Cincinnati, underfoot

By and large, we’ve grown accustomed to only seeing and interacting with the top layer of Cincinnati. I seldom appreciate that beneath the level and impervious pavement of Highland Ave, besides the municipal infrastructure, there is soil, a biological history of erosion and ecological succession.

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In purpose, the urban, as a dense and hardy human habitat, is no less natural than an ant hill. In function, on the other hand, the urban is increasingly discordant with the more-than-human ecosystem.

The taproot of ecological consciousness is likely the appreciation that all human endeavor is contained by but also comprises nature. Ecohouse practices like water catchment, composting and gardening begin to harmonize our urban experience with the functions and cycles of the local ecosystem and accumulate, in mind and matter, to produce an ecohouse culture. These simple practices reveal that culture is, to some degree, a choice we make daily. The ecohouse is simply a context that empowers a few Cincinnatians to cultivate values and practices of a deep(er) ecology.

Paraphrasing the resident ecohouse oboist: intentional community is mindful daily routine. If, through more mindful daily routine, a single household can incubate a hyperlocal culture that appreciates the city as a single layer enmeshed in a broader ecology, then why shouldn’t we expect — and demand — the same from the city?

Suggested reading: The Work of Local Culture by Wendell Berry

Daydreams of Assembly

There is certainly no shortage of ideas for grassroots community development. Even in Cincinnati, Enright Ridge Urban Ecovillage and Our Harvest Coop stand as unique pursuits of sustainable communities not just in Cincinnati but nationally. Similarly, Good Guy Loitering, which seems to have roots in Cincinnati, is a novel take on community engagement

Writing from BLOC Coffee Company in Price Hill, I notice a posting for a monthly community potluck. “Bring a dish, or don’t…eat with friends, or enemies” reads the flyer. It seems that more and more are growing dissatisfied with the types of assembly or association available to them or, at least, more are stepping up to offer alternatives through business ventures, intentional communities, etc. Is it possible that we’re returning to some legitimate capacity for community care and participation? I suspect so. Yet, the inertia of seek-private$$-and-disassociate-from-community is behemoth.

I’m entering into an era of experimentation, seeking an alternative to dissociation from community. Our ecohouse project is an obvious manifestation of this, representative of the best intentions for living with others for Robbie, Nick, myself and others. This ecohouse project is the convergence of a number of rough utopian ideas in response to the anomie, environmental devastation, and inequality of modern urban life.

Sketching out an utopian vision for the ecohouse in Mt Auburn is exciting and necessary work. We talk of utopia to feed our excitement for this work and to bait our day-to-day thoughts, discussions and actions. I am fortunate, first, for the capacity to daydream and second, for the opportunity to enact and facilitate some pieces of that daydream. For Enright, for Our Harvest, for the Earnshaw Ecohouse and for all utopian pursuits, I daydream of enduring support and enthusiasm and overwhelming participation to overcome inertia.

Suggested reading: The People’s Playground @Jacobin Magazine

A Wendell Berry primer for community health.

“If the members of a local community want their community to cohere, to flourish, and to last, these are some things they should do:

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?
2. Always include local nature-the land, the water, the air, the native creatures-within the membership of the community.
3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.
4. Always supply local needs first (And only then think of exporting their products, first to nearby cities, and then to others.)
5. Understand the unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of “labor saving” if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination .
6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of the national or global economy.
7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.
8. Strive to produce as much of the community’s own energy as possible.
9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.
10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community for as long as possible before it is paid out.
11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, teaching its children.
12. See that the old and the young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, nor necessarily and not always in school. There must be no institutionalized “child care” and “homes for the aged.” The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young. .
13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or “externalized.” Whenever possible, these costs must be debited against monetary income.
14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.
15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, leaving people to face their calamities alone.
16. A rural community should always be acquainted with, and complexly connected with, community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.
17. A sustainable rural economy will be dependent on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.”

From Wendell Berry’s “Conserving Communities” in Another Turn of the Crank (pp 19 – 20)

The front yard and the avenue.

This Tuesday we’ll be meeting with John from Our Land Organics for a landscape consultation. I hope to spend the majority of this consultation exploring ideas for the front lawn. The public face of the ecohouse, a thoughtfully designed front lawn will announce our ecologically conscious household and demonstrate alternatives in landscaping that improve property aesthetics and function.

The general plan is to see how many function we can stack into our front yard. I assume some balance must be struck between diversity/number of functions and the health of the whole system. On the far side of realizable goals, I imagine a community compost and seed depository accompanied by a little library. I’m considering the front yard to be a bridge into the neighborhood.

credit: Our Land Organics

Update: John’s consultation and recommendations helped to give some form to our ideas for the front yard. The foundation of the design plan is a central swale/berm that follows the natural contour of our lot. This swale and berm will manage outflow from two downspouts on the front of the house, reducing the amount of runoff into the street. The contour of the swale will serve as a path from the driveway to seating area and provides a context to the front yard for further landscaping and new opportunities for interaction (people-people and people-landscape). This spring we’ll host a public landscaping party to begin implementing parts of the above plan – stay tuned!

Thursday afternoon we laid stone steps to our second compost pile and cleared pokeweed and wild grapevines from around the garden. We also uncovered a pawpaw tree (red flagging) that Robbie had previously planted.

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First of all, we’re not settled on all the information we’ve thrown up on this here blog. But (!), we’re excited to take a step forward and publicize some of our intentions for an ecologically conscious living project in Mt Auburn, Cincinnati. We find ourselves between a house, the Earnshaw house, as a rental property and a house as an intentional sustainable community. Currently, 4 folks reside at the Earnshaw house and 2 of us – Robbie and Peter – are at the helm of this transition and we’re backed by and collaborating with Nick and the whole Mac House!

This week we’re excited to be meeting with sustainability staff from Xavier and UC to discuss possible intersections and collaborations. Additionally, Robbie and I will begin working on small improvements around the house on Thursday afternoon and we’ll post some photos of the results over the weekend. Lastly, something provocative to read: America the Possible: A Manifesto, Part I by James Gustave Speth.