~~ Finding Common Cause ~~

Pam and Joe Leitch: Urban Cooperative Living
Pam and Joe Leitch and Naga Nataka

Urban Cooperative Living

This panel will explore the pluses, minuses, ups and downs of urban Cooperative Living. Panel members will be Pam and Joe Leitch, founders of Columbia Eco Village, a retrofit co housing re-purposing a small acreage and apartment complex. Joining them will be Naga Nataka of Fosterville, a three and a half house suburban retrofit cooperative in Portland.Foster Village is like anyone’s life: a constant work in progress. Three and a half houses share a 12,000 sq ft piece of land that’s slowly turning from grass & gravel to urban food forest. A dozen people ranging from 3 years old to 62 years young share dinner together five nights a week. They also share the work of tending the gardens, the houses, and an unruly flock of chickens. 

Fosterville is eight years in the making, with a vision that stretches far into the future. Current conversations revolve around the creation of a housing co-op to purchase the houses, and a land trust to watch over the ground they sit on. The community is an example of what’s possible when a few key changes are made to existing infrastructure, transforming an isolated & resource-intense urban lifestyle into one that’s more connected to the Earth and to one’s neighbors.

In 2008 Joe and Pam combined the property of the Portland Permaculture Institute with the adjacent 37 unit apartment complex and over a period of two years created the Columbia Eco village Co housing in NE Portland where they now happily live.

Columbia Eco village is a multi generational co housing community located on nearly 4 acres in semi-urban NE Portland. Our individual units are legally 37 condominiums with a human population of around 50 adults of al ages and 11 children age 9 and under. 

The Eco village began forming when an initial group of five household first met on September 8, 2007. The concept was to combine that land that was previously the Portland Permaculture Institute and an adjacent 1970s apartment complex. This early group spent two months of initial planning before holding their first public meeting to explain the future community and the process of how to join. In order to improve our chances of success after we moved in, multiple layers were put into place during early stages of the Eco village:

  • A draft of the Vision and Values was written so that interested households would understand the basis for forming the Eco village,
  • Each future member was requested to take a series of full day trainings on consensus, facilitation and conflict resolution,
  • Several levels of personal and social interaction were required before a household was able to make a decision to commit to moving into the Eco village.

In July 2008, the growing community held a groundbreaking ceremony and the rehabilitation of the apartment buildings began. By that time most of the units were spoken for. The first Villagers began moving in February 2009.

The 3.73 acre property also contains a 1912 farmhouse, where we have our common meals several times a week. This six bedroom house contains guest rooms, a sewing room, a children’s room, and media room. Other common spaces include a craft room, a laundry room, and orchards and gardens. At the Eco village you can stroll through an orchard ripe with apples, cherries, pears and figs, wander through rows of grape vines, and stop at the chicken coop to pick up a couple of fresh eggs along the way. Many cisterns store 24,000 gallons of rainwater, which is used to water our extensive vegetable gardens. Century-old walnut trees grace the parking lot.

Although not typical in co housing, we offer some financial support for families with food costs and monthly homeowner fees. One of our members regularly gleans spare produce and baked goods from a local grocery store which is used both by the Eco village and local services for the wider NE community.

Consensus is our decision making model and we are growing our way into using consensus more effectively as the years go by. This is not an easy task as most of us have spent our lives in the usual US model of individualism. We make use of our skilled facilitation team, internal mediators and occasional outside mediators and facilitators to see us through rough spots.

The business (social and economic) of the Eco village is run by a network of over a dozen teams ranging from landscape and finance teams to neighborhood relations and facilitation teams. Although we are a legally a condominium, we have no outside management company. Each adult living here is expected to actively participate on at least one of these teams and also work a minimum of 8 hours a month for the community on tasks of their choice. Almost everyone voluntarily puts in additional hours toward keeping things running.

Pam and Joe completed their first PDC in 2002 with Cascadia Permacultre andwent through Permaculture Teacher Training with Jude Hobbs and Tom Ward. They then formed the Portland Permaculture Institute where they hosted many PDC’s in Tigard on a half acre of land. They designed and developed compost systems, annual and perennial gardens and added solar panels and rainwater catchment and diversion systems using permaculture principals. After two years in Tigard they moved to NE Portland on 1.67 acres in the city. Changes to this property included removing invasives, adding over 3,000 square feet of annual beds, 24,000 gallon rainwater catchment system, food forest, and extensive plantings of perennial food plants and trees. Guest instructors have included Toby Hemenway, David Holmgren, Brad Lancaster, Geoff Lawton and Darren Doherty.

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