The LA Ecovillage

Jonathan Dawson blogs about an alternative Findhorn, in downtown Los Angeles...

I want to devote my blog this week to an extraordinary development unfolding in a poor, multi-ethnic, working-class neighbourhood some 6,000 miles from here – in inner-city Los Angeles.

Why on Earth would I do that is a column called Life At Findhorn?! Well, first because we are part of a much larger global family, one of whose members, the Los Angeles Ecovillage, is engaged in quite wonderfully distinctive and inspiring work. Second, because I have just returned after spending ten days there, participating in the annual board meeting of the Global Ecovillage Network.

In terms of the general flavour of LAEV, in retrospect the die can be seen to have been cast right at its inception. It was the early 1980s and the original idea of the founder, Lois Arkin, had been to create a new-build intentional community outside town.

Then the Watts riots happened and LA burned in the heat of racial conflict. Lois decided that the priority was to work within rather than without. So, she located herself in the small corner of Koreatown – today very multi-ethnic but with a strong Latino flavour – where she finds herself to this day. The intentional community of around 30 of which she is a member sees its mission in terms of helping bring back to life the entire neighbourhood in which they live.

The two large, Mediterranean-style houses in which most intentional community members live feel like nothing more than great beehives, with a continual traffic of people in and out. On my first morning in the community, a group of kids from a local community centre working on a video project were filming within the courtyard, asking us about GEN and its relevance to neighbourhoods like this.

Later, great boxes of locally-grown, organic vegetables were delivered and community members set to work dividing them into boxes to be collected by members of the food cooperative. More people coming in and out, most stopping to exchange news and chat.

Several of the evenings I was there, there were also public speakers in the community’s main lounge, with the events open to the general public.

Then, there is the traffic out. One community member is working installing PV solar panels on properties throughout the city. Another goes out regularly to man the phones for a fund-raising drive by the local, independent radio station.

Others are off to work at the Bicycle Kitchen (an initiative born in LAEV but that has now moved out into the neighbourhood due to a lack of space), a workshop in which young local people are taught how to repair bicycles.

Community members have been involved in creating mosaics that now decorate the street, planting trees, sculpting a playful and beautiful cob bench (in the shape of a dragon), installing permeable pavements that allow rain-water to run down to the water-table below, helping design a small local park along permaculture lines and, most spectacular, working with local children to create a colourful mandala in the middle of the street.

Community members seem to spend a lot of time in this mandala – community meals, meetings, workshops, discussions – while the traffic slows and gently wends its way around them. This is part of a conscious effort to ‘re-educate the traffic’, as Lois puts it. One poster within the community shows a road filled with cyclists on one of the periodic Reclaim The Streets days. The poster declares: ‘We are not blocking the traffic – We are the traffic’.

It is great, if all too rare, to see an ecovillage get stuck in in an urban context, really working in cooperation with their neighbours and helping transform and humanise an entire neighbourhood.

Now, however, the initiative is under threat – and this is where you, dear reader, may just be able to help. The LA school department is planning to locate yet another school in the neighbourhood – there are several there already. This would entail demolishing 35 affordable housing units (all to rare in the city) and even more bussing in of kids from other parts of town.

The ecovillagers are fighting it tooth and nail and have set up an online petition asking the authorities to find another site. If you feel inspired, visit http://www.laecovillage.org/ and sign up.