Cohousing & ecovillage development.

Author:Braford, Tom
Position:A Strategy for Causing a Sustainable World

At the 2008 Prairie Festival in Salina, Kansas, the director of the Land Institute, Wes Jackson, talked about the Institute's plan to perennialize grain and legume crops and his call for a 50-year Farm Bill as a way to implement that plan. He said that if something is needed and possible, it is not grandiose.

Using Wes's definition as a guide, I would like to share my perspective on what is needed in terms of a sustainable culture and ecology and the potential of the cohousing and ecovillage movement to fulfill those needs. The need is well documented. Both social structures and ecological systems have become dangerously fragmented.

On the social side, half of the children in the US are now born out of wedlock and half of all marriages end in divorce. Extended families and communities are fragmented as well, with the average American moving every five years. Cities like LA bury thousands of their deceased citizens every year in mass paupers' graves because they are unable to discover any trace of family or community at all when they die, even though they have a full-time employee who sifts through their possessions and paperwork and follows up on any clues about connections. In other countries, especially in large cities, similar trends are evident, and half of humanity now lives in cities.

On the ecological side, we are participating in the sixth great extinction. Species are disappearing now at a rate not seen since the passing of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, and we are on a trajectory to lose half of our diversity in life forms by the end of this century, including half of all mammals.

We desperately need a synthesis and regeneration in the kind of authentic community that will fill the social void left by the demise of extended family and tight knit neighborhoods, and we need it as much for other life forms as for ourselves, because the air, soil, water and climate now need many eyes focused on them, just as we all need many eyes on the commons looking out for us.

Cohousing is a structure for fulfillment of authentic community, and the ecovillage movement, which is now adopting cohousing as the sustainable neighborhood-scale building block in multi-neighborhood ecovillages, could become a structure for fulfillment of ecologically sustainable cities if we were to adopt this as a pattern of social, political and spiritual transformation.

What I mean by structure for fulfillment for authentic community is that a set of structures, evolved in the early days of the cohousing movement in Denmark, could, if followed faithfully always, result in authentic community. These structures include scale for community. The Danes pegged it at 15 to 50 households per cohousing neighborhood with the idea being that you need at least 15 households to have sustained leadership and enough critical mass to get community work done without burning some people out if everyone isn't participating fully all the time. It is also thought that 50 households is the upper limit since this is the maximum number of people that can effectively...

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