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Building an Urban Eco-Village

Editor’s Note:  Author Jim Schenk (along with his wife Eileen, who went rogue and planted all of the cherry blossom trees on 8th St. and Enright Ave. without City permission) was the founding force behind the Imago Earth Center, Price Hill Will, and the Enright Ridge Urban EcoVillage.  He championed sustainable communities before it was fashionable and has many enlightening stories to tell.  Reach him at jschenk@imagoearth.org. 

schenk

ENRIGHT RIDGE URBAN ECOVILLAGE

Imago, starting an ecological centered project in its own neighborhood, with people it knew and cared about made a lot of sense.  So, in June, 2004 it invited 29 people to come join in a meeting looking at developing an ecovillage on Enright Ave.  Seventeen of them showed up:  Diana, pharmacist; Dennis, chef; Sharon, psychiatric nurse; Jerry, Contractor; Jeanne, nurse;  Michael, graphic designer; Kim, social worker; Kathy, homemaker; Jim, Librarian; Eileen, educator; Blanche, retired; Joyce, futurist; Julia, farmer; Vince, food services; Carla, homemaker; Eileen, social worker; and Jim for Imago.

We started out talking about the notion of an ecovillage and then, breaking into three groups, the deck group, kitchen group and living room group.  After answering the questions, “What does an ecovillage mean to me, and second, does it make sense for Enright Ave.,  each group recorded the answers to the following question: “What an Ecovillage would mean on Enright Ave”.  From these items each person chose 4 areas that “they felt important and might be interested in working on.”  From these we set up five areas to begin and task groups to work on them:  About each area, a report in September stated:

“Planters at top of street.  They were installed, the flower selection wonderful, and have held up extremely well.  The wording is very noticeable – Enright Ridge.

Hiking Trail – The trail is open all around Enright Ave.  It goes though some beautiful areas, well worth the hike.  Need some permissions from the neighbors whose backyards it goes through.  Still needs some work, but a nice hike.

Community meals – After discussion it was decided to have the first one on Sunday, Septmeber 26th if the Earth Center is available.  Details will be worked out, and notices gotten around to residents on Enright Ave.

Ways of including rest of residents on Street – The street potluck is one way.  A second suggestion was developing a street newsletter.  Lydia Justice expressed interest in helping with this.  For the first issue, e-mail materials to Jim S.

Marketing Enright Ridge as a Ecovillage – This has a potential of making Enright really special (this understanding is already floating around the city) which will improve homeownership, property values, and bring people interested in in the ecovillage idea onto the street.  Develop a brochure.  Jim S. had a rough draft as a demo.  Michael offered to work on it.  Add ecovillage to flower pots.  Use the newsletter as a way to introduce the concept to other residents on street.  Also, there are opportunities to talk to groups in the city about this.”

This was the beginning.  It consisted of:

  1. Declaring Enright Ave. an ecovillage, Enright Ridge Urban Ecovillage,
  2. Setting up task groups to begin the process of developing the ecovillage, and
  3. Keeping communication open with all residents.

We next felt we needed to involve the rest of the neighborhood.  We developed a concept called Treasure mapping, in which we made a box of 4’X4’ plywood on each side.  We put four topic areas for people to respond to in terms of developing the ecovillage.  We asked what they would like to see in the ecovillage in terms of the following four areas, (one put on the top of each side of the box): Families in the Ecovillage, Greening the ecovillage, Housing in the Ecovillage and Marketing the ecovillage. The ecovillage runs along a ¾ mile long street.  We divided the street into 8 areas, and had “ambassadors” for each area, whose job it was to pass out fliers we developed about the event, and the day of, get people to come out.  We put the box on the back of a truck along with two tables.  We brought the truck ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­to an area, unloaded the tables, put the box on one and magazines, markers, scissors, tape, etc. on the other table, materials that people could cut out and put on the box to express what they wanted to see happen in each of these four areas.  At the end there was a collage of interests in each of the areas.

We gathered around the collage, a few days later, and assessed what people wanted.  From this we developed a Housing Task Force, Communications Task Force, the Ecological Green Group (EGG), and Marketing.

Underlying all of these was the idea that Thomas Berry shared: “Developers see human needs and desires as primary; environmentalists see the Earth community as primary. Developers expect nature to adapt to human activity; environmentalists ask humans to adapt to nature. Developers, in general, exhibit a low sensitivity to the concerns of the Earth community; environmentalists are driven by a painfully high sensitivity to other beings.”  It was important that we approached all of these from an environmentalist position.

Housing in the ecovillage is one of the most ecological aspects of being environmentally friendly.  Instead of starting with virgin land and virgin forests to build our homes, we are living in an existing neighborhood.  The houses are here.  The housing committee has focused on purchased houses that are foreclosed on or otherwise would possibly be torn down, rehabbed them and sold them to homeowners, while keeping a few to rent.

The Ecological Green Group is focused on educating people in the ecovillage on how to be ecologically oriented.  They do articles in the newsletter, bought a Pathfinder for people to use to assess sun availability for solar applications and gardening.  It is encouraging people to put photovoltaic cells on their homes to generate electricity.

The Communications Task Force has two focuses.  One, to keep people informed in the ecovillage about what is happening.  Because there are a lot of people not directly involved with the ecovillage, it is a way to keep them informed and comfortable that there is not an attempt to pull the wool over their eyes.  This is done primarily by a monthly four page newsletter that is handed out by the ambassadors.  The second focus is on the broader community.  We feel that this is a model for a way to rejuvenate our cities, make them more livable while also helping to preserve the planet.  Since we believe that humans need to stay clustered in order to preserve places for other species, we need models for making our cities sustainable.  This committee keeps up the  ecovillage website,  gives presentations about it and welcomes new people who move here.

The Marketing Committee worked to advertise the houses available in the ecovillage.  The primary ways were to host a yearly house tour of the ecovillage and second, to offer monthly tours of the ecovillage.

Over the years new people have moved to the ecovillage including many young families.  The Marketing Committee ceased, and the Communications Committee took over many of their tasks.  And finally the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) began in 2009.  It is a CSA using backyards and lots rather than a farm.  It hires farmers and provides organically grown food grown in the city.  It has written and published a book called, “Starting Your Urban CSA, A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Community-Supported Agriculture Project in your Urban Neighborhood”.

We now have over a third of residents involved in the ecovillage, about a third open and another third indifferent to the ecological aspect of the ecovillage, but open to the positive changes that have taken place.  We have a neighborhood where almost everyone knows everyone else and enjoys being a part.

Thomas says, “We must now reinvent the human as species within the community of life species.”  Our goal with the ecovillage is reinvent ourselves, and to do it as a model for other neighborhoods.  We are in a time of serious Earth changes.  It is critical that we quickly reinvent ourselves, and to do it in the urban setting.  Enright Ridge Urban Ecovillage is a demonstration of one possible way of doing this.

 

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