Design for Life: Bringing Life to the City

This Los Angeles eco-community pulses with diversity and is surrounded by rich organic gardens.

| January/February 2003

  • Members of the Los Angeles Eco-Village gather regularly for potluck meals in the street.
    Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Eco-Village

If you live in town and think that you need to move to the country to live naturally, it’s time to think again. No place needs your love of life as much as cities and suburbs do, and you can create a rich, increasingly sustainable life right where you are by joining with your neighbors to multiply your positive impact.

My greatest inspiration for revitalized urban living comes from the Los Angeles Eco-Village. The name itself usually evokes surprise: How can there be an eco-village in one of the most consumptive, car-based, sprawling, polluted cities in this country? And the Eco-Villagers respond: Where is healing more needed?

In the belly of the beast

I’m intrigued by what L.A. Eco-Village is not. It’s not a group of exclusively white, upwardly mobile people master-planning a community on pristine land and leaving the city behind. L.A. Eco-Village is growing in the midst of the worst problems of city living, and its organizers are taking one step at a time, responding to local needs and monitoring their progress, drawing in people from diverse backgrounds, and continually reassessing their priorities.

L.A. Eco-Village was born of an earlier endeavor: a group of like-minded people planning a new eco-village in Southern California. But after the L.A. riots of 1992, the group re-examined their priorities. One of the members, Lois Arkin, had lived for fourteen years in an inner-city Los Angeles neighborhood of apartment buildings, surrounded by neighbors from fifteen ethnic groups, many of whom feared each other; the children didn’t even play together. The eco-village planning group decided to refocus their efforts there.

When I visited L.A. Eco-Village in 1994, Esfandiar Abbassi, one of the Eco-Villagers, told me how it began: “It literally started with people talking to each other: ‘Hi, I’m so-and-so, I’ve seen you on the streets, what’s your name?’ Some of us were interested in gardening, so we started planting things, and gradually the neighbors said, ‘Can we help out, too?’ When the first garden was put in, we had Saturday potluck brunches there—and watched the biology of the neighborhood change as butterflies and bees and birds started coming in.”

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