Re-inventing How People Live in Inner-City L.A.

Re-inventing How People Live in Inner-City L.A.

Lois Arkin
Lois Arkin takes visitors of the L.A. Eco-Village around the community garden. (Photo by Jourdan Arnaud)

Lois Arkin aspires to be buried in the verdant courtyard at the Los Angeles Eco-Village, where she has lived for the past 40 years. At 83 years old, Arkin is a spry woman with a hearty sense of humor.

As one of the original co-founders of the Eco-Village movement in Los Angeles, Arkin embraces a holistic approach to urban sustainability. The entire community consists of about 40 people who live in affordable housing units located on the north end of Wilshire Center and Koreatown.

A giant magnolia tree shades the courtyard in the main residential building where eco-villagers tend to a communal garden and outdoor kitchen. Everyone lives co-operatively on the land and shares resources such as space, food and utilities. Basic living amenities are a short commute away from the property so residents can go car-free.

LA Eco Village
Magnolia tree shades the outdoor garden at the L.A. Eco-Village near Koreatown. (Photo by Jourdan Arnaud)

There are around 140 different Eco-Villages in operation across the U.S., according to the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), based in Scotland. GEN defines eco-villages as an intentional, traditional, or urban community that is consciously designing its pathway through locally-owned, participatory processes, and aiming to address the four areas of regeneration—social, culture, ecology and economy. However, it takes years of planning and participation to get an Eco-Village off the ground.

Most Eco-Villages and intentional communities fail, says Arkin. “One of the major reasons they don’t succeed is because they didn’t get to know their neighbors and include them in the process.”

“Having lived here on this block for 13 years before we started the Eco-Village that really wasn’t a problem for us,” said Arkin.

Arkin built community trust over time by spreading what she calls “positive gossip.” She went door-to-door to get to know each neighbor and shared only positive messages with others. The process of building the L.A. Eco-Village community took years of investment and many planning committee meetings, according to Arkin. The original founders created their own community loan fund in the ‘80s, which paid for the first residential building on 117 Bimini Place. Eventually, the community bought three more buildings surrounding the main two-story Eco-Village residence.

Now, the L.A. Eco-Village is run by the nonprofit public benefit organization CRSP (pronounced crisp), which stands for Cooperative Resources & Services Project. Founded in 1980, CRSP is the primary developer of the L.A. Eco-Village.

Arkin started the CRSP project more than 30 years ago to lay the foundation for intentional living communities across the United States. She holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Cal State University Northridge and advocates for sustainable urban living. She is the co-author/editor of two books on sustainable cities and cooperative housing, and the former editor for the “Eco-Village Living” column in Communities Magazine.

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