Book Review Archive: Living Green: Communities that Sustain

Each Tuesday, I’m posting book reviews that I did in the past for D+A Studio’s blog. I’m doing this because, well, I love to read, and a good book will not be dated and will keep coming up when discussing current issues.  Click on the “Book Review” tab to see all reviews. 

“Living Green: Communities that Sustain,” by Jennifer Fosket and Laura Mamo


The “Living Green” authors visited many intentional communities around the country, interviewed residents, and spent time getting to know what makes each place tick. These communities ranged from a commune that has been around for decades that in order to be a part of you must give up all outside assets so that all are equal, to cohousing communities and eco-villages. The book focused much more on the social aspect of these communities than the built environment, but there was enough discussion of the physical makeup to merit a discussion here.

In the commune mentioned above, the focus of the community was a social sustainability: everyone is made equal by the fact that there is no outside income and everyone contributes somehow for the common good. In an eco-village, incomes are separate and the emphasis is on environmentally sustainably living.

The authors visited the Los Angeles Eco-Village (LAEV), located in the Koreatown neighborhood west of downtown LA. Their mottoes are “Demonstrating higher quality living patterns at a lower environmental impact” and “Reinventing how we live in cities.” It is sponsored by the Cooperative Resources and Services Project, which is a nonprofit community development organization for “small ecological cooperative communities.”

This community is what the Cohousing Association of the United States would call a form of “retro-fit” cohousing, that is, people live together in community, but they live in a building and spaces purchased by the LAEV, as opposed to the traditional definition of cohousing, where residents collectively design a community from scratch. Retro-fit cohousing like the LAEV is a much more accessible and attainable way to live in community. However, it is not without sacrifice. Their rules and regulations dictate the minimum and maximum amount of residents in each unit, for instance. But living here comes with many advantages of community, including “traffic calming” potlucks in the street, gardens, and a supportive bike culture. About half of the residents do not own cars, and those that do not receive a $20 discount on their rent each month. The eco-village is located close to transit and bus stops. The 48 units, owned by the Cooperative Resources and Services Project, are currently rented to residence, but in the future LAEV hopes to create permanently affordable co-ops.

Click here for more information on EcoVillages.

Fosket and Mamo list the 10 C’s of Sustainability that they found in the communities they visited: Culture, Context, Citizenship, Commitment, Collaboration, Connectedness, Care, Contact (with nature), Commons, Continuity.

I particularly like “Citizenship” as key to sustainability. So often the people have a will for living sustainably but what needs to be done is literally against the law (this subject could be dozens of other blog posts, but just for example, zoning laws that separate commercial and residential uses that discourage walking, limits on ADU’s and granny flats which discourage density and affordable housing, and municipal covenants that limit the number of unrelated people living in a single family dwelling). The authors encourage people to take power over their circumstances and strive to change local ordinances that are outdated that limit sustainability .