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.

Jonathan Dawson is a sustainability educator based at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. He is seeking to weave some of the wisdom accrued in 20 years of working in Africa into more sustainable and joyful ways of living here in Europe. Jonathan is also a gardener and a story-teller and is President of the Global Ecovillage Network.
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Richmond is a victory for hope - now let's bring change across the country

The regressives are building their armies. 

Last night a regressive alliance was toppled. Despite being backed by both Ukip and the Conservative Party, Zac Goldsmith was rejected by the voters of Richmond Park.

Make no mistake, this result will rock the Conservative party – and in particularly dent their plans for a hard and painful Brexit. They may shrug off this vote in public, but their majority is thin and their management of the post-referendum process is becoming more chaotic by the day. This is a real moment, and those of us opposing their post-truth plans must seize it.

I’m really proud of the role that the Green party played in this election. Our local parties decided to show leadership by not standing this time and urging supporters to vote instead for the candidate that stood the best chance of winning for those of us that oppose Brexit. Greens’ votes could very well be "what made the difference" in this election (we received just over 3,500 votes in 2015 and Sarah Olney’s majority is 1,872) - though we’ll never know exactly where they went. Just as importantly though, I believe that the brave decision by the local Green party fundamentally changed the tone of the election.

When I went to Richmond last weekend, I met scores of people motivated to campaign for a "progressive alliance" because they recognised that something bigger than just one by election is at stake. We made a decision to demonstrate you can do politics differently, and I think we can fairly say that was vindicated. 

There are some already attacking me for helping get one more Liberal Democrat into Parliament. Let me be very clear: the Lib Dems' role in the Coalition was appalling – propping up a Conservative government hell bent on attacking our public services and overseeing a hike in child poverty. But Labour’s record of their last time in office isn't immune from criticism either – not just because of the illegal war in Iraq but also their introduction of tuition fees, privatisation of our health service and slavish worship of the City of London. They, like the Liberal Democrats, stood at the last election on an austerity manifesto. There is a reason that we remain different parties, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't also seize opportunities like this to unite behind what we have in common. Olney is no perfect candidate but she has pledged to fight a hard Brexit, campaign against airport expansion and push for a fair voting system – surely progressives can agree that her win takes us forward rather than backwards?

Ultimately, last night was not just defeat of a regressive alliance but a victory for hope - a victory that's sorely needed on the back of of the division, loss and insecurity that seems to have marked much of the rest of this year. The truth is that getting to this point hasn’t been an easy process – and some people, including local Green party members have had criticisms which, as a democrat, I certainly take seriously. The old politics dies hard, and a new politics is not easy to forge in the short time we have. But standing still is not an option, nor is repeating the same mistakes of the past. The regressives are building their armies and we either make our alternative work or risk the left being out of power for a generation. 

With our NHS under sustained attack, our climate change laws threatened and the increasing risk of us becoming a tax haven floating on the edge of the Atlantic, the urgent need to think differently about how we win has never been greater. 

An anti-establishment wave is washing over Britain. History teaches us that can go one of two ways. For the many people who are utterly sick of politics as usual, perhaps the idea of politicians occasionally putting aside their differences for the good of the country is likely to appeal, and might help us rebuild trust among those who feel abandoned. So it's vital that we use this moment not just to talk among ourselves about how to work together but also as another spark to start doing things differently, in every community in Britain. That means listening to people, especially those who voted for Britain to leave the EU, hearing what they’re saying and working with them to affect change. Giving people real power, not just the illusion of it.

It means looking at ways to redistribute power and money in this country like never before, and knowing that a by-election in a leafy London suburb changes nothing for the vast majority of our country.

Today let us celebrate that the government's majority is smaller, and that people have voted for a candidate who used her victory speech to say that she would "stand up for an open, tolerant, united Britain".  But tomorrow let’s get started on something far bigger - because the new politics is not just about moments it's about movements, and it will only work if nobody is left behind.

 

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.