Erik Assadourian

To the west is Vermont Avenue, one of the most congested traffic corridors in Los Angeles, tiled with a mosaic of fast-food chains, nail salons, and dollar stores, all nested in a half-dozen strip malls. To the east lie three auto repair shops, housing, and a giant concrete church that dominates the street. To the north, there are two more auto body shops, three overcrowded schools, and a couple of car dealerships. And to the south, just beyond the Bresee Community and Youth Center, are two giant supermarkets with equally gigantic parking lots, tailored to be one-stop shopping for people commuting along the Vermont Avenue corridor.1

In the middle of this car-centric infrastructure—what some might call "sprawl"— lies a little green oasis: the Los Angeles Ecovillage (LAEV). This community, two small apartment buildings with about 55 residents, was started in 1993 as a demonstration project on how a community can transform its surroundings, helping to create a sustainable society.2

In its 15 years, the LA Ecovillage has had many impressive victories. Within its grounds, LAEV has facilitated technology and lifestyle changes, such as installing solar panels and composting facilities, providing rent reductions for people who live car-free, and transforming its courtyard into a 7,000-square-foot garden that produces nine types of fruits and many more vegetables as well as a lush common area to sit and relax in. LAEV has also incubated businesses like the Bicycle Kitchen—a shop that repairs bikes and that trains neighborhood children in bicycle maintenance skills. And perhaps most important, the community has influenced the broader political process of Los Angeles, from lending support to "green" mayoral candidates to engaging in public planning processes, such as the restoration of the Los Angeles River, transportation planning, and local redevelopment—all while continuing to be an affordable, accessible place to live, located within a 10-minute walk of two subway stops and 20 bus lines.3

Through its built infrastructure, the social relationships it generates, and the way of life

Engaging Communities for a Sustainable World it promotes, the LA Ecovillage highlights the powerful contributions that communities can make in helping to facilitate the transition to a sustainable society. (See Box 11-1 for the definition of community used in this chapter.)4

Community practices and choices about land use, technologies, and transportation can be used to model sustainable living. The production of social capital—the glue that holds communities together—can be tapped to help community members become leaders in sustainability and can provide the resilience that helps communities weather difficult times. Communities' engagement in economic activities can help localize agriculture and the production of other essential goods. And their unique design can help stimulate new ways to finance sustainability. While national and global-level initiatives will be essential for building a sustainable world, community-level programs may prove indispensable in providing better models and the leadership to drive global-level change.

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