5 Urban Village Projects Transforming Communities

Reposted from Shareable.net

The traditional ancestral practice known in the West as “barn raising” is present in village societies on every continent and has its roots in our tribal past. An adapted form of barn raising has recently seen a resurgence in the “urban village,” with grassroots community organizations transforming physical and social landscapes in cities. They do so by adding value to the community, creating bonds of trust and comradeship, and linking neighbors together. There are hundreds of urban village projects around the world. Below are five worth watching.

1. City Repair and the Village-Building Convergence

City Repair is a Portland-based non-profit organization focused on placemaking. According to their website, they facilitate artistic and ecologically-oriented placemaking through projects that honor the interconnection of human communities and the natural world.

The organization’s centerpiece is the Village-Building Convergence, an annual modern-day urban barn raising event. This event takes places at more than 50 sites simultaneously across Portland, where neighborhoods come together to create new spaces.

The three primary activities are natural building, permaculture, and intersection repair, which often involves painting street intersections with murals. The presence of these murals causes traffic to slow down and has been directly correlated with a decrease in traffic accidents. Physical outcomes of City Repair efforts include beautified intersections, community gardens, naturally built structures such as benches, and an expansion of the commons.

Spin-offs of the convergence have emerged in Santa Barbara and Sebastopol, as well as PLACE for Sustainable Living in Oakland. City Repair created a manual for how to organize a Village Building Convergence and the event has the potential to be replicated globally. City Repair has also achieved success in shifting Portland city policy to give citizens more control over public space.

Share-It Square in Portland. Photo: Happy Travels Blog

City Repair brings people together to reimagine the places they live and to re-create the commons. The organization started its work by reclaiming these spaces through direct action, such as their iconic Share It Square project, where neighbors came together and decided, despite the Portland city government, that their intersection would be improved by a central mural, a tiny library box, a self-serving solar-powered tea station, a community message board, and a children’s play space. They created these features themselves. Now, the City of Portland recognizes the great benefit these common spaces provide and has permitted the process of Intersection Repair.

Through the activities of City Repair, neighbors are skill-sharing and creating new relationships. As the commons are reclaimed and beautified, more public gathering spaces are made available for Portland’s citizens to congregate. Portland’s neighborhoods are forming closer bonds, and fences are coming down to make way for urban wildlife corridors.

2. Permaculture Action Network

Photo: Zac Fabian

The Permaculture Action Network emerged from the Permaculture Action Tour, a collaboration between permaculture designers, community organizers, and electronic music producer David Sugalski (“The Polish Ambassador”). The goal of the tour was “to inspire and empower people with the tools and know-how of co-creating a sustainable and regenerative world.”

The Permaculture Action Network developed a methodology for “Permaculture Action Days,” one-day events designed to co-create a more regenerative world through communities taking action. These events have the feeling of a blitz or flash mob. Permaculture Action Network partners with local community organizations to identify appropriate project sites, mobilize local human and material resources, and facilitate the events. The organization has facilitated 50 successful Permaculture Action Days in more than 40 cities around the United States, mobilizing up to 400 people at a time to build urban farms, natural buildings, and other ecological systems.

Participants come away empowered with new skills and confidence, new relationships with like-minded neighbors, and a community garden, food forest, or greenhouse in their neighborhood.

Photo: Zac Fabian

Permaculture Action teams up with festivals to bring attendees to a Permaculture Action Day before entering the grounds. At these events, festival-goers help with projects. One example is a cob, outdoor classroom made of all natural materials at an elementary school near the Lightning in a Bottle music festival in Southern California.

They also host educational workshop spaces, known as Permaculture Action Hubs, within events. These hubs offer courses in how to design, implement, and take action. They focus on ecologically regenerative design and techniques, community organizing and social change methodology.

3. Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) – Brazil

Art representing the MST Movement

The Landless Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores sen Terra), or MST, is a Brazilian workers’ rights movement dedicated to agrarian reform and social justice. It has 1.5 million members across Brazil.

The MST achieves its mission through three approaches:

  1. Directly: Reclaiming commons by cooperatively organizing, occupying, and utilizing abandoned or unused land.
  2. Legally: Legal reform of land laws
  3. Education: Raising awareness about wealth inequality, racism, sexism, media monopoly, and other social issues. MST provides literacy education to its members, has its own university, and trains primary school teachers across Brazil in partnership with UN agencies and the Catholic Church. MST partnered with the Venezuelan government to create the Latin American School of Agroecology.

The MST is a grandfather in the movement, founded officially in 1984, with ties to Catholic Church organizations and with its roots in the liberation theology movement that emerged across Latin America in the 1950s.

4. NuMundo

NuMundo uses technology to build movements through a platform that catalyzes the transformation of physical spaces on a global scale. This happens by connecting sustainable living education centers with resources, information, students, and skilled practitioners. NuMundo is a network of activists, technologists, and event producers with a multifaceted approach to social action.

During their Earth Odyssey Bus tour in 2013, NuMundo (formerly Project Nuevo Mundo) took a group of skilled builders and permaculture designers across Mexico and Central America to support community projects such as an orphanage, an agroecology education center, an indigenous women’s clothing production cooperative, a community nutrition center, and a primary school.

NuMundo also hosts educational events on various aspects of village-building. Aside from on-the-ground work, NuMundo has a unique approach to movement building: the organization hosts networking spaces to link social activists, nonprofits, and community organizations to add momentum to existing projects.

5. Beacon Food Forest, Seattle

Photo: Jonathan H LeeGrist

The Beacon Food Forest is another beautiful example of an urban community mobilizing to bring the village into the city. According to the group, the goal of Beacon Food Forest is to design, plant and grow an edible urban forest garden that inspires our community to gather together, grow our own food, and rehabilitate our local ecosystem. This citizen-led initiative is building an ethnically and economically diverse community around food.

The forest is in its initial phases of implementation, and is set to include fruits and nuts from around the world, public community spaces for education and gathering, and a community garden following the ancient village tradition of the commons where community members enjoy access to small individual plots of land.

Beacon Food Forest sprang from a student project in a local permaculture design course. It has proven to be just as much a community-building endeavor as a food forest project. Beacon hosts ongoing educational workshops and community work parties, and is looking for more community involvement from Seattle residents.

Social and environmental change is being led by grassroots initiatives like these. What each of these projects has in common is that they create resilient networks of people and projects. Ultimately, they are individual movements empowering anyone who wants to get involved to do so. These movements unite people around ideas of self-sufficiency, food sovereignty, social justice and regenerative living systems to weave a strong web of support.

5 Ways Practicing Permaculture Has Changed My Life

I grew up in the windy city of Chicago with the dream of being an entrepreneur. My life was consumed with technology, socializing and working a corporate job. I didn’t realize until I left that following a stale traditional path was consuming my potential to live a life filled with meaning and enjoyment. Although city-living is full of great networking, events and movers and shakers, I now prefer to live close to the land.

Bryan Arturo harvesting a jackfruit from a permaculture farm

Since 2013, I’ve been traveling, offering my skills to grassroots movements and supporting NuMundo all over the Americas. This winter, I chose to live at a regenerative farm called East End Eden in Ojai, California. We incorporate permaculture into our lifestyle by maintaining closed loop systems such as greywater, composting toilets earthen building and integrated animal systems. I feel renewed in the short time that I’ve lived here and more connected to who I really am. Here are 5 reasons why living in this slower-paced, purpose-driven way is changing my life already:

    1. I’m unlearning impatience that I developed through spending glued to my computer in the past. Instant gratification, immediate answers and intuitive UI used to demand my everyday life. Life on the homestead is not always as easy as searching Google or browsing Facebook. The questions I ask are usually answered by “it depends”. For example, the goats don’t all like to eat the same kinds of trees as they have distinct personalities and preferences. The peppers are not irrigated the same amount each week, it depends on how much sun there is and how the plants appear. I’ve learned how to be present, observing and interacting with my surroundings and learning from the subtle differences. Instead of just marching through the nursery I can notice how the trees are liking their new locations or if the Asian pears are ripe. This shift in my behavior is allowing me to soak in knowledge and wisdom in a new way. I can easily incorporate this newfound presence into my everyday interactions and my work.
    2. My flexible schedule is expanding my potential. My agreement to live on the land in a modern room is to contribute 20 hours of my time to East End Eden. I have plenty of free time to run my own businesses and explore my interests. I appreciate my work/trade agreement because instead of resorting to a temporary part-time job to pay for rent I can develop relationships here with other change-makers. I don’t need to perform monotonous tasks with technology that even corporate full-time jobs require. Instead, I am obtaining a yield of education, empowerment and skills towards the regenerative homestead that I want to manage in the future.
    3. Authentic social relations boost my personal and interpersonal growth. My favorite part of living in community is the camaraderie that always develops when there is clear communication. At East End Eden, we have daily check-ins after breakfast to understand how each of us are feeling and how we’re planning out our day. Once a week we discuss long term goals and there is time to resolve and process any tension that built up over the week. This structure allows me to, well, ‘check myself before I wreck myself’. I get to witness others give praise, apply self-regulation & accept critical feedback. I practice not taking things personally and see everyone as whole and complete beings. These meetings are wonderful reminders to get out of my head and express what I really need or desire.
    4. Feeling integrated into an ecosystem helps me to embody the interconnectedness of all life. I am literally creating relationships with my food, water and natural systems that I interact with every day. In the past, I would toss food scraps into a trash can to be driven to a landfill which create toxic gases for the atmosphere. At East End Eden, we feed the scraps to the chickens who transform it into eggs we eat and droppings that enrich the soil. After taking a chicken’s life for the first time, I feel deep gratitude and respect for the food that I consume. By producing no waste and realizing that my outputs are inputs for other systems, I am beginning to foster closed loop systems in all aspects of my life.
    5. Experiential learning is teaching me more than traditional education ever has. By expanding the edge of my comfort zone and living at permaculture communities I accepted a lifestyle of life-long learning. I usually don’t even realize I am absorbing so much knowledge because I’m just having fun with my peers who also choose this lifestyle are encyclopedias of information. I feel whole, happy and fulfilled and the reality is that I am not living in a secret garden of Eden. There are hubs like this all over the world, perhaps even in your local community. How do the permaculture principles apply to your lifestyle?

Bryan has led retreats and workshops all over the world that led him to co-found Earth Journeys and The Sustainable Living Tour. The annual tour takes 30 change-makers to SoCal’s leading eco-education hubs on a biofuel bus. Get on the bus: earthjourneys.org/tour


10 Ways to Empower Youth Leadership

According to the Knight Foundation, statistics also show a gap. ‘Often that energy, that desire to contribute or lead, is going unsupported and untapped, they said.’ Teens and young adults don’t always see a place for their voice and their work.’ They feel unwelcome, perhaps a result of negative messages about youth coming from adults and even the media.

We are running out of time to solve the climate crisis. Every day it seems more people are calling out for climate action, but still, every time global leaders meet they fail to reach binding agreements to curb greenhouse gasses.

Youth around the world feel fear and despair when they think about what climate change could mean for their future. While this generation has the most at stake when it comes to preventing climate chaos, many young people don’t know where to start in addressing this huge issue. Many youth are looking for ways to be a part of the solution, but need the training and support to take the next step.

In light of the issue we are facing, here is a list of 10 ways that you can start empowering your children to be positive youth leaders NOW:

1. Give the youth tools to collaborate and problem solve, brainstorm and reflect.

Providing youth with the information and resources necessary for analyzing issues that affect their lives and environments will help them become strong strategizers on ways to act as change agents in their communities.

2. Encourage them to use their passions for good.

Guiding youth to use what their passions and creativity to share positive messages or bring attention to issues they care about will allow them to find purpose within their passion and use the power of their joy to share important messages.

3. Guide them to believe that their voice matters without judging or criticizing their ideas.

Empowering youth to understand that their voice makes a huge difference in this world and that all ideas are worth exploring will only give them more motivation and fuel to continue strengthening their own power for change.

4. Guide them to understand that people will not always want to listen, just because we would like them to but to not take it personally.

Helping youth to understand that not everyone is going to respond the way you hope they would and that some people may not be ready to hear what you want to share will support their confidence. It’s important to let youth know that when someone doesn’t listen to them, allow that to only make them stronger.

5. Help them learn that sometimes even the most fabulous idea may need a bit more logistical planning.

Guiding youth to help them understand that all visions and ideas take time to make sure they are realistic and well thought through. Help them to know that there are different stages to a project and the first stage is having an idea but there are many stages after that. This will help them understand the full process and not get stuck on one idea.

6. Help youth develop habits, that in the end, they can sustain without ‘suggestions’ or prodding.

Good habits produce sustainable leaders. Youth that have good habits for their own well-being and constant personal progression that they enjoy will help them become strong leaders on their own.

7. Give youth a chance for them to fail but help them to learn to succeed.

Let youth know that failing is not a bad thing to happen, it’s actually important to find out what went wrong so they can improve and make it better the next time they try. Often the way to success is through failure.

8. Employ storytelling of successful youth leadership to counteract negative messages about young people.

Encourage youth to speak about to their triumphs often, to share their victories across all media platforms to reinforce the positive change that has occurred. This will empower more positive action to continue and give youth more foundation and support to work from.

9. Invite the youth to launch a project or idea and support their progress.

Support youth in implementing their project once they feel they have come up with a good strategy and support them along the way. Allowing them to carry out their vision with the encouragement and coaching support will be an empowering experience and let them feel supported in their process.

10. Help them become involved with a youth sustainability program.

Rising Youth for a Sustainable Earth (RYSE) is a collective of youth-led groups that envision a greener and healthier earth through empowerment through education and re-creating our relationships with nature. It’s time for each of us to support the leadership of generations to come who will be most affected by the global crisis of climate change.

6 Steps to Starting a Community Garden

A plethora of unused lots and open spaces exist in many US and international cities. When I see them in the places I visit, I wonder why food is not grown in those spaces; free food for the community. Community gardens provide limitless benefits like diversification within communities, land stewardship, youth skills, leadership, and community cohesion. With many various regulations and systems set up within cities and suburbs, you can start with small steps and an organized plan to begin and maintain a fruitful community garden in your neighborhood.  Here is a comprehensive  guide on how to create a thriving community garden:

1. Test the Waters!

Volunteer your free time with a local community garden to gain the skills of running and sustaining your own garden. The experience will also help you determine whether or not you have the time and energy for the commitment. To find a community garden in your area, check out The American Community Gardening Association, or you can Google “Community Garden” with your city or neighborhood.


2. Build Your Posse

Now that you’ve decided take a leadership role in your community, recruit a reliable team. A community garden team might consist of aspiring gardeners in your neighborhood, a youth church group, a university club, a committee at a senior center, or simply a group of pals who are passionate about local food.  Also, consider creating a Meet Up or Facebook group to recruit members to your initial get-together. The bigger your team, the better! People with experience in permaculture are also a plus. In certain areas, you will find that including members who are a part of an already-financially stable community organization can be an advantage to the success of your community garden.

3. Rendezvous!

Organize an initial casual meeting with your potential group. Host a potluck, a picnic in the park, or better yet, at the community garden site where you volunteered. During your meeting, get a feel for the experience, passion, commitment, and organization level of each person. Include people with gardening skills and organizational skills. Not everyone is going to have both. People who are experienced with outreach, building email lists, or creating a website and promotional material are just as important as builders and gardeners. Some potential roles and committees with tasks to be filled are:

Umbrella Organization (Church or Neighborhood Organization): These entities can participate in the planning by motivating others to get involved, enlisting support of other community organizations, fundraising, and approving garden events and activities. They may or may not need to be as active as other Garden Team members, but they need to be on board to assist as support for the project.

Coordinator or Co-organizers: This person or committee will be liaisons to the umbrella organization, coordinate garden activities, schedule meetings, lead the creation of garden plans, recruit gardeners, secure city plots, and manage legal documents. They’ll also recruit and manage garden members.

Fundraising Director:  The director oversees and develops the fundraising campaign by working with the Education and Events coordinator to implement funding streams.

Education and Events Coordinator: This person or committee develops and coordinates events and educational activities, coordinates presenters, displays topics and updates at the garden, and organizes the promotion and outreach of activities.

Lead Design and Gardener: This person or committee is responsible for storing and distributing information about plants and gardening techniques, coordinating care and maintenance of common areas like compost, paths, and borders and coordinating and facilitating garden work-days.

Community Outreach, Promotion & Public Relations: This person or team sets up social media accounts, creates and manages a newsletter, writes press releases, connects with local media, documents with photos and videos, and maintains the website.

Tool/Structure Maintenance and Repair: Maintenance and Repair people are responsible for sourcing recycled material, soliciting donations for structures, tools, equipment, benches, hoses, and other equipment. They also inventory and, as well as repair tools and equipment.

Seed Manager: The Seed Manager’s responsibilities include securing seeds, soliciting seed donations, coordinating seed saving, and keeping seed inventory.

Pest and Weed Monitor & Control: Pest and Weed Control personnel monitors, reports, and treats pest problems (organically, of course) and maintains weed control.

The Calvary Presbyterian and wood streets green team help riverside city college grow a new community garden on Dec, 12 2012 (Photo: RCCD)

4. Resourcefulness is Sexy

Being resourceful is the first way to exercise sustainability. Encouraging each member to share their resources, such as their professional networks, skills, hobbies, beneficial contacts, and relationships broadens the scope of the project. You can even create a fun and engaging game or activity out of this, to keep it light-hearted. For example; someone who likes to draw as a hobby can design flyers or garden art. Doing an exercise like this encourages creativity and empowers leadership. With your group, start by making a list and brainstorm all the skills and resources your garden team already has. Find an up-cycle warehouse in your area by using Craigslist or Free-Cycle, These are also excellent places to find free or cheap “junk” that could be useful while building your garden.

5. Scheme and Dream

Come up with a name for your garden, build a plan, and determine the goals, mission and vision of your emerging organization. Think about these questions when writing your mission and vision statement: Who do you serve? What do you serve? How will you serve? Why do you serve? You will also want to brainstorm a list of your communities’ potential supporters and partners such as neighbors, experts, the school district, farmers, growers, or other parks and recreation agencies. A great resource for a more intensive guide to planning your community garden is the National Recreation & Park Association.

Next, create a fundraising plan or campaign. When starting your fundraising plan, think about ideas such as community events, hosting workshops, plant sales, certified farmers markets, farm-to-school programs, food co-ops, sponsors and grants. Check out  Rebel Tomato’s fundraising tips, strategies, grant sources and resources. It’s helpful to craft a project timeline that coincides with the deadlines of your goals. Zoho or Trello are excellent tools for project management and collaboration for your team.

Gardeners root for city patches on August 11, 2010. (Photo: TLC)

6. Pick a Plot

The fun part! The easiest and most direct route to finding an open space for your community garden is to find out if an organization in your area manages open spaces. For example, Neighbor-Space in Chicago, Baltimore Green Space, and New Haven Land Trust are all land-trust organizations that preserve and sustain community gardens on behalf of dedicated community groups. The Land Trust Alliance provides a database of land trusts around the country. A more obvious way to find plots of land in your community is to simply get on your bike, ride around, and find open spaces like empty lots. Then, just do some digging to find out who owns the space and how you can acquire it for building a community garden. Don’t rule out sites that are not park land or contiguous to a park. Look into partnering with your city or a private individual to lease vacant land, if necessary.
The tricky part! Once you find a few potential spaces, consider the quality of the soil (soil test for possible pollutants), the amount of sunshine (most vegetables need at least six hours of sunlight a day), water availability, and ease of access for trucks, the community, and garden workers.


By: Shayna Gladstone