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
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
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 lighter.
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 nearby.