“Couldn’t the Adirondack Park be considered an Intentional Community?” I asked Ma’ikwe Ludwig at her presentation November 1st at the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center. She said she did not know enough about the Park to address the possibility, but a few of the 40 students, professors, and community attendees thought the idea was intriguing. “Many of us live in our communities ‘intentionally’,” said a woman from Saranac Lake. “I try to live cooperatively with my neighbors, look out for our joint welfare, and live responsibly for the planet by keeping my carbon footprint at a minimum.”
I attended this talk by Ludwig, a longtime sustainable community activist, because of my interest in the history of Intentional Communities, specifically those located in the Adirondacks.
I’m intrigued with Ludwig’s definition of Intentional Communities and how it might apply to the Park, “Groups of people living together with some shared resources on the basis of explicit common values.” Our shared Adirondack resource is the community-owned land that we, as New Yorkers, manage for the welfare of the environment and our communities. Our challenge comes about when individual or group values do not mesh. Barbara McMartin’s book Perspectives on the Adirondacks probes the history of the governance of public lands, resistance to private land use regulations, and the efforts of environmental groups to uphold the Forever Wild Clause of the New York State Constitution. Adirondack Futures, in conjunction with the Common Ground Alliance, has worked for years to foster communication among diverse groups in the Adirondacks and to develop strategies that address seemingly insurmountable differences among economic development and environmental protection goals and initiatives. Identifying common values is the goal.
Ludwig, a TEDx speaker, believes that community has the potential to move us from an unsustainable culture to a sustainable one. For her, sustainable means living within the planet’s capacity. Examples of such communities include eco-villages, cohousing, communes, student co-ops, spiritual communities, and more. In her book, Together Resilient: Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption, she poses the question of whether the Intentional Community movement can scale up to include a country. She uses Butan, with a population of 784,000 people, as a case study of the possible.
Bill McKibben, well known internationally for his environmental work, including in the Adirondacks, said about Ludwig’s book, “When people ask me where to move to escape climate change, I tell them there’s no escape and that the thing to look for is a strong community. This book explains how to build that kind of community anywhere – it’s a manual for the future.”
The Fellowship for International Community, publisher of Ludwig’s book, estimates that there are currently 1,300 such communities in the United States – half rural, half urban. Ludwig, authenticating her advocacy for Intentional Communities, lived in such a community for eight years – Dancing Rabbit Eco-village in rural Missouri. She suggested in her presentation that the two most successful communities today are Dancing Rabbit and Manhattan. (We snickered at this reference to the large urban environment). “Both are ‘sustainable, cooperative cultures.’ They are models for a low carbon future.”
Pertaining to my research on the history of self-contained communities in the Adirondacks, I’m particularly interested in why and when they came into existence; who were the participants and why they were attracted to that specific community; their experiences; the reasons they left; and how their time there influenced the rest of their lives.
“Why did you leave Dancing Rabbit,” I asked Ludwig at the Q&A session. “I fell in love,” she answered. “One of the problems in these communities is the shortage of potential mates. I found one outside.”
She then posed a question to us, “How many stay in their own home towns for their whole lives?”