Finally, Ecovillage Activists Gather in the US
By Diana Leafe Christian
Urban Ecovillagers, Green Developers, Visionary City Officials Convene in Chicago, 2007
Frankly, I’m jealous. GEN-Europe holds an Annual General Assembly in Europe every year, where representatives from many European ecovillages celebrate a schmoozing, feasting, dancing, networking extravaganza. Germany and Italy each have their own ecovillage gatherings. Wunderbar, and Quanto Bello! So do Argentina and Brazil. Bravo! In fact, ENA (Ecovillage Network of the Americas), is thriving in South America and Mexico, where ENA meetings are characterized by more drumming and dancing than proposals and agendas. And in 2006-2007 Japan has hosted two ecovillage conferences! (See “Eco-Heroes in Japan.”) But when do North American ecovillagers ever get together to drum, dance, feast, celebrate, and network?
So it was with great pleasure that I met urban ecovillage activists, green-leaning housing developers, and visionary city officials last November in the first ecovillage conference ever held in the U.S. The event, “Developing Urban Ecovillages: Towards Ecocities,” took place November 9-11, 2007, at DePaul University in Chicago. As a keynote speaker I presented a slide show on the wider ecovillage movement internationally. And the urban folks, well, they got to find out they’re not alone.
“There's a whole lot going on out there, which I didn't even know was happening,” observed Dirk Herr-Hoyman from Arboretum Cohousing in Madison, Wisconsin. “I was surprised to find out that urban ecovillages are a reality, not just a pipe dream.”
Urban Ecovillages – Definitely Not a Pipe Dream
Urban ecovillages are indeed a reality in the U.S., from Cleveland EcoVillage, Detroit Ecovillage, and Culver Way Cohousing in St. Louis, to organized neighborhood-style ecovillages: Enright Ridge Urban Ecovillage in Cincinatti, Phinney Ecovillage in Seattle (described in Cecile Andrews’ book, Slow is Beautiful), and of course the grandmamá of them all, Los Angeles Eco-Village. (See “L.A. Eco-Village Stops Bulldozers!”)
And we heard from these urban ecovillagers. Jim Schenk of Enright Ridge Urban Ecovillage described the organized neighborhood he and neighbors have been developing since 2004 in the multiracial, working-class, Price-Hill area of Cincinnati. Enright Ridge is a unique physical set-up too: while this mile-long cul-de-sac street is minutes from downtown, it’s surrounded by 200 acres of woods and a hiking trail. Here many neighbors are renovating their homes to become more energy efficient, planting organic vegetable gardens, participating in a neighborhood food co-op, and taking part in other “green” neighborhood activities.EcoVillage at Ithaca was the first.)
Cleveland and Chicago: Going Green
Sometimes City Hall gets the message, too. Mandy Metcalf, project director for Cleveland EcoVillage, told how a coalition of a neighborhood redevelopment nonprofit, a “green” city planning nonprofit, the City of Cleveland, and Cleveland’s Rapid Transit Authority are developing an area within walking distance of Cleveland’s newly renovated West 65th Street Transit station. The coalition is building new ecologically sustainable affordable homes in vacant areas, helping neighbors renovate their existing homes for energy efficiency, and creating community gardens and bike paths, among other green initiatives.
And Chicago, the conference host city, intends to become “the greenest city in the nation,” according to Sadhu Johnson, Assistant to the Mayor for Green Initiatives, who described the potential for ecovillage-style developments in Chicago.
Other presenters included Julie Peterson, coordinator of the Beyond Today ecological neighborhood project in Chicago.
Do It Now!
Conference organizers included Rael Bassan of Chicagoland Urban Permaculture (CUP); Architect Bill Marston, a member of Green Village Philadelphia; and Carol Braford, former Board President of Cohousing Association of the U.S. and cofounder of Culver Way Cohousing. Carol also served as conference emcee. Bill Marston also served as panel moderator. Toronto-based permaculture designer Jillian Hovey gave a summary talk.
The event was sponsored by Chicagoland Urban Permaculture (CUP), with co-sponsors Urban Ecovillage Network (UEN), Beyond Today, Ecovillage Network of the Americas (ENA), Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), Environmental Research Foundation, Cohousing Association of the United States (Coho/US), DePaul University Institute for Nature and Culture, and 8th Day Center for Justice.