An Unlikely Village Marked by Eco Prowess

“Ecovillage” is not a term that comes to mind when describing Shaw, a low-income neighborhood in northwest Washington, D.C. For starters, there aren’t any lush vistas and protected natural areas—this is the inner city—nor are there brightly colored roofs with glinting, environmentally friendly solar panels. There’s no clearly organized “village” center, unless you count the Metro stop. Yet Shaw does have an ecovillage effort underway, and its relevance to the community is surprisingly on target.

The Shaw Ecovillage Project has done a remarkably good job applying traditional ecovillage principles to an underserved urban neighborhood. Launched in 1998, the initiative consists of two efforts: the EcoDesign Corps, a paid internship program in which high-school students pair with local organizations to address social and environmental problems, and Chain Reaction, a youth-run bike shop that fosters sustainable transportation solutions.

The Shaw Project not only aims to give young people training in design, research, art, and entrepreneurial and mechanic skills, but also to foment a community-wide interest in sustainable development. Techniques for piquing interest in sustainable development include promoting environmental stewardship, creating economic opportunities, building awareness of history, and encouraging smart growth.

This summer, the members of the EcoDesign Corps took on projects dealing with transportation; health and wellness; equitable development; community pride and identity; and clean air, land, and water. The group’s tasks spanned from creating a green roof to surveying Shaw youths about their concerns. Fall 2003 projects will include expanding a community garden and using it to produce food.

The development of an ecovillage depends heavily on participants who are willing to work together towards shared goals. The recent involvement of Shaw’s young people in protecting and enriching their community also reflects the mobilization of area residents in responding to the city’s larger economic tectonics. The ecovillage project is, after all, a method of pulling together community resources to deal with all matter of social, economic, and quality-of-life issues with which Shaw is coming to terms.

Shaw is a single neighborhood within one of the largest cities in the United States. Yet, through the lens of the Ecovillage Project, which emphasizes small-scale projects and community links, it is possible to see Shaw as a village. Furthermore, the initiative’s holistic approach sets Shaw residents on a path toward reduced reliance on cars, community food production, new environmental technology applications, and rebuilding of the local community and economy—all traits emblematic of a traditional ecovillage.

Ecovillage proponents are looking to expand and mainstream its concepts so that they create a more globally applicable model. With its commitment to community and focus on environmental, economic, and equity concerns, the Shaw Ecovillage Project is encouraging a broader, more inclusive definition.

Categories: Cities