Lois Arkin is the founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit CRSP (the Cooperative Resources & Services Project) Institute for Urban Ecovillages. In 1993, she co-founded the Los Angeles Eco-Village as a project of CRSP. Other organizations that she’s co-founded or have grown out of CRSP include the Eco-Home Network, the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing, the Beverly-Vermont Community Land Trust, and the Urban Soil Tierra Urbana Limited Equity Housing Co-op (LEHC). She is co-author and co-editor ofSustainable Cities: Concepts and Strategies for Eco-City Development andCooperative Housing Compendium: Resources for Collaborative Living. In the late 1980s, Lois received an award from the American Planning Association-L.A. Section for Advocacy Planning for, in her own words, “having a big mouth.” She is also a founding member of the Ecovillage Network of the Americas and a board member of the Global Village Institute.
In this episode, the first of two with Lois on the subject of ecovillages and the Los Angeles Eco-Village in particular, we explore what constitutes an ecovillage, the history of the ecovillage movement, and Lois’ own experience as an ecovillage founder. From her suburban childhood romping unfettered amid her close-knit neighborhood, to working with troubled youth in inner city Los Angeles in the 1960’s, Lois was passionately drawn to explore the question of how to reinvent urban living to enhance quality of life and address the underlying causes of social ills. This aspiration took a decisive turn in the wake of the L.A. riots in 1992. In light of the glaring, urgent needs this tragedy exposed, a plan to build a demonstration ecological neighborhood on an unpopulated site outside the downtown area was scrapped in favor of revitalizing and retrofitting Lois’ own 2-block Koreatown neighborhood. Beginning January 1st, 1993, Lois and fellow volunteers hit the streets, talking to neighbors, spreading “positive gossip, ” planting trees and garden plots with children, hosting social events, all intended to build a sense of safety and community. Thus were laid the foundations of the Los Angeles Eco-Village.
What inspires me most about Lois’ story and ecovillages generally is their truly integrative approach to re-envisioning how human beings inhabit the planet. Taking into account the social, economic, environmental, and technological dimensions of shared living, ecovillages function as research and development centers, evaluating new possibilities and critically reevaluating processes and practices that the dominant culture takes for granted. In the case of Los Angeles Eco-Village, this includes integrating human-scale, ecological technologies, growing food and running a food cooperative, establishing an affordable housing co-op and community revolving loan fund, implementing inclusive, participatory decision-making and conflict resolution processes, all within the heart of a preexisting urban neighborhood.
Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.