My Advice to Others Planning to Start an Ecovillage

Author: Lois Arkin
Published in Communities Magazine Issue #156

This advice was originally prepared for the book Eco-Villages and Sustainable Communities: A Report for Gaia Trust by the Context Institute (1991), Robert and Diane Gilman. At the point that this was written, I had been engaged in L.A. Eco-Village planning processes for about four years, but had not yet begun LAEV at our current location, nor was there an intentional community when these advisory points were written. Now, after living in an intentional community for almost 20 years, at times with up to 40 persons, here are the original 10 pieces of advice from 1991 and how I refined the advice in 2005 and again in 2011.

1. Start with people. Ultimately, land and buildings are always accessible to a group of people who have a common vision and commitment.
2005 Refinement: A strong vision, good planning, groundedness, and perseverance are the four qualities that will always get you what you need and want, eventually.
2011 Refinement: It takes some of us longer than others.

2. Develop a core group of people who have some kind of existing track record. If you don’t have one, find those who do and sell them on your vision.
2005 Refinement: Make sure you get a congenial core group of folks with complimentary skills and knowledge who can make a five-year commitment to one another. Then learn to care deeply for one another in relation to the land where you want to work, in relation to the problems with the life support systems in your chosen bioregion, and in relation to the issues in your local political jurisdiction..
2011 Refinement: Learn early how to pick and choose your battles with one another, and do not tolerate unresolved negative conflicts; agree to disagree and love each other anyway.

3. Don’t be in a hurry, but do be persistent and persevering. We have been very fortunate in focusing on a site that has not been immediately available to us. It’s given us the time to develop the culture of the Design Team, develop political and community support, enhance our track record, and attract resources for moving forward. Of course, for a group that already has all that together, this advice is not applicable.
2005 Refinement: It’s about process as much as place. So get your team geographically contiguous as quickly as practical, but don’t worry about it being your final location. The experience of interactive processes doing ecological, economic, and social work can go with you wherever you ultimately settle.
2011 Refinement: In the world we live in today, it is critical not to be attached to place but to be fully engaged with place where we are. The world-changing work we are engaged in and the pace at which the earth herself is changing may require us to relocate from time to time.

4. Do not compromise your vision to acquire funding.
2005 Refinement: Look for creative ways to solve potential funding problems that advance your vision.
2011 Refinement: Often, the less money you have the more creative you are. Our movement is about doing more with less. Brag about it a lot.

5. Keep educating all members of the group on the overview. Provide opportunities for members to learn in informal and exciting ways about all the major systems and sub-systems of an ecovillage: social, economic, ecological.
2005 Refinement: Make the time to do it. Everyone won’t have the same understanding, no matter what you do, but they’ll bring fresh energy and help the founding core group to see things in new ways too.
2011 Refinement: Institute story-telling as early as possible. You don’t have to wait 10 years to share memories. Begin your own rituals as early as possible. Let them flourish.

6. Let your integrity combined with your pragmatism be your guide. Don’t be immobilized by ideology.
2005 Refinement: Those who don’t agree with the founding vision or have not taken the time to understand it, but enjoy the fruits of the labor of the founders, may try to convince others that you are inflexible, a control freak, attached, stuck in your ways, crazy, evil, and worse. Stay strong, focused, loving, and forgiving in the path of these attacks. But at any point that the shoe really fits, be willing to recognize it, and change your ways. Work on improving your selection process to secure diversity with emotional maturity.
2011 Refinement: Learn to let go when the time is right. What it develops into may be very different than you originally imagined, but you’ll have changed too.

7. Don’t be attached to the project or being number one. Facilitating widespread sustainability consciousness is the goal; ecovillage is a method of helping people get there.
2005 Refinement: Form coalitions with groups as they come online advocating for, teaching, demonstrating what you have been working on for years. Or once the ecovillage ideas “catch on” in your bioregion, go to the next phase of sustainability, e.g., developing curriculum for local schools, creating your own school, engaging in more public advocacy, writing the zoning codes, giving public talks, civic engagement, running for public office, etc.
2011 Refinement: …unless you just want to retire to the garden. You’ve earned it!

8. Do not use or exploit guilt to motivate people, but recognize that many people depend on guilt for their own self-motivation. Help people transcend guilt by keeping focused on the vision. Keep your doors open to fresh and exciting energy. Generate excitement through art, parties, issues-oriented dialogue, etc.
2005 Refinement: Show a lot of appreciation for what others do to generate excitement..
2011 Refinement: Help others to overcome this tendency as well. Learn, teach, use an effective feedback method such as nonviolent communication.

9. Keep borrowing from others; always credit when you can, but if there is not space or time or memory, trust our sustainability networks to know that you are trying to act on behalf of all of us.
2005 Refinement: Recognize others at every opportunity.
2011 Refinement: …even when they don’t really deserve it. Hopefully, they’ll be inspired to rise to their publicity.

10. Be gracious, maintain your sense of humor, keep people on track, forgive people from your heart; we’re all doing the best we can; keep the air cleared; work at manifesting the values in the processes that you want to live with.
2005 Refinement: Attend to your own health first.
2011 Refinement: Attend to your own health first.

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2 Responses to My Advice to Others Planning to Start an Ecovillage

  1. Christopher Linzeesh says:

    Thanks Lois, for sharing the wisdom arising from your experience and perseverance with us all!
    Lindsay Newman,
    founder of Altarnik

  2. Christopher mmaskall says:

    Thanks for your wise advice, Lois. — Marty Maskall, Project Manager & Future resident of Folsom EcoHousing

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