By Mary Westervelt, MBA candidate, Marlboro Graduate School

From Quality of Life: Whole Systems: EcoVillage at Ithaca and Ithaca New York
Liz Walker, author and co-founder EcoVillage at Ithaca

If Liz Walker were given the 140 characters of our SLS Tweeters, she might write “Co-housing in the Eco-Village Ithaca is the practice of learning how to create a new community-minded culture & practicing it every day, over & over”.  In the 20+ years since the EVI launched, its residents have been engaged in the practice of learning community through doing community.  Tackling the questions of community energy profiles, fresh food access, and serving the whole has been an iterative process.  As they ready to launch their third neighborhood, TREE, they are taking the lessons learned and putting them to good use.

Boiling the myriad lessons that Liz shared, here are a few that stuck with this audience member:

1) Stay in the stream.

Community living is not for the faint of heart.  It requires deep listening, which is a learned skill.  Over time, residents learn to listen and appreciate one another, even if their relationships are filled with dissonance.  You may never achieve “love thy neighbor” perfection, but you will learn to respect their opinions and love their humanity.  That’s a deep personal transformation that’s worth waiting for.

2) Get to work.

EVI community members aren’t monitored to ensure they go the extra mile for the community, but they’re missing out if they don’t.  Its in working together – sweating in the fields of the on-site CSA, lugging bags of sand for the Earth Bag root cellar, or a getting into the nitty-gritty at a tough community meeting – that you get to know your neighbors.  Working together means sharing ideas to creatively problem solve, which enhances both the participants and the community.  And doing something to serve the community also deepens your connection and dedication to the place, and people, you call home.

3) Keep growing.

At EVI, they try not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good (a theme here at the Slow Living Summit).  So they move forward even when they know they haven’t nailed down the perfect solution.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t keep trying to improve.  One attendee asked a challenging question that resonated with many audience members: how does EVI addressing concerns about economic sorting, given that this community is almost exclusively available to those able to buy an Ithaca market-rate home.  It’s a question that Walker was prepared for.  EVI has come up with several solutions for making the advantages of their knowledge and lifestyle accessible to a more diverse community.  Most significantly, their new neighborhood will include a significant percentage of affordably priced units, starting with $80,000 studio apartments.

4) Have fun.

Community living means sharing in celebration as well as in work.  From the annual Guys Baking Pies party to big birthday bashes, EVI community members take the time to reap the rewards of a healthy, vibrant community.

For those interested in getting Walker’s wisdom from the source, she’s compiled a book of lessons learned, available through their website, www.ecovillageithaca.com.