The “Edge Effect”
Alyson Ewald’s 2012 article in Communities is not your average text on Ecovillages. Rather than making a case for living in one of these villages, she explains the under-rated appeal of living next door. Her argument lies on the basis that ecovillage living isn’t for everyone, and then builds to state that living adjacent can still reap benefits on the inner community and outside neighbors. His article, manufactured into a list, reads a bit like an annotated bibliography: below each title she digs into more detail and clarification in a paragraph-long explanation before moving on to the next. Though it isn’t clear whether Ewald’s list was sorted in any meaningful way, by reading the titles one can recognize a trend were as you count down from ten, the titles seem to become more significant. See for yourself, as I have provided her list of ten below:
- Parties and Peace
- A safe remove from the soap operas
- A home away from home
- Diversity and redundancy
- Stacking Functions
- Sharing the Surplus
One of the most meaningful numbers, in my opinion, is #2, resilience. Ewald looks at this characteristic in the context of the creation of her town’s farmers’ market. Though the market started off with Ewald and two others, members of the ecovillage and Menonite growers were huge supporters that helped bring success to the new market. To Ewald, resilience means community members “play[ing] to our diverse strengths as a flexible society of local communities” (156). Like Ewald, I recognize a tie between local sharing, participation and resilience. In order to deal with climate change and other large-scale issues, community support will be crucial. My only complaint about this part of the article is that resilience, seemingly present where Ewald lives, is also present within the ecovillage. Why does he present this as something a benefit of being a neighbor, then? Perhaps it has to do with “edge”, another important part of her list.
When speaking on “edge”, Ewald compares living on the outskirts of an ecovillage to living within an edge habitat. He argues that according to permaculture practices, edge fosters diversity and growth. On the social side, he claims that it is beneficial to the neighbor because they can “gain insights on how to survive and thrive” (155) not only by close proximity to the village, but with close proximity to other players in the neighborhood. His basic point then, (for “edge” and “resilience”) is that by living close to a village, you can reap many of the social, academic, and community-based benefits of that village, but still be a part of the “outside world” where you can experience other things that are going on around you.
In regards to “sharing the surplus”, the edge factor really comes to life. Last summer, I tabled at countless farmer’s markets for a farmer-advocacy group called Rural Vermont. Even though I wasn’t vending, I was included in the strong, community atmosphere that had been created between the different vendors. In addition to taking turns covering other people’s tents while they took the occasional break, nearly every evening when the market had ended, the farmers would dance from stand to stand giving away their leftovers for exchange of product or good conversation. Though often times the tents would be set up on a separate basis, each tent would be put away thanks to a communal effort. Even though I wasn’t a member of this group of people, I was able to share and participate just because I was there.
By the end of her article, I am convinced that if I am not cut out to live in an ecovillage setting, living nearby one is a good way to participate on a smaller scale. Though the title of her article may suggest negative feelings towards intentional communities, I recognize that it simply appeals to larger demographic, giving folks who might not want to live in an ecovillage the opportunity to heighten their awareness, play a part in their community, and create an “edge” surrounding the ecovillage that radiates positive practices and newfound knowledge. And even if no one is compelled to change their address after this text, surely it can be adapted to support and improve upon “normal” community Dynamics.
Ewald, A. (2012). Good Neighbors Top 10 Reasons to Live Next to an Ecovillage. Communities, (156), 26-28.