I want to address some problems that exist with some current types of intentional communities.
An ecovillage is a community based on the premise that we can counter the environmentally damaging effects of modern lifestyles by developing a physical community which uses little to no oil generated energy, recycles, and integrates other strategies for reducing footprint. This sounds wonderful, but there are some major problems with the idea as it is practiced in reality. One is that practically any neighborhood can call itself an ecovillage or a “green” community if it is using something seen or portrayed as “green”. I have seen advertisements promoting gated communities which require organic or “green” lawncare, recycling, and have energy efficient housing. Certainly, this is an improvement on conventional gated communities and on suburbian design in general. However, this is a small bandage that is really an attempt to allow things to continue pretty much as as they have, without requiring any real significant changes or sacrifices to lifestyle. I’ll start with an easy example: these lawns could be cared for with certified organic businesses. But that does not begin to even think about addressing the problems of excessive land use/misuse for individual houses. It does not say anything about biodiversity or the huge environmental impact caused by gas run lawnmowers. It does not provide for rainfall dispersal and watershed preservation, and it could still be rare to have a commons.
But the greatest flaw of these types of communities is their exclusiveness. And this is not just a trait of “green” gated neighborhoods…. it persists through the design of many intentional communities. Recently on the community bulletin board at work, there was an advertisement for a “Solar Village” with “generous income requirements”. This was $68,000 for one person! It is understandable that since these communities, often newly built, and with expensive features and technologies, need some way to pay for the land, the buildings, materials, and services. However, requiring that level guarantees that, while the community will be financially stable, it will also tend strongly to exclude the following people: many blue-collar workers, young people, blacks, latinos, asians, the handicapped, poorer artists and artisans, small-scale farmers, activists, non-profit workers, and students. Excluding these groups from a community constitutes a huge flaw. Some of these groups, such as activists, artists, farmers, students, and young people represent groups which have very high potential to be vibrant, active, and innovative.But excluding any population of people from a system called “sustainable” is problematic. If only the wealthy can afford “sustainble” lifestyles, what happens to the poor people? Since there is a huge population of poor relative to wealthy, we will not have truly sustainable systems unless they account for everyone. That is to say, if some groups have access to solar power and other forms of renewable energy, but the poor can only rely on coal, oil, and other non-renewable energy sources, then we are not building a future which is truly sustainable. This type of use and abuse of the term “sustainability” makes it into a form of status and propagation of problematic forms of organizing society.