Active Communities

Michael Kenny

Why working towards improving our world should be a defining part of any intentional community

Living justly and in harmony with the planet has been a key component of many intentional communities. Many who are attracted to the intentional community lifestyle have themselves been social, community, or environmental activists. Yet we often fail to define intentional communities as vehicles for social change outside of the context of the personal lifestyle changes of members living in our communities. Intentional communities themselves possess great potential in providing the resources needed for an individual or group to give back to the wider community, be it through social enterprise, activism, or volunteerism.

An intentional community can facilitate greater social and environmental change by providing space for meetings, offices, and storage for local nonprofits and activist organizations, acting as a local hub for environmentalists and social justice activists, and having on-site residents and visitors available as activists and volunteers. Intentional communities can even act as green business incubators, housing social enterprises or worker cooperatives.

When a group of us formed the Toronto Ecovillage Project back in 2004, having a strong social justice aspect for our group and our future community was essential to us, though it was never defined or explicit. When our group re-formed in 2009, I and the other activists involved decided that we needed to be explicit about the kind of community we were trying to create. We sought to define our vision through the creation of a new term, in order to avoid confusion with other established concepts of intentional communities. The term we came up with was Active Community.

An active community can be defined as the following:

  1. Sustainability. An active community is designed to be environmentally, financially, and socially sustainable.
  1. Active. Members of the community are active within the community, and the greater neighbourhood, municipality, and region where the community resides. They are active in making the world a better place, be it through activism, volunteerism, advocacy, politics, social enterprise, or through environmentally and socially sustainable living. Such communities also provide resources or assist those engaged in being active, whether it is activism, social enterprise, or the like. Such communities are active at making a better world.            
  1. Community. The community is designed to maximize a sense of community and encourage socialization. Community members should have a proven history or desire for involvement, and continued involvement is either encouraged or required. Opportunities for socialization are maximized through on-site facilities and community planning of events.
  1. An active community is not limited by its size. An active community can be as small as a house, or as large as a neighbourhood, town, or city. The work of Jane Jacobs, who believed that you require higher population density to provide a vibrant community life, has inspired our vision. Many proponents of ecovillages and cohousing argue a case for smaller-scale communities. We, however, believe community can occur at any scale.
  1. Encourage healthy living. Food, fitness, and safety are required for healthy living. Urban agriculture, community supported agriculture, and farmers’ markets can provide affordable, healthy, and locally grown food options. A communal kitchen with optional meal plans should be an option offered. All food should be organic if feasible, with vegetarian and vegan meal options. Physical fitness should be encouraged through the creation of on-site fitness facilities and proximity to parks and recreation trails. Sites chosen should be free or cleaned of any potential contamination, and all building materials and cleaners used in the building should be free of chemicals. The community should adopt a chemical-free living policy based on the precautionary principle, restricting the use of chemicals and smoking within the community.

Many existing intentional communities could fit this description, whether or not they describe their community as having an activist focus. The growth of the intentional communities movement in the past two decades has created numerous new communities. For an activist such as myself, it is important to make the distinction that the community I am to be a part of actively commit to making the world outside the immediate community a better place. As new communities are formed in the future, I hope more communities will commit to activism, social enterprise, and similar endeavours, and that those communities will be distinct by defining themselves as active communities.

Originally published in Communities Magazine, Issue 152, Fall 2011. Republished by permission.

About the author: 

Michael Kenny has been an environmentalist and social justice activist since his youth, volunteering with numerous organizations. He is a co-founder and Executive Director of the Canadian-based grassroots environmental and social justice organization Regenesis http://www.theregenesisproject.com/. He was the New Democratic Party candidate for Don Valley West in the 2007 provincial election against future Premier Kathleen Wynne and PC leader John Tory.  He attends York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies in Toronto, where he is conducting research on autonomous spaces, activist centres and intentional communities.

Citations: 
When citing this article, please use the following format. Michael Kenny, Active Communities (2011). Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) Newsletter, Volume 2, Issue 16.