DANIEL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS
‘I want to be able to do the right thing, but I can’t do that without other people’. Smiling and sipping on his pho, Daniel confidently responds to the first question of our informal lunchtime interview: Why do you want to join an intentional community? Daniel is a 24-year-old from San Antonio, Texas who has spent the last two years teaching English in Madrid. He has recently moved to L.A. in the hope of becoming a member of the Los Angeles Eco-Village, a community of around 40 people who have chosen to live together in order to be more environmentally aware and impose a lower ecological footprint.
Daniel became interested in permaculture and sustainable living after his friends launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a greenhouse farming project in Texas. It wasn’t so much the agriculture that hooked him, but the practice in permaculture of ‘stacking functions’, or multi-functioning systems which minimise wastage by turning the unwanted output of one practice into the desirable input of another practice – one of the simplest examples of permaculture is using animal manure to fertilise vegetables. Daniel is also an avid musician, and explains that the environmental messages of his musical heros – such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke – have influenced his commitment to the cause.
After his two years in Spain, Daniel was ready to move back to his own culture. He chose L.A. for a host of reasons. The first was that he wanted to live in a large and diverse city. He matched this desire with his beliefs that Californians are generally more welcoming and friendly to his worldview than other demographics in the U.S., and that L.A. was in more dire need of environmental activists than the San Francisco bay area. His other reason was that L.A. was the home of the Los Angles Eco-Village (LAEV).
Daniel had stayed in a rural eco-village outside Madrid for two weeks and had asked the residents for their opinion on the LAEV. After watching a few online interviews and documentaries – and speaking to others in the international eco-village network – they gave their seal of approval, affirming that the LAEV looked like the real deal.
Upon arriving in L.A., Daniel had no hesitation in visiting the L.A. eco-village and stating his intentions of joining. He was advised to move slow, and first attend some of the Sunday evening ‘pot luck’ dinners where he could informally get to know some of the residents, and see if they needed any help with any of their projects. When I met Daniel, two months after his arrival in L.A., he was already involved in a collection of projects at the LAEV – including tending the garden, helping a sick resident with some daily chores, and helping one member with his Wednesday afternoon free music lessons, which he gives on the street in front of the main house. Daniel was also about to undergo the first formal step in his initiation process, a open forum group interview in which members of the community ask Daniel questions on his reasons for wanting to join, his long-term life goals, and how he makes an income.
Despite the relative haste with which Daniel has committed to joining the LAEV, his reasoning seems a mature balance between pragmatism and idealism. He admits that paying lower rent will mean he has more time to focus on his music, but he especially wants to use the opportunity to learn more about sustainable living. The LAEV is alive with ecological workshops – e.g. how to manage grey water (semi-polluted water from sinks and showers etc) – documentary film nights, lectures by leading environmentalists and community engagement events. Daniel is aware that by literally surrounding himself with such activities he will stay continually inspired and engaged. His current residence has no opportunity for recycling, the LAEV has many.
Daniel is also aware of one of the undervalued perks of living in an intentional community – travel without travel. By proudly living with a humane intention, and by offering affordable guest accommodation and often a work-share (work for your board and bed) option, eco-villages are magnets for international eccentrics who are also looking to change the world. Even the residents of the most far flung communities seem to get their dose of new ideas and new inspiration through the hundreds of visitors that may stop in throughout the year. Instead of searching through the L.A. Times for exciting events concerning sociology, anthropology and the environment, Daniel merely needs to stroll down to the community dinner and see who’s dropped in for the night.
There are of course downsides to living in the LAEV. The internal politics of any intentional community are fiery at the best of times, but the LAEV perhaps struggles more than some for two reasons. One is that despite its underlying ‘eco-ness’, the members don’t seem to have an exact unifying intention. Individuals seem to have chosen to live there for a wider variety of reasons than other communities I’ve visited, which makes developing consensus on practical issues a slightly harder task. Two is that the LAEV is in a city. The continuous reminder that the have-nots of the world are suffering – homeless crack addicts are a regular feature of the LAEV neighbourhood – can seed despondency towards the values which the community shares: it’s difficult to keep focused on recycling when the hungry and mad are sleeping on your front porch. The city is also alluring, aggravating, enthralling and exhausting – your favourite band is playing but it costs $50, whirring sirens are only nulled by the roar of helicopters, and cycling to work requires super-human awareness to navigate the eternal 5-lane traffic.
The ideas in the above paragraph are my own reflections, and I didn’t discuss them in detail with Daniel. Hopefully the next time I see him he will be able to tell me if and how these negatives have influenced his life at the LAEV. For now, I’ll end this post with a story from Daniel that is perfect for understanding the benefits of community – and how community can be the antidote of mind-frazzling city life.
In his first few weeks in L.A., Daniel was cycling to visit the L.A. Eco-Village and was hit by a car. After the driver attempted to bribe him with a $100 bill, Daniel stumbled away and walked his bike to his destination. While he waited for a community members’ meeting to finish, one of the other residents realised he was in pain and offered to drive him to the hospital. When Daniel returned to the LAEV and told his story, the community rose up to help. Being big into bike advocacy, one member asked Daniel if he was going to get a bike lawyer. Daniel had never heard of this. The member continued to tell Daniel that there were a number of lawyers in L.A. who could offer legal advice and perhaps take on his case pro-bono; they were committed to changing bicycle law in the city and would be happy to help. You can’t search for a bike lawyer on Google if you don’t know they exist. Without the community, Daniel would have never known about the help he could get, and would perhaps have had less confidence riding again in the future. By surrounding himself with people who inspired him – by seeking community – Daniel found the help he needed without even needing to look.
Los Angeles Eco-Village: http://laecovillage.org/