I made a great choice to buy a condo at Columbia Ecovillage in Northeast Portland. I was lonely, tired of the American dream of the single family home, and ready to experiment with community living. I took a tour of several communities sponsored by a national Co-housing Association and immediately fell in love with the land, gardens and feel of this almost-4-acre property, with farmhouse and fruit trees and chickens and bees. I rented first (great idea!) and then was able to purchase a condo and begin to put down roots.
So what is a co-housing community and what is an “eco-village”? From my perspective: co-housing communities provide a strong sense of connection and an antidote to loneliness through sharing (tools, cars, resources), collaboration (shared decision making and work), and friendship (meals, parties, dances, impromptu afternoon tea). They range wildly in size, values, priorities, locations, and foci. But most have large concentrations of older, single women (that could be an essay on why, but it seems obvious in our culture and given gender demographics and cultures); some shared meals; collective decision making; and a focus on sustainability. Most do not hire out “help” and require some level of service to the community. In our case, we must contribute at least 9 hours per month of service, doing whatever we prefer to do: manual labor? cooking? accounting? conflict resolution? chicken care? cleaning? It’s a struggle to keep up 4 acres of land with extensive fruit plantings, a community garden, and multiple buildings with an increasingly aging population.
An “eco-village” has a less focused meaning. When I moved in early in 2015, I was not informed, required or otherwise questioned about my commitment to the environment; I just said I was an avid organic gardener. I didn’t confess that I was also an avid ornamental gardener. I discovered that this community contains a wide range of beliefs about the environment and tremendous conflict as a result. Some folks are on-the-street activists trying to slow climate change. Others press for planting only native plants, others for permaculture cultivations, and others weep for their longstanding, beautiful ornamental gardens which they left behind. These plantings are considered by many to be water-hungry, non-food producing, non-native scullduggery! Most of us are happy to support all-organic cultivation, rainwater harvesting, extensive composting, and $5 per dozen fresh eggs, but not all of us are environmental activists. My observation is that the largest conflicts in our community arise from differences about the use and care of this land.
I love it here! I’m a social being. I love people, and there are plenty of folks here to hang with who are positive, constructive, kind, speak effectively when they disagree, and fun-loving. I love being the Meals Pod Leader who helps to support the twice-per-week meals, cooks a lot, and helps to organize the human activity that is so important to the fibre of the community- sharing food. And I love living on an urban property that often feels like a country farm. There aren’t enough queers here to suit my taste and it’s challenging sometimes to live at such close quarters with a predominantly heterosexual vibe- sometimes too much like a giant family reunion- but I’m grateful for this imperfect, lovely, family!