Preservationist Villages

by Terry Sterrenberg

There is an extensive history of groups of people who have set themselves apart from the rest of the culture to try to become independent and develop sustainable communities .  Many groups have tried to go “off the grid”.  This has been happening for decades.  So when Laurie and I decided to put forth a project called “The Villaging Project’, part of me questioned if it had any value.   Making a movie about intentional communities seemed a bit mundane and archaic. We decided very quickly that the project was not just about intentional communities and eco-villages.  Villaging is not about “going off the grid” although that may happen.  Villaging is not about being defiant or angry.  It is about taking care of ourselves and restablishing trust, cooperation and understanding of our diversity in our  communities.

When I say it is about taking care of ourselves you may think I am talking about moving out into the country, going back to the land, stocking up on food.  As Chistopher Mare says there often is a “predisposition toward imagining sustainable community experiements, especially ecovillages, as isolated rural outposts with ‘survivalist’ tendencies’.”  However, such communities at some point can only survive by constructing walls around themselves and arming their children with machine guns.  That is not the future I want to help create.

There is another kind of community that has a much more beneficient existence.  These communities exist not in isolation with their neighbors but in active, collective relationship with them.  Their goal is to provide a safe and thriving existience for those that live there.  Borrowing from Heinberg, Mare calls them “preservationist communities”.  “Preservationist communities, … will persist through acts of service that will make them indispensable to the regional population. Members of such communities will teach important skills – food growing and storage, tool and clothing making, house and boat building, renewable energy generation, and more; and provide healing, entertainment, general education, spiritual leadership and counseling, exchange depots for food and other commodities, seed banks, biodiversity refuges, and more. Survivalist communities will need to protect themselves from the people around them; preservationist communities will be protected by the people they serve” (Heinberg, 2004, p. 160).

Mare goes on to say  “The first groups to consciously move in this direction and have the wherewithal to successfully set up viable working models just may become the protected ‘preservationist’ communities that Heinberg envisions – for they will be pioneering lifestyles, life ways, and life knowing that will become the guides from which others may learn.”

Such models do indeed exist and they are providing direction for  a future world.  We have found elements of all our characteristics of a village  in many of the intentional communities we have researched and visited.  So far we have found only one that has all of our elements- Auroville, and it is in India. Villaging is a way to change our culture and where these ecovillages have been functioning well they have had an impact.  For example, a few days ago we watched an inspiring video about “the Urban Farming Guys” from Kansas City, MO.  This video illustrates how establishing urban farming can combat homelessness and poverty.  This is not the only program  that does this.  We also discovered “The Millionair Club” in Seattle WA. and “Opportunity Village” in Eugene, OR.    From the little we know these programs all seem to be doing a lot of good and helping a lot of people with shelter, food and jobs.  They are breakthrough programs that help people at a fundamental level to change their  lives, and they illustrate  how  “villaging”   can be designed to help elimanate poverty.  We do know that where basic needs are met, poverty and homelessness disappear (Utah).  We need to know more and we plan to visit some of these programs. They do fall under the category of charity which is very different than “villaging”.