Part 1: Intentional Rural Living
By Alla Guelber
In January, in need of a creativity boost, my friend Lindsay Meads and I decided to ditch the drudges of winter and go to that veritable Mecca of sustainability in North America: Oregon.
The trip was a long time coming. I had been hearing about Portland’s culture for many years, while Lindsay had studied their progressive urban planning policies throughout her Master’s degree in environmental design.
Over two weeks, we covered a great deal of ground. We enrolled in a five-day permaculture module at Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Centre, and spent our remaining time exploring urban Portland.
One of the longest-running intentional communities in North America, in existence for more than 30 years, Breitenbush is home to approximately 60-80 people year-round. It is located on natural hot springs about two hours outside of Portland, and is completely off-grid, powered by their own geothermal installations and a microhydro plant.
Along with an engaged group of 20 students, and our instructors, Seattle-based permaculture pioneer Jenny Pell, and A. Keala Young from Portland, we focused on permaculture understandings of local economies and right livelihood as well as immersing ourselves into understanding how Breitenbush remains a successful model of intentional living while other ecovillages have faltered.
One of the highlights of the course was guest teacher Mark Lakeman, who, for the past 20 years, has been a veritable force in contributing to Portland’s unique culture and visionary action on sustainability. After time spent studying and traveling in Europe and indigenous communities, Mark realized that the North American intersection could be a place for community gatherings and interaction. By hosting tea parties, block parties, intersection painting and more, Mark and his crew kicked off a veritable revolution in Portland, OR that has spread throughout the city and birthed City Repair, an organization that engages citizens in transforming places.
Over time, this lead to significant changes in bylaws and ordinances, making neighbourhood-led activities such as painting intersections, creating new bike lanes, supporting urban agriculture, and more not only permitted, but endorsed and supported by the municipal government in Portland.
Mark put many of the theories and examples into direct perspective with his extensive experience in hands-on community-building on the neighbourhood level.
“The most radical thing you can do is commit to your community,” he said. “If thirty years ago, you would have told me that my life’s work would be in Sellwood, a little neighbourhood in South-East Portland, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Mark went on to explaining, telling the story of how he came to realize that there was something crucial missing in our modern North American neighbourhoods: Places to gather.