A beautiful paradise dropped in the middle of a city center setting an ideal example of sustainability for the future…
This urban community serves as an awe-inspiring example of the potential of the end all be all of “pave paradise, and put up a parking lot”. Let me tell you why.
Kailesh Ecovillage is an urban intentional community located in Portland, Oregon that was gracious enough to arrange for me to visit. Apparently, the thirty unit apartment building was in dire conditions when Ole and Maitri invested in the property with hopes to start a new project- an intentional community with a focus on sustainability.
They bought the neighboring home for themselves and for use as an office, and they depaved a parking lot to put up paradise. Literally.
Bruce explains to me that a pool was taken out, a basement deconstructed, and a whole big chunk of the parking lot was depaved in order to make ample room for gardening. Bruce is a resident who was nice enough to take time out of his day to show me around and answer a few questions I had about life in the community. He was an outgoing, lighthearted person who graciously flowed from area to area in the garden ahead of me. I instantly felt at ease in his presence; he was super friendly, intelligent, and clearly a true lover of life. I learned a lot in my time with him as it turns out he is a professor in sustainability at the local university.
The community is an ever-improving environment that not only runs self-sufficiently, but also maintains prepared for the possibility of impending natural disasters causing extreme conditions for survival. Their core values consist of sustainability, experimentation, and diversity. The property is fully equipped with solar panels, natural heating and ac, rain entrapment systems, gardens, a food forest, composting toilets, humanure and compost stations, and more.
I stood on a cement chip patio outside the community room where a local organization, Food Not Bombs, was preparing for a free community meal they would be serving at a park around the corner. I was laughing at the rain water whimsically pouring down off of a series of creatively designed decorative chains constructed by the community’s handyman. The rain drains off of the building, into pipes, and is eventually redirected down through the chains and sent misting down on the admirers below in a sort of Rube Goldberg fashion. Along with the serious potential for a more environmentally friendly future this group displayed to the surrounding community, this archway stands as proof that it can be a rather fun and fanciful process.
We moved on into the garden where community members work together to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. (It was here that I once again was assured that I was going to get along great with my guide when he commented on how trippy the artichoke plants were.) There was also an area where individuals could have private plots to grow anything else they wished for their own personal use. There is a community share table located in the center of the apartment complex where they can then leave out any surplus crops they grow for anyone in the community to pick up for free- a pretty neat idea if you ask me!
I was lucky enough to sample some of the fresh berries in the community garden and they were absolutely delicious. In this area, Bruce told me about the bioswales and introduced me to the wood chip depot. Here, people from the local town can drop off their wood chips and sawdust free of charge and the community in turn uses it as the dry component in their compost which they collect in a cement block construct behind the complex and prepare for use during periodic volunteer-work parties. This compost is then layered throughout the community gardens.
This brings me to another unique aspect of this community that I find really cool. All the work done on the property is completely on a volunteer basis; there is no pressure to contribute a certain amount of work or to do tasks that members don’t want to do. There aren’t mandatory meetings or formal gatherings. There is a community email list that sometimes residents will use to invite people outback for a bonfire or to plan to gather later that night in the community room for a movie, however there aren’t any formally planned events. He tells me this is one of the things that really drew him to the community. There is no sense of obligatory tasks to have to try to fit into an already busy schedule.
We passed the founders’ home: a PassivHaus model meaning it is a heat retaining structure due to thick layers of installation that does not require outside sources of heat or air conditioning. From here we ventured out into the food garden. Here we found ourselves on a winding path that twisted through a succession of fruit trees.
“I believe this one is a plum tree”.
Bruce said as he examined the unripe seed he had just plucked, twirling it back and forth between three fingers. He then looked up and enthusiastically jumped forward to show me their bee hive area ahead before moving onto a new project he was really passionate about.
He explained that Portland is expected to have a massive earthquake in the relatively near future. This is widely agreed upon by many experts. When this happens the town is going to be dramatically effected. The preservation and conservation of resources and the ability to be self-sufficient will be really important. Things many people in today’s society depend on for daily life will no longer be accessible, one of which being the sewer system. The village has created a system to recycle waste and convert it into… you guessed it! More compost. The project has taken off so quickly that people from the community are dropping off buckets of their own waste! They are in the review process now to receive a permit to expand the project from the city. They are hoping that this can be an example to the surrounding community on how to be self-sufficient and eco-friendly. However in my mind, their entire existence here is a profound example of just that… an ideal reaching point for society at large!
By this point I start to see the wonder in living in an urban ecovillage. I had visited intentional communities set out in rural landscapes and they were beautiful escapes in and of themselves, however it seemed so crazy to me to think that I was standing in the middle of this lush and varying landscape with a truly sacred intention clearly resonating throughout the paradise…. and yet steps outside the gate lied a bustling city. Bars, shops, and highways lie within walking distance and skyscrapers hosting wealthy corporations not far beyond that. It was beautiful that there was a group of devoted individuals who were able to maintain this shared love for the Earth, and really a shared understanding via a lifted level of consciousness to keep a safe haven like this alive and thriving in the middle of a chaotic city center. It felt truly magical to let that notion wash over me as I stood smiling and conversing with this long haired, joyous fella with John Lennon style golden oval glasses emphasizing the curiosity and enthusiasm alive in the eyes behind the metal frame.
Last but not least we wondered over to the meditation area. There is a small bench situated across from a rock area that fills up with water after a good rain. We climb over the rocks and through the brush into a clearing. Here there are more seats surrounded by enormous bamboo shoots reaching high up into the sky. He begins to tell me how fascinated he is by the amount these trees have grown every time he gets back here. He grabs onto one tree and I think he is going to say that this tree is only three or four years old which I think is astounding. But I stand corrected when he says that this tree is only three to four weeks! I can’t even imagine what it will look like three to four years from now.
The meditation area is one aspect Bruce mentions when I ask him about the impact being located in an urban setting has had on the community. He tells me that sometimes they’ll be sitting meditating, but right on the other side of the bamboo trees is a neighbor who will be outside sitting on the cell phone chit chatting it up, and you just gotta accept that.
After just a short amount of time in the ecovillage I find myself thinking that I could definitely see myself being happy living in a community such as this one. And considering the owners offer the units at a rate drastically lower than comparable units in surrounding locations with no need to pay for services such as heat, water, and garbage…. I don’t see much reason not to!