe Christian's book, "Creating a Life Together" was our blueprint for planning. We used it to avoid many of the pitfalls that have resulted in failed communities.

Barriers: It doesn't happen without funds. Interns can be helpful, but people able to put in the sizable investment needed up front are the first requisite. Those are the ones to target with your specific plans and specific investment amounts and timelines, so that they can meet the group and decide if it's one they want to join.
We require a minimum of $5,000 to join at this time because we own land, and each of us has invested at least that amount to get to this point.

Leadership: Yes, be clear especially about your decision-making method and your experience with it. That experience is the best communicator of your groups functional ability. D, I especially appreciate your observation that many explanations about this aspect of community don't bring along the novice so that they can fully grasp what is usually foreign, and so that they can begin to trust it will work.

Jerry



 
Dale Hodgins
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For me, land and the right zoning for the land, is the most important thing. If my place was a build what you want sort of place, it would already contain a large village. It's not that sort of place, so it will probably never be a village site.

I will only pursue options that are likely to be approved. I doubt that the authorities will allow me to produce a subdivision.

I prefer the build it and they'll come approach, over the let's all do it together approach. This is because I have absolute confidence in my abilities as a builder and manager and very little faith that a committee would do anything but impede progress.

For me, a permit to construct an eco village is a back door route to running a rural motel with many unique activities for guests.
 
D. Logan
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Jerry McIntire wrote:
Land: This is a big hurdle, and I don't think a group needs land to find serious, like-minded people. A clear sense of what you're looking for and where is necessary, yes.
Having land is an added draw for folks who can't imagine it, but we purchased land and it didn't result in a flood of new members. One new household, so we're halfway to our critical mass of ten. We purposely formed the group first and built cohesiveness, our decision-making ability, and a specific vision because those are the most crucial needs. Diana Leafe Christian's book, "Creating a Life Together" was our blueprint for planning. We used it to avoid many of the pitfalls that have resulted in failed communities.


I agree that land isn't always the key. I was mostly trying to point out the pitfall of trying to organize a budding group at the same time as trying to get your land together. Buying land can have a lot of aspects to it, along with how that land is going to be used, etc. It has been my observation that a lot of the communities that fail to work out seem to try buying land while they are still trying to recruit heavily. It sounds like your own group waited until they were a stable number and able to cope with things before trying to acquire land. You aren't at your target number yet, but you do seem to have a solid set of people focused on the same goals already in place. I presume it makes a big difference by having your group cohesive prior to trying to look for land.

Jerry McIntire wrote:
Barriers: It doesn't happen without funds. Interns can be helpful, but people able to put in the sizable investment needed up front are the first requisite. Those are the ones to target with your specific plans and specific investment amounts and timelines, so that they can meet the group and decide if it's one they want to join.
We require a minimum of $5,000 to join at this time because we own land, and each of us has invested at least that amount to get to this point.


I hope I didn't come across wrong here. It isn't that I don't expect there to be some sort of fee associated with becoming a permanent member. It is more that people who aren't actual members often get charged large sums to do extended visitation. Probationary periods of six months to a year where you live in a common house, pay potentially thousands (some places have very steep costs on your pre-approval time) and when it is said and done, they can still be told to get lost with only the chance that they learned something while there to show for it. Your fees are actually quite reasonable. I also think ongoing inputs being required isn't unreasonable, especially if there are ongoing costs. I just marvel at some places requiring six times your own fee even before someone has joined and them expecting people to want to be there. Maybe if they were well established and that fee goes towards home building and/or is returned in part if they are not accepted at the end of the probation. Kind of sad watching a group of three with no land, no visible track record and lofty goals backed by nothing more than hopes try to ask people for huge sums of money just to be considered as part of the group. Not joining, just considered.

I am of the mind that letting people visit or have extended presence prior to joining should be as easy as possible. Figure out how many you can host without it becoming a burden and then try to make it as easy for them to feel comfortable there as possible. Let them become a part of things and feel invited so that when the time ends, they will be excited to join and whatever fee you need to set for full membership will make sense on where the funds go and be a reasonable expense for them knowing what they are going to be getting into. Charging a ton just to be around you and then keeping them at arm's length is the sort of thing I was mostly referring to in this section.
 
D. Logan
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Dale Hodgins wrote:For me, land and the right zoning for the land, is the most important thing. If my place was a build what you want sort of place, it would already contain a large village. It's not that sort of place, so it will probably never be a village site.

I will only pursue options that are likely to be approved. I doubt that the authorities will allow me to produce a subdivision.

I prefer the build it and they'll come approach, over the let's all do it together approach. This is because I have absolute confidence in my abilities as a builder and manager and very little faith that a committee would do anything but impede progress.

For me, a permit to construct an eco village is a back door route to running a rural motel with many unique activities for guests.


I am the same way. I end up having an easier time designing and setting about certain tasks more readily alone than with other inputs. I can be a team player, but there are times when groups are going to be pulled in different directions by either different desires (which can lead to hurt feelings) or because some ideas can be hard to communicate to people whose backgrounds may not include what you are trying to convey. I think doing it together can work as well, but only if the group already formed are all very much on the same page. That can be hard to manage with a completely new group of people. Especially if the leaderships system is something new to some of the members.

It is one of the reasons I focus more on groups that already have land and structures in place. I can see their vision in action and have less chance that there is a miscommunication on what was meant. It is also why I would not start a group myself without already having the land and some of the infrastructure in place.
 
Laura Jean Wilde
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Well I haven't been in the active planning stage of ecovillage although I would still consider it an option for the land we currently have and are developing.
This year I had the pleasure of hosting a crew of WWOOFrs here and it got me to thinking about intentional community and like stuff.
I believe that any intentional community (ecovillage or otherwise) would need to begin with an understanding of core people who have a
1 Common Vision and Goal (sustainability, Permaculture, local, self sufficiency, etc)
2 Compatible personalities (this will be huge over the long term and quite possibly the hardest criteria to fill)
3 Complimentary skill sets (to fill all niches and needs within the community with perhaps some permie style redundancy built in)

Only when the core visionary group have these in line, will planning result in success. All the details can then be determined by consensus.
just my opinion.
thanks
 
Benjamin Sizemore
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Location: Colorado @ 7000 feet. zone negative 87b
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I've been thinking about this a LOT for the past few years and I think I have one possible explanation. The main concepts and motivators here are freedom and self-reliance. That's the ideal and the necessity in the minds of the leaders who actually begin building projects like this. A show-stopping problem I see in the process is that you have basically three types of people and it creates an unsustainable dynamic. Since "sustainability is the goal," it is doomed to fail from the beginning. Another show-stopping problem is Top Secret and I'll get to it in a bit.

Roight. As DeNiro said in Ronin, you're either part of the problem, you're part of the solution or you're part of the landscape. So, we have leaders, parasites and followers. Those are the three basic types. You can combine the types (the typical banker or politician is a parasitical leader, etc) but not for this simplistic argument .

When more than one leader is involved, you will *eventually* end up with conflicts of ideals, which destroys the project. Bang. Church Schism, etc. Since the two (or more) leaders are never motivated by the same ideology and goals, they will eventually diverge in paths, which creates splits in the spectrum of resources available. This is no longer a working machine - imagine an eight cylinder engine where 3 of the cylinders decided to do their own combustion halfway through the exhaust stroke. Broken engine. Ok, I've illustrated that point.

Next, you have the parasites. These are people who speak about community and sharing and working together, but in their minds, they want everybody else to work, while they enjoy a life of leisure and usually a lot...a WHOLE LOT of cannabis smoking. Absurd amounts of cannabis smoking and also porking everybody's wives and girlfriends after seducing them with flowery jibber jabber and a fundamentally feral nature. Sound familiar? This has never happened to me, but I see it happen. Just so you know I have no emotional motivation to this facet of my argument.

Next, you have followers. These are people who are able to fathom such lofty concepts as "sustainability" and "restorative agriculture," see the value in it and then look for a LEADER to tell them how to get involved in such a thing. The problem with followers, who, I suppose are the engine of industry, is that when leadership breaks down, THEY BREAK DOWN. If they are not given clear instructions, they then become parasites. Maybe with less cannabis and free love, but they cease to drive the engine.

Now, you can talk until you're blue in the face about those concepts, but the cold, hard fact is that, if you have involved those three personality types I describe in close proximity, you will rarely have a functioning, long-term "community."

The solution is to return to the second sentence of this post: Freedom and self-reliance. This requires that every LEADER have his OWN land. With permaculture, in a moderate temperate zone, this can be 5-15 acres, say. More in harsher climates, but not hugely more... 40-100 acres in an arid zone, perhaps. This is PER leader. This leader owns the land outright and has final say in all matters.

I am still entertaining the idea of community, so don't think I have abandoned it. I propose that we use permaculture to create truly productive land at a scale that one leader and its family can handle, while maintaining personal sovereignty and purity of vision - *healthy boundaries*. It is then a moral, ethical and mechanical imperative for that leader to choose its mate with *utmost care* and then refrain from reproducing until it is ABLE to raise a spawn with enlightened genius. This spawn must be shown how to work the land to create a life of abundance without bankers, politicians and other destructive parasites with their contrived insanities based in extracting minerals from the Earth, larceny and slavery. Ahem..

THEN, somewhere in the middle of these several tracts of land, you have a pub. This pub has no individual tables, but only large, long tables and few dark corners for lovers and conspirators. There is music every night and every surrounding land-sovereign is encouraged to meet there regularly to discuss permaculture, equipment repair, trade of goods and so forth. Parasites and followers can seek work, romance and education here, but due to the individual sovereignty of each land owner and its keep, useless bastards will be ejected from the area as soon as they reveal their true colors.

These are just my rough ideas, having never actually written them down before, but it amounts to an agreement between leaders that "I want to work in vague proximity to you with similar, but not identical goals, and we can meet at the pub and share a tractor (but not for plowing), but not be chaffing at each other, crammed into a half-acre of useless hippies, fatherless children and too many dogs."

The idea of sustainable community can work, but you have to eliminate the failure points I describe by choosing your company more carefully and allowing SPACE SPACE SPACE for leaders to operate. Essentially, you just need more land to do it and it ought to work.

If I were going to do it, I'd suggest that 50 leaders join together and buy a square mile section of 640 acres in a cheaper-ish geographical area then use permaculture to blow everybody's mind with the productivity. The land would be parceled under covenant that nothing within the section will be ever sold to "developers" - only passed down in trust to the original owner's children or returned to the section trust.


Oh I almost forgot the TOP SECRET reason why hippy, er planned communities fail. That is that most people lie to themselves a lot of the time about a lot of things and this enables them to lie to other people very convincingly. When on the subject of a person's deep-seated goals and aspirations, *and their willingness to WORK to achieve them and endure all manner of hardships,* you will find a lot of friends, spouses and random folks say "oh hell yes, I'd love to do something like that, you can count on me no matter WHAT!! THIS MEANS A LOT TO ME!!!" Then, when you wake them up at 4 am and say "The backhoe is broken and it's gonna rain tomorrow, so we gotta dig a 300 foot swale by hand today... Well, see how many times they show up enthusiastic about that. Right? This trickles down to the most mundane subject such as doing your goddam dirty dishes, etc.

Thesis: Re-evaluate the land scale of your concept of "community."


That, my friends is a solution. I'm here all week, tip your waitress!


 
D. Logan
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I have seen a few done similarly to this. They work like permaculture HOAs more than ICs most of the time. A group of people with property in the same area all working towards similar goals and an umbrella of rules that apply to everyone within that little community. Probably the only form of HOA I would consider ever living under really. Heck, Paul's setup could probably be counted like this when considering gappers and the group that was going to be buying the plot next door.

The only real stretch here is the idea of readily getting 50 leader personalities together that all agree about the land, it's division, etc. In the normal world, there is supposedly 1 leader personality for every 10 followers. I would wager among the back to basics sorts, it is more like 1 in 5 or better, but that still means pulling together over 200 people to find your leaders. Add to that the risk that everyone thinks they are the leader sort and several of your leaders might turn out to be leader parasites. Leader parasites having their own sovereign plots means you wouldn't be ousting them without careful planning in advance of ever setting the situation up. That, or you would have to own the land to start with and then just have people buy in for leader roles.

Regardless, individual plots under an umbrella HOA style setup actually exist already. Most of them don't advertize as IC's though it seems. They just list themselves as earth conscious communities, etc. At least, as far as I have seen, read, researched and observed. Still, it does say something that their success rates do seem higher than the average IC startup.
 
Benjamin Sizemore
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D. Logan wrote:I have seen a few done similarly to this. They work like permaculture HOAs more than ICs most of the time. A group of people with property in the same area all working towards similar goals and an umbrella of rules that apply to everyone within that little community. Probably the only form of HOA I would consider ever living under really. Heck, Paul's setup could probably be counted like this when considering gappers and the group that was going to be buying the plot next door.

The only real stretch here is the idea of readily getting 50 leader personalities together that all agree about the land, it's division, etc. In the normal world, there is supposedly 1 leader personality for every 10 followers. I would wager among the back to basics sorts, it is more like 1 in 5 or better, but that still means pulling together over 200 people to find your leaders. Add to that the risk that everyone thinks they are the leader sort and several of your leaders might turn out to be leader parasites. Leader parasites having their own sovereign plots means you wouldn't be ousting them without careful planning in advance of ever setting the situation up. That, or you would have to own the land to start with and then just have people buy in for leader roles.

Regardless, individual plots under an umbrella HOA style setup actually exist already. Most of them don't advertize as IC's though it seems. They just list themselves as earth conscious communities, etc. At least, as far as I have seen, read, researched and observed. Still, it does say something that their success rates do seem higher than the average IC startup.


I agree that finding 50 wholesome leaders in one area would be a stretch. I was just spitballing... and thinking of pub fun - haha. 20 was my original number but I imagined an empty, boring pub. I'm glad somebody had the same idea and tried it. Even better that it works. Now, if only we could get the whole world to agree on something like this, then we could use all of our nuclear missiles to blow up that stupid moon and get back to farming.




That's a joke.
 
Benjamin Sizemore
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The part about farming was a joke. I'm serious about blowing up the moon.
 
Chris DeBoer
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Benjamin,

An interesting perspective....My take on your three types of people more like...

"These are three qualities that usually fall under different personality/character types and that it is unusual for them to change in anyone person but not impossible."

Also,

As I'm taking over some land that used to be my father's native plant nursery business, I've been considering a number of different "tracks" as far as the overall vision. The closest model I've found is what Mark Shepard is doing. Mostly though, I think that there are a vast number of different socially designed systems, be the ecovillages, IC's etc., but it seems unlikely they will all work in a particular place. Diana Leaf Christian seemed to disagree on Paul's podcast series with her...so specifically I'm talking about a system that engages with the surrounding community quite a bit and membership is comprised of a broad identity (Americans say) where lots of social programming is a reality.

As I develop my property, besides legal constraints that have no "loopholes" to work around, I'm planning to carefully consider the social context that surrounds me...

Specifically, I'm located in Rifle, CO...since being settled by Europeans and settlers moving west...I think a lot of the historical "wild west" mentality still exists. Sure sustainability has come on fairly strong and trendy in Colorado, but this is a municipality where carrying a firearm in the open is legal and a whole restaurant is based on it (Shooter's Grill)

Even if I could attract some more hippyish ecovillage types from say Boulder, they might not gel well with the community...maybe have trouble selling our products to some people.

My point is, even though I'm going for some degree of self-reliance, not only am I trying to be realistic in that regard, the reality is that the invisible system on the piece of land is part of a surrounded by larger social systems. Hopefully I can harmonize with them in a way that doesn't compromise on-site values.
 
Jennifer Richardson
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Location: Columbus, Texas, USA (Colorado County). Zone 8b, verging on Zone 9. Humid subtropical, drought prone
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Honestly, one of the biggest things I see turn people off of eco-villages (I mean, once we've moved beyond the pie-in-the-sky, can't actually find anyone to join except my spouse stage) is coming face to face with a (real or perceived) lack of autonomy (and, to a lesser degree, privacy). Potential villagers like the idea of community and of having the support of likeminded people, but when the sticking point comes and they have to deal with actual communal decision making and people all up in their business and shared ownership, they balk. Especially if they're sinking large amounts of money into the thing, which tends to give modern Westerners the gut feeling that they should now control the thing they paid for without anyone being able to interfere. Now, opinions may differ on whether this is reasonable & right versus whether it's some sort of inculcated atomized American(esque) hyper-individualist what-have-you, but I think it's a pretty big factor that gets glossed over and sort of an inherent (not to say insurmountable) tension at the heart of the ecovillage project.
 
Chris DeBoer
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Jennifer Richardson wrote:Honestly, one of the biggest things I see turn people off of eco-villages (I mean, once we've moved beyond the pie-in-the-sky, can't actually find anyone to join except my spouse stage) is coming face to face with a (real or perceived) lack of autonomy (and, to a lesser degree, privacy). Potential villagers like the idea of community and of having the support of likeminded people, but when the sticking point comes and they have to deal with actual communal decision making and people all up in their business and shared ownership, they balk. Especially if they're sinking large amounts of money into the thing, which tends to give modern Westerners the gut feeling that they should now control the thing they paid for without anyone being able to interfere. Now, opinions may differ on whether this is reasonable & right versus whether it's some sort of inculcated atomized American(esque) hyper-individualist what-have-you, but I think it's a pretty big factor that gets glossed over and sort of an inherent (not to say insurmountable) tension at the heart of the ecovillage project.


That makes sense Jennifer...there's a few concepts I learned in college (a few haha)...something called "power distance"...the degree to which a particular group of people are willing to tolerate/accept differences in power and also a spectrum spanning collectivism to individualism...

It seems that there are all kinds of reasons ecovillages might fail to get off the ground...I think underlying a lot of them is that the old and dominant socioeconomic and cultural systems have evolved along a track away from living in small community. Most of us have to re-learn what that means. This is not an easy process and although you could argue it is more natural to live in a small community (intentional or otherwise), making the transition doesn't SEEM natural at first.....

at my own risk I'll share something more personal...I had a rare opportunity to live in a therapeutic environment in the woods for 3 months with a small group...nomadically hiking around. Not a common experience for most but one in which I hope to draw from and contribute to in designing and participating in these sorts of social systems that promote health and healing.

 
Jennifer Richardson
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Location: Columbus, Texas, USA (Colorado County). Zone 8b, verging on Zone 9. Humid subtropical, drought prone
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I think underlying a lot of them is that the old and dominant socioeconomic and cultural systems have evolved along a track away from living in small community. Most of us have to re-learn what that means. This is not an easy process and although you could argue it is more natural to live in a small community (intentional or otherwise), making the transition doesn't SEEM natural at first.....


I think that's absolutely spot-on. I would also note that in the small, intimate communities that do still occur, there are often elaborate manners or customs for managing interpersonal relations and what might uncharitably be called "interference." I'm thinking of indigenous tribes, but also even small towns in the US, to some degree. I grew up & live in (actually a few miles outside of) the same small town where everybody's great-grandparents knew my great-grandparents and my neighbor's son is my dad's dentist whose own son was in my grade at school, etc. etc. Now, gossip is our town sport, but there's also a very strong social prohibition against being perceived as infringing on a person's own affairs or property, far more so than I noticed when I lived in the city (possibly because no one in the city cared at all, except the HOA). It's a weird sort of dynamic, because on the one hand, there's a pretty big expectation of homogeneity and conformity enforced (or let us say "encouraged") via social pressure, but on the other hand there's a very strong push-back against enforcement or regulation even of things people disapprove of, and there's a distinct feeling that there's a realm in which one's business is one's own business (usually on one's own property--which, I would note, has a bit more meaning here than normal private property, just by virtue of the fact that many/most people here have been occupying their places for generations, and many of them make their livelihoods directly off the land).

I'm blathering, but I guess what I'm getting at is that, in my own experience and knowledge of tight-knit communities, there are traditional ways of doing/thinking that sort of automatically manage the individual/family/communal boundaries (albeit imperfectly). When ecovillages take on this same task, I've observed a couple of different problems: 1) they just don't manage them at all, things fall apart, the center cannot hold 2) they are so starry-eyed and romantic about ~~community (usually not having experienced much of it) that people end up nursing seething masses of resentment behind their kumbayah faces (or they explode into screaming feuds, often attributed to things that are at best a subsidiary of the real problem) 3) they try to formalize things in a way that feels artificial and that people either resent, hold in contempt, or ignore

I think a lot of this can be solved by forming community with people you actually know and like (but people are often afraid to risk such friendships with close living, or just don't have friends who are into the same thing).

A lot of it boils down to the fact that ecovillages are to some degree artificial communities, rather than organic ones, so a lot of the social capital, incentives for putting up with people even at one's own cost, disincentives to mobility, "natural" self-"policing" (not literal policing, but more self-social-control that feels normal and not imposed) etc. that exist in "real"/established/organic communities don't exist in new ecovillages.

An interesting note on your nomadic hiking experience: somehow I find that mobility reduces a lot of these tensions. I am involved in long distance hiking, and maybe it's the relaxing natural setting or simply the ability to hike away from people for a while even if you know you'll meet up again soon, but even under strenuous conditions (hungry, physically exhausted, bug-eaten, sleeping wet on hard ground, etc.) people seem much more able to let others "hike their own hike" and just generally manage interpersonal conflict. I don't like to be all "evolution dictates every aspect of our behavior" or whatever, but sometimes I think the whole small nomadic band of hunter gatherers thing was maybe where it was at, and settled life creates a lot of social problems. In any case, that sounds like an incredible experience and a wonderful project that you want to work toward.
 
Jerry McIntire
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Yes, you need a group of committed people who learn to work together and make decisions together. This thread points to many "failed" attempts at intentional community, without naming any names. What is more helpful is examples of successful communities. That's what makes Diana Leafe Christian's book Creating a Life Together so valuable. She names names and tells the stories of failed and successful communities. Privacy and interaction both need to be promoted in a community's design.

I have lived in a successful community, been part of several forming groups that didn't succeed, and been part of a group that succeeded after I moved across the country. Time ran out for me.

1. It takes a long time to form a cohesive, functional group. A core group as Laura described it, with an agreed common vision and mission, compatibility (which doesn't just happen. It can be learned: how to design and come to agreements together), and complimentary skills, is the heart of a successful community. If you want to do your own thing and have individual control, why try to create a community? Ecovillages and other intentional communities are for people who want to advance in their ability to work and enjoy life together with others to a much more integrated degree than is the norm in the U.S.

2. Land is number two. Making it number one is more often than not a path to failure.

3. Whatever the differences among people, they can learn to work together and happily come to agreements on managing their community. Not everyone, not today. With the demands of meetings, trainings, work, and financing, some would-be members of a community won't stay the course. That's okay. Maybe next time.
 
Donal MacCoon
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I appreciated reading all of your posts. As someone who has lived in co-housing for about 7 years and worked for about 15 years as a psychologist, I recently posted my Top 5 Lessons Learned Living in a Village that might be of interest here.

Here, though, I'd like to put in my 2 cents about something that I think deserves more emphasis in this discussion: skillful disagreement.

Many of these posts above talk about the importance of being compatible in one form or another and structures that encourage freedom and/or distance which allow for individual differences. I agree these are critical but are not a complete package.

Think about a community that should be simpler than a village -- a romantic partnership between two people. The success rate of these small, intentional communities (tried by up to 90% of us), is about 50-60% (citation). And that success rate is accomplished after, presumably, good sex, good memories, a pretty hefty filtering process, and numerous successful models in all of our lives. Like the above posts, many of us emphasize compatibility for romantic relationships. But as a therapist who has worked a lot with couples, it is not uncommon to focus on another critical ingredient, communication.

Since communication is not very difficult for any of us when we are agreeing with someone (e.g., You like the Packers?! Same here!"), what good communication comes down to, either in a marriage, or any other relationship, is skillful disagreement. When we disagree, that's the time when we need to lean on some pretty ninja-like communication skills. The problem (alluded to above by Jennifer Richardson & the author who said, "I think underlying a lot of them is that the old and dominant socioeconomic and cultural systems have evolved along a track away from living in small community. Most of us have to re-learn what that means.") is that our culture has largely forgotten how to disagree skillfully and thus, we rely too heavily on compatibility and good fences. Understand, I think it is CRITICALLY important to have compatibility AND good fences (boundaries), it's just not enough. No matter how compatible or how good the fences, disagreement will always occur. That's why, we need to re-learn the art of skillful disagreement.

That's a huge topic that I try to teach (and learn) in my work with couples and other patients in my practice. If you are interested, I'd refer you to this post, and I would welcome thoughts here (or there).

 
Jd Stratton
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Benjamin Sizemore wrote:
Oh I almost forgot the TOP SECRET reason why hippy, er planned communities fail. That is that most people lie to themselves a lot of the time about a lot of things and this enables them to lie to other people very convincingly. When on the subject of a person's deep-seated goals and aspirations, *and their willingness to WORK to achieve them and endure all manner of hardships,* you will find a lot of friends, spouses and random folks say "oh hell yes, I'd love to do something like that, you can count on me no matter WHAT!! THIS MEANS A LOT TO ME!!!" Then, when you wake them up at 4 am and say "The backhoe is broken and it's gonna rain tomorrow, so we gotta dig a 300 foot swale by hand today... Well, see how many times they show up enthusiastic about that. Right? This trickles down to the most mundane subject such as doing your goddam dirty dishes, etc.

Thesis: Re-evaluate the land scale of your concept of "community."



Benjamin, so far, you make me want you next door.

"DIVERSITY" or...lack of it and keeping your focus on the top goals. (Even if the way to reach them is not as you first thought.)

During a chat with an up-and-running village resident, I made the suggestion that they open an already existing (currently empty) home to a wheelchair user.

"How would they use a shovel and rake?"
"What work could THEY do to further our goals?"
"LOL< are you KIDDING me"
...were some of the replies.

The place I speak of lived half the year on food stamps.
They had a huge issue with income.
There was a program that would have paid attendants to assist the "proposed wheelchair-using disabled person" with daily needs (dressing/bathing/house-needs) bringing about $400 a week in assured income to the village.
(This would have made a huge difference for them.)
(It made no difference the person was a Botanist. All they heard, was "cripple.")
This example, IMO, lost sight of the 'diversity' they originally yearned for.

We rarely get exactly what we want. The best plan has to be flexible.



 
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