Pioneering Sustainable Communities

Pioneering Sustainable Communities

Communal Living

Arising out of the sheer joy and nourishing effect of each other’s company, flower children created urban communal households, and rural and remote communes, as safe, trusting, gentle places to live their highest values with each other. Not founded on any doctrine or philosophy to create zealous fanatics, they found it effortless to relate well to each other at all times and under all circumstances, breaking for all time the long held myth of western civilisation of humanity’s inherent incapacity to get along with itself, beyond societal sanctioned nuclear families. Even strangers could relax into empathic accords without needing to introduce themselves.

One of their great contributions to sustainable communities was as groundbreaking forerunners to fully designed, wholistic and sustainable, life-affirming communities. By living effortlessly, self-sufficiently, communally and in harmony with nature, they demonstrated what people thought only traditional indigenous people were capable of doing. They broke the mould by demonstrating the cooperative, benevolent nature of people, and this enabled many others to understand that they would be able to live in cooperative and trusting, sustainable communities.

This small and brief experiment broke huge ground as a living demonstration that true, natural, human nature is really a lot better than our education had taught us, and that cooperative, uplifting living arrangements were entirely possible, enjoyable, easy and economically advantageous.

Community Households and Neighbourhoods

By the early 1970s, many people were becoming interested in cooperative living, but felt that communal living did not allow for sufficient individuality and personal growth. So they began to create urban and suburban, community households, where each person had their own room, living space and personal property. Increasingly, houses were networked together to pool and share where interests overlapped, and save time, energy, outlays, etc. As community households became more prevalent, local neighbourhoods of many community-households developed into large, sprawling, informal communities, with information exchanges, food co-ops, resource centres, bartering and work-sharing arrangements, enabling a more relaxed, higher quality of life. For many, city living in these areas became exiting and delightful, free from exploitation, crime and abusive living.

For some, the delights of immersing themselves in compassionate, ethical, solutions-based living, and enjoying better quality relationships with oneself, one another and society, was so exiting, and worked so well in their personal lives, they wanted to live it full time, and practice it in every moment of their lives, in everything they did, and with everybody they interacted with. For others, the most important reason was to create a sanctuary for healing and upliftment, a place most conducive to self-actualisation.  For yet others, the over-riding consideration was to create a living environment that would be safe and highly nurturing to raise their children, when they could grow knowing peace, harmony, security and creativity as an everyday reality.

In some instances it meant a person, a family or group of friends, giving up jobs, careers and incomes, and moving away from people they had grown up with and loved, and taking with them their new understandings and practices of better ways of living.

Sustainable Community Exploration

Rural communes and urban communal and community households together created the groundwork for further evolution, towards creating properly constructed, rural, sustainable communities, sometimes within commuting distance from mainstream employment. This would enable people to own their own houses, surrounding land and personal property, but also included commonly own land, community structures and community property, such as tractors, etc.

The 1970s was a time of much ongoing exploration and experimentation in many hundreds of new communities worldwide, for although many of the principles of sustainable living were known, they had yet to be practiced and proven at the group level in remote settings. There was a need to discover the personal/social balance, where a high level of community development combined with optimum personal growth of residents. This developed the practice of life-affirming, people-friendly, sustainable living, which reconciled and transcended the age-old conflict of the individual versus the collective, state etc. Now community development facilitated personal growth, and personal growth was resulting in greater community development. In general, these communities were founded upon:

  • the utmost respect for human dignity, and wished to live accordingly;
  • a deep urge to bring up their children healthy, wholesome and undamaged;
  • an appreciation of nature, and wished to live more naturally and self-sufficiently;
  • an understanding that such a fully viable way of life would not be inherently difficult to create and would significantly reduce living costs.

The general feeling in many communities was that it proved far easier and less expensive than originally envisaged.

Dynamics of Community

Towns and cities are relatively open loop systems that rely on significant throughput of money, materials, product, tourists, etc. Communities, by contrast, are substantially closed loop systems that build upon an inner energy dynamic that is are created, within the community itself, like a positive feedback loop. This gives communities the opportunity to improve significantly the community milieu (increasing social capital), so that everything can spiral upwards. It also means that if the milieu is not constantly improving, it is in danger of spiralling downwards. One could say that communities consider the balanced total of economic, social and personal growth. This compares to the search for continuously increasing economic-only growth in towns and cities, which is increasingly at the expense of social capital and human capital. Whereas cities are left-brain constructs, communities are whole-brain systems, and will invariably eventually fail, if they are pegged back to left-brain constraints.

Twin Pillars of Sustainable Communities

Sustainable communities are whole-brain organisations that are founded on two fundamental principles – true community (intentionality), and ecological sustainability:

  • to live in cooperative, human-friendly, life-affirming, self-actualising ways;
  • to live in health-promoting, environmentally-friendly, sustainable ways;

As communities evolved, they quickly found that each part needed the other for completion. Today they are considered both necessary for optimum outcomes, as naturally overlapping, mutually supporting foundational qualities, which together enable a completely integrated, wholistic, sustainable environment. They are described below, separately, to enable focus, simplify presentation and ease understanding.

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