1, 2005: EcoVillage at Ithaca is a fascinating
book for anyone interested in joining or starting an intentional
community with a focus on sustainable living. Liz Walker,
the current director of EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI) and one
of the women who started the community in 1991, offers a personal
and introspective view of community life. She explains how
and why members have chosen this community as their home and
how communal living positively impacts the Earth while also
being socially fulfilling.
Walker emphasizes the complex interpersonal relations that
exist within the community and frankly admits that they can
be challenging as well as rewarding for those involved. EVI
requires consensus for all community decision-making, leading
to heated debates and high emotions over questions such as
whether to allow the city to erect a water tank on the property
and how to budget the second EcoVillage neighborhood, known
as SONG. At times, consultants have been brought in to promote
positive conflict resolution. Community living offers abundant
opportunities to come face to face with conflict, both within
oneself and with others. For Walker, community members can
be roughly categorized as 'planners' (more passive personalities)
and 'doers' (ready-to-go personalities), two groups that frequently
run into conflicts.
EcoVillage at Ithaca has also faced many financial hurdles,
beginning with the purchase of the land on which it sits.
Villagers wanted to pay off their collective mortgage as soon
as possible, Walker explains, and they worked hard to do so.
The community received a series of loans and personal grants,
which ultimately helped them achieve a mortgage-free position.
At the same time, Walker discusses how she and others felt
strongly that their community should be open to people of
all economic backgrounds. Although some people have arrived
at EVI without employment or a steady income, the purchase
of a house is a required, as is the payment of regular dues
to sustain the community. Houses range in size and price--the
original neighborhood, FROG, is more uniform, whereas the
second neighborhood has more customized, individualized houses.
Each neighborhood is clustered around a common children's
play area. There is one common house and a second one is about
to be built so there will be one for each neighborhood.
Although all of EVI is not completely off the grid, there
are many environmentally-friendly building and living practices
going on. Some houses have composting toilets, some have active
solar power and many have passive solar. There is a straw-bale
and timber-frame duplex. Many people have been able to give
up one if not two family cars, choosing instead to carpool
or bicycle for transportation. Villagers lobbied for a bus
stop at the main road and got it. One resident couple leases
land from the community to operate an organic farm with a
CSA. There are also community gardens and many of the homes
are surrounded by veggies, fruit trees and herbs. The community
continues to add more renewable energy systems and is looking
to installing a gray water recycling system.
Education and outreach are other elements EVI hopes to expand
in the future. They already work closely with nearby Ithaca
College and Cornell University, offering a variety of classes
and workshops related to sustainable living. In addition,
they are co-creating a standardized introductory training
session to be made available to all EcoVillages around the
world. A number of researchers have come to study at EVI—some
for as long as a year—and the community welcomes all
media contacts as a way of promoting its cause.
Sustainable community living can be a deeply enriching experience.
This group of 160 villagers has found a way to experience
life together, and to share and communicate what they have
learned along the way. Their average individual 'ecological
footprint’ is lighter than the average American's. Their
hope is to point the way so that others, too, can walk a little
Andy Rowan gardens and gathers with her children on 4
wooded acres in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is about to
embark on her own new foray in community, teaching first-
and second-grade science in a cooperative home school project