The homeless, despicable as they are to many of us, are a group of citizens who live sustainably in an urban setting. Since charities do not provide for the homeless anywhere near what they need to subsist the homeless adapt and live admirably among us. They eat out of garbage cans, which recycles our wasted excess. They wear minimal clothing and their bodies learn to adjust to temperature extremes. They live without plumbing, water or electricity. They get by without an income or life, medical, dental or eye insurance. They travel long distances on foot or by thumb, on trains or rideshare. They live outside year round watching the seasons change, seeing the moon wax and wane, noticing the perseid showers, the comets, the strange and unusual, the warming climate, the northern lights deeper south this year and a host of natural phenomena invisible to city dwellers and house-rats. They survive on rice or bread, without coffee or chocolate, they consider a cigarette a luxury, and luxury an extravagance. They just as often travel with animal friends that are equally unwelcome in the civilized world or feed the birds, name the feral cats, notice the pigeons. They work odd jobs, collect recycling or panhandle for just the bare minimum. They own almost nothing because that is what they can carry.
They camp out on public land to remind us that public land isn't really public, they light fires to remind us that the oldest way to heat ourselves is now illegal, they sleep in doorways and on sidewalks to remind us that coming and going isn't just about commerce, they squat in condemned houses to remind us that freedom isn't free and they show us that we need to remember that there is something lost when living and alive are separated into two different categories - one meaning to make money and one meaning to be in existence.
When Intentional Community is considered think about being homeless - it just means nomadic, or tribal. Sustainable means maximizing minimalizing. Minimal living is sustainable and if we are willing to pay for sustainable then we should be willing to approve of minimal. If we can admire the native ways of life we can admire the Urban Nomads and learn something about being less fastidious in order to be more intentional about waste and want. Doesn't matter how you got there, once you get grubby you are already closer to going green and being organic than you were before.
It takes an intentional community to achieve sustainability. The inter-relationships necessary to establish sustainability and the energy needed to keep the exchanges balanced so that the whole project can continue to provide for each and every member requires an individual commitment to discomfort and the constant abrasion of a wide variety of concerns. It is easy for individuals in the community to lose contact with the reasons why they became involved in the first place and with the human factor in community - which includes being relaxed and having fun. Especially when the obstacles created by general society's resistance to intentional community as retro-revisionist (receding away from modernity instead of advancing toward it) are so numerous that they are nearly overwhelming when the community is just getting off the ground. The stress created by fighting general society while still having to refer to it to recover self-sufficiency can create an abrasive atmosphere among residents and diminish the commitment to the common ideal of sustainable self-sufficiency and eco-efficiency for spiritual depth. The intentional community then becomes a miserable experiment in personality conflict and ongoing failure with members leaving disillusioned and less likely each time to try again with a new community model.
Sometimes, rare enough to be exceptional, unintentional communities accidentally stumble into being a sustainable community - short-lived as those occasions often are they are a phenomenon unmatched in the memory of those lucky enough to be participants. Those rare freaks of circumstance are what all intentional communities are trying to achieve -the unintentional ideal. A beautiful thing!