Eco Village Ithaca: Community Living in an Eco-Minded Way

by Sherrie Kelly

Sean David

This past weekend our Sustainability Semester travelled a few hours south to Eco Village Ithaca (EVI). EVI is an intentional community of around 160 people that promote community with the environment in mind.

We arrived on Friday afternoon and began with a tour of the community by one of its cofounders, Liz Walker. Walker established the community 23 years ago, and it has since grown and evolved in ways she did not imagine. The Village is comprised of three neighborhoods with a common house in each. Many decisions are made at the village and neighborhood level in a number of committees ranging from the outdoors crew to the cook team.

One of the things Liz Walker stressed was the co-housing model at Eco Village. Co-housing originated in Denmark, but has since grown to a worldwide phenomenon with 225 co-housing models within the US. The idea is interaction by design and it is noticeable when you look down the neighborhood “street.” But this is not a normal street – no cars are allowed. Instead it is more of a path, winding through the connected condo-like structures where the villagers live. Even this small change has led to so much more interaction with neighbors and the community at large.

Another feature, the common house, is designed to bring people together. For example, instead of having personal washers and dryers each common house has its own laundry room. There is a kitchen, playroom for children, and living spaces for the community to gather. Meals take place three times a week in each common house so that the community may share dinner together as well.

For us, coming to EVI for two days and one night was an incredible and hopeful experience.   Meeting community members throughout our visit allowed us to get better insight about daily village life.  We met some incredible people during meal times and along the tour, which created in depth conversations about sustainability and our futures.   For example, Ray who is an educational tour guide welcomed us into his brand new, energy-efficient home that is part of the third neighborhood still being constructed.  Although Ray was not scheduled or asked to lead us around, he was extremely welcoming and was a valuable part of our visit as he answered our questions about EVI.

One of the most interesting interactions we had was after dinner as a number of villagers and our group gathered in the Song Common House to watch a new Showtime Series called “Years of Living Dangerously.” After sharing that viewing and some really, really good popcorn we all sat around on the comfy couches to discuss our own roles in protecting the environment in the future. The tables had turned; the Eco Villagers were no longer the targets of our questions but vice versa.

Ray, Marty (who had spoken to us earlier in the day about food at EVI), Elan and Marty’s partner all began to ask us questions about where we stood and how we felt about the environmental reality of our times. Some of us said we were interested in renewables, others weren’t sure what their roles were going to be, some contemplated living in places like EVI and some proposed becoming culture creators for a more eco-minded world. The discussion was an organic and thought -nurturing way to wind down our first day at Eco Village. And it left us with a sense of being a part of something greater, something that made us unquestionably connected to these people and how we all relate, in our own ways, to the problems and solutions of environmental issues.

The connection between our sustainability community and EVI is a connection we want to foster into the future.  This was no ordinary community that we visited.  EVI held strong community principles that created unique bonds among villagers.  Each member of the community is expected to devote two to four hours each week volunteering in the community whether that be on committees or helping out with the community meals.  Each member was committed to a mission larger to themselves and to their village.   From St. Lawrence to the Sustainability Semester to Eco Village Ithaca, community is key.  Although it may not look the same everywhere, it is an important part of sustainable future.

pic 1 - The first neighborhood Common House, the building we stayed in on our overnight adventure.
pic 2 - Walking on the “street” through the first neighborhood. Co-housing by design.
pic 3 - An aquaponics system in Marty’s home!
pic 4 - The group at Eco Village Ithaca with Tom and Carol: two St. Lawrence alums that found us, residents of the second neighborhood.
pic 5 - Artisanal gourds by “Hands On Gourds” at the Eco Village workshop.