Sunday, July 17, 2005

The "Dancing Rabbit" ecovillage

I've recently been doing some reading about community living, and especially the ecovillage concept.

Today I want to take a look at the Dancing Rabbit ecovillage: Ecologically Sustainable Living Dancing Rabbit is an ecovillage set amid the hills and prairies of rural northeastern Missouri. Our goal is to live ecologically sustainable and socially rewarding lives, and to share the skills and ideas behind that lifestyle.

First, what's an ecovillage? The Global Ecovillage Network tries to answer that question thusly: Ecovillages are urban or rural communities of people, who strive to integrate a supportive social environment with a low-impact way of life. To achieve this, they integrate various aspects of ecological design, permaculture, ecological building, green production, alternative energy, community building practices, and much more.

Sounds rather idealistic, doesn't it?

I can imagine that taking a group of American individualistically oriented ego's and trying to live communally, well, that's gotta be a very interesting experiment indeed. For example:

Decision Making

We make our decisions using a combination of empowered committees and full group consensus. For many years we used full group consensus for all decisions, but as we continued to grow more decisions had to be made and more time spent in meetings. Many people became uncomfortable with the amount of time spent in meetings and became willing, even eager, to give up some control of the decision making process in exchange for having to spend less time in meetings. So bit by bit the group agreed to moving pieces of the decision making process away from the full group and into committees empowered to make decisions in certain areas.

If you're going to live communally, then how do decisions get made that affect the whole? And, yes, there are going to be decisions that affect the whole. For example the Dancing Rabbit site shows shows a
common house serves the communal needs of the group. As they say:

Planning out the building, raising funds and doing the actual construction has been a learning experience for us. Coming to consensus on these and other issues about the community building was extremely challenging.

No one person owns the common house, the community does, and the community acted together to create it. However I can only imagine the kinds of arguments that went into creating consensus around the details of that building.

Here's one that bothers me, and I haven't ever even visited: Vehicles: At DR members don't own private vehicles, instead a car co-op provides for our transportation needs. Elsewhere on the site it says that DR members are not allowed to own their own vehicles. Instead they share ownership of the cars in the cooperative and are expected to cooperatively organize trips to town etc.

To me this seems heavy handed. But maybe that's a bit of American consumerism and individualism speaking through me, that isn't what I really believe? On their site they give Sustainability Guidelines and reading between the lines of that agreement you can see why individually owned cars would be banned. Namely, individually owned cars are very unsustainable -- witness the current war in Iraq for why I say that.

In general what I see on the site is very interesting and encouraging. Most of their buildings are made in the straw bale fashion, which is very sustainable and can create very sturdy buildings. They are tending to do organic gardening to grow their own food, and to live in a simple lifestyle. A lot of my thinking says that "we" don't need all the gobbledygook of gadgetry that fills our lives, and that "we" might well be healthier and happier by owning less things. Not that I've done a terrific job of doing that in my own life, still I applaud them for trying. American consumerism is deeply ingrained in those of us who grew up here, and to live differently means confronting all the egoic conditioning that "we" took in through growing up in this country.

Let me close by saying that it's difficult talking about a community in this way. I have never visited them, I only know them through what's said on their web site. A community is a vibrant expression of the people who jointly create that community. There is no way I can have done justice to these people in these few paragraphs.