Three “Organized Urban Neighborhood”
Urban Ecovillages in North America
Diana Leafe Christian reports about intentional communities in North American cities. She believes creating community in your existing neighborhood is a growing trend. In a few years we may have more organized-neighborhood projects to report on. Los Angeles Eco-Village
One of my favorite ecovillages in the U.S. is Los Angeles Eco-Village (http://laecovillage.org), located in the heart of inner city L.A.
As Los Angeles Eco-Village founder Lois Arkin and other urban ecovillage founders remind us the places that most need ecovillages are cities.
City dwellers need living models that demonstrate that even in big cities, we can enjoy more neighborhood cooperation and collaboration. We can grow organic vegetables, compost and recycle, and walk, take the bus, or bicycle to work.
And sometimes, like the three ecovillages described below, we can create them in our own urban neighborhoods.
Los Angeles Eco-Village (“LAEV” for short) is located in a two-block neighborhood around the “T” intersection of a long street and a shorter cul-de-sac street in the Wilshire Center/Koreatown area of Los Angeles, about three miles west of downtown L.A.
Most L.A. Eco-Villagers live in two adjacent 1920’s-era two-story apartment buildings at the T-intersection (with 37 and 8 apartments respectively) and a four-plex building on a corner across the intersection.
The Urban Soil-Tierra Urbana Limited Equity Housing Cooperative, founded by several LAEV members, owns the two adjacent buildings. In 2010, its sister organization, the Beverly-Vermont Community Land Trust, purchased the corner four-plex jointly with CRSP, LAEV’s founding nonprofit development organization.
About 60 people live in the three buildings. Approximately 40 people are “intentional neighbors,” living there specifically to be a part of L.A. Eco-Village. About 20 are the original tenants in, and while they only rarely participate in LAEV activities, they are good neighbors. A few more intentional neighbors live in another apartment within the two-block neighborhood.
The 37-unit apartment building has a large lobby and a large courtyard with a tall, shady magnolia tree, fruit trees, and a few dozen varieties of organic vegetables. They raise chickens in the courtyard and have a beehive on the roof. LAEV members use their lobby and courtyard for shared meals, parties and other social events, meetings, and public events like Permaculture workshops.
A large apartment unit in the larger building serves as their community meeting room.
LAEV residents compost and recycle their wastes, conserve their energy and water, and send much of their kitchen and shower water to their greywater systems. Their larger building has a re-circulating solar hot water system; half of the units in the smaller building have solar electricity.
Everyone gets $25 off their rent if they don’t own a car.
LAEV is the most multi-racial, multi-cultural ecovillage I’ve seen. Several years ago when I did a workshop for LAEV members, each person around the room represented a different continent — Latin America, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Looking around the room I thought, “Wow, these folks are the world!”
Individual ecovillage members, and sometimes the whole community, have initiated several ecological projects in the city. For example:
* The Food Lobby, an organic produce and bulk-food co-op, with about 40 members from LAEV and other areas of the city.
* The EcoMaya Festival, a Yucatan-culture environmental fair they hosted for several years.
* The Bicycle Kitchen, providing coffee, snacks, tools, and expertise to help people learn to repair their own bicycles. It’s now a nonprofit with its own building several miles away, but it was started by an LAEV member in a vacant apartment in the larger building.
* The tri-annual CicLAvia bicycle festival hosted by the City of Los Angeles, first suggested to the L.A. mayor in 2006 by two LAEV members.
* The “Shared Street” project on the longer street in the T-intersection. At LAEV’s request, the city gave the street a narrower, more meandering shape by curving out and widening various parts of the sidewalks and parkways, with water-permeable pavement to prevent runoff, curb cuts for wheelchairs and bikes, and macadamia nut trees planted in the parkways.
Los Angeles Eco-Village was founded in 1993 by Lois Arkin and a group of activists who planned a 50 million-dollar “ecological village” in another part of town. But when the LA Riots erupted in 1992,many parts of L.A. went up in flames, including five fires in the neighborhood where Lois lived, in what is now L.A. Eco-Village. “It was a no-brainer,” Lois said, “for us to unanimously and enthusiastically decide not to start a new-construction project, but to plant seeds of cooperative community where people already lived — in this case, in the heart of my own two-block neighborhood.”
Lois and the early ecovillage members wanted to buy and renovate two adjacent apartment buildings on the T-intersection, so CRSP, the nonprofit Lois founded in 1980, created an Ecological Revolving Loan Fund to buy the buildings. This was a no-collateral loan fund with multiple lenders providing from $2,500 to $100,000 in loans. In 1996 Ross and Hildur Jackson’s Gaia Trust gave the project a boost by becoming the Fund’s first substantial loan, and this attracted additional loans. In 1996 CRSP used the fund to buy the larger apartment building; in 1999, they bought the second building.
By 2006 the rental income to CRSP was enough to retrofit the buildings, hire professional management, pay off all the loans, and keep rents at half the market rate for rents in the area. The same year, 2006, several LAEV members created the nonprofit Beverly-Vermont Land Trust.
Four years later, in 2010, a group of L.A. Eco-Villagers created Urban Soil/Terra Urbana Limited Equity Housing Co-op in order to buy the two apartment buildings from CRSP (but not the land under them). Also in 2010 CRSP and the Beverly-Vermont Land Trust jointly acquired the four-plex apartment building across the intersection.
In 2012, CRSP, acting as owner-financer, sold the two buildings to Urban Soil/Terra Urbana Housing Co-op. CRSP offered the co-op a $1.2 million mortgage with a very low interest rate (2 percent) and interest-only payments for the first several years. At the same time, CRSP donated the land under the two apartment buildings to the Beverly-Vermont Land Trust.
Now, some LAEV members are shareholder-owners of the Urban Soil/Terra Urbana Housing Co-op, and other members rent apartments from the Co-op, as do the original long- term tenants. LAEV members who bought shares in the Co-op paid low rates too — between $1500 and $6000, depending on the size of their apartment.
“Household income levels of LAEV members are primarily very low to moderate,” Lois says, “so incoming members must qualify with a low-enough income to be accepted as a renter.” Rents are still only about half the market rates in the area.
Co-op shareholders make decisions about the legal and substantial financial issues of their two buildings, and board members of the land trust make decisions about the legal and financial issues of the four-plex. And all LAEV members together make decisions about all other aspects of their shared ecovillage life, through a variety of committees and weekly community meetings, using consensus as their decision-making method.
While much of inner-city Los Angeles and many cities throughout North America are struggling with racial and multi-cultural tensions, L.A. Eco-Villagers work together — and have fun — demonstrating how to live more simply and sustainably, and inspiring other city dwellers to do the same.
Continue reading about Enright Ridge Urban Ecovillage, Cincinnati, Ohio: http://news.ecovillage.org/en/node/4924