I visited yesterday (together with Jane Jeffries (recent poster here) and Sandy Shaw (from Hawaii, of the Celestine Prophecy home page)) the LA Eco-Village, coordinated by Lois Arkin.
Was quite an inspiring experience, so I figured I'd better say a few words about it.
The LA Eco-Village is an area of a couple of blocks in central Los Angeles. At first glance an ordinary, run-down, low-income neighbourhood of rental appartment complexes. What is amazing is what Lois and other members of the neighbourhood have done over the last couple of years to turn it into a sustainable community.
The basic idea, as I get it, is to start right where you are and take responsibility for your community. Take a big look at how the community works, and take the small look of how to get every little detail to work in more viable ways.
There are regular newsletters for the community, the kids of the neighbourhood are tending fruit trees on the front lawns, there is a composting program, most people seem to know each other, there are goals for reducing waste, setting up greywater systems, slowing down traffic, setting up information kiosks and community activity centers, buying up the appartment complexes to make them co-operatively owned, collecting job information to help people find jobs close to their home, etc.
It might often be easier to start designing ideal communities on paper, starting from scratch. But then again, that isn't necessarily what we have available to work with. It might take more hard work to start with an existing neighbourhood, with its existing circumstances, with the people who just happen to live their, and turn it into a better working, sustainable community. But it might very well be more grounded and more realistic.
Some of the problems the eco-village are dealing with is the relation to forces outside the community itself. The landlords might not necessarily agree with what the occupants would like to do, and the city authorities might have different ideas. For example, workers from the city might come by without warning and start cutting down trees, based on some arbitrary city regulation that doesn't actually serve that community. Or, while we were there an elderly member of the neighbourhood came by with the problem that her landlord threatens to evict her if she doesn't stop feeding the cats that live on the street.
Other divisive forces that Lois mentioned would be the fact that most members of the community would drive off to other areas of the city to work and go to school, and kids from other areas are bussed to the school that is in the neighbourhood. All of this takes away from the focused energy people would have to spent on their own neighbourhood. People come home tired after an hour's commute from their work elsewhere, and don't necessarily have time to bother with dealing with their neighbours, or their own kids for that matter. Kids spend their efforts in school, which to some degree takes away from being part of the local community.
Lois' vision is to make the local community a learning community. That is, it would be a place to learn. Rather than going off to somewhere else to learn abstract knowledge, the local circumstances would be a place to teach and learn, centered around the activities of a community. There is real work to be done, real issues that need to be solved, the community has an ecology of its own, all of which might provide more grounded leaning experiences for everybody.