Creating a sustainable oasis in a big city – Kailash Ecovillage

There is a long waiting list for apartments in the Kailash Ecovillage in southeast Portland, Oregon – and it is no wonder why. If I lived in Portland, my name would be on that list.

You can see for yourself in this fascinating tour of the ecovillage, a permaculture co-living space and urban food forest that used to be pavement, grass and weeds. Its 50-60 residents pay reasonable rents, help with the gardening, and know all their neighbours – it’s a community.

Ole Ersson takes visitors on a virtual tour of the ecovillage. Northwest VEG.

It is a story that goes back to 2007, when Ole and Maitri Ersson bought the Cabana, an old 32-unit, two-story apartment house set among other apartment complexes and single-family houses in southeast Portland. They had a vision of what they wanted to create, and practical knowledge, as Ole had managed Portland Parks and Recreation’s Buckman Community Gardens for 13 years.

But turning the rundown apartment building – which neighbours called the ‘meth house’ – into what it is now was not easy at first. Drug dealing pervaded the complex, the police arrived regularly, and occasionally there were shootouts in the parking lot. ‘It was very stressful that first year,’ Ole says.

The first big step was to tear up the front parking lot with the help from Depave, which helps transform over-paved spaces, and turn it into a garden. Now there are indoor and outdoor common gathering areas, a large shared kitchen, shared bike parking areas, and extensive annual and perennial gardens, orchards, and food forests. 

The transformation has been remarkable, says Clean Technica. “They really have it all: solar power, a water catchment system, vegan-only community kitchen and meals, a vehicle share program, living roofs, plus four annual permaculture convergences, one per season – and that’s just to name a few of the admirable projects and programs Kailash hosts. In addition, as food is so central to a sustainable community, probably the most impressive part of Kailash is the garden. Or should we say gardens – there are 46 private garden plots for resident use, and an extensive community garden. They also have a bamboo micro-forestry project, berry bushes, grapevines, fruit orchards, and a greenhouse. They have also created areas dedicated for wildlife habitat, including bird houses, bat houses, bee boxes and reptile gardens.”

Kailash Ecovillage

Communitecture, which works with Kailash, calls it “one of the highest functioning urban ecovillages in the USA.” It has many of the features of co-housing, but unlike the city’s other co-housing complexes, tenants aren’t required to buy their units. Instead, apartments are rented and advertised on Craigslist. 

‘Most of the people who live here would not be able to afford co-housing,’ Ole says. But there’s a stipulation: tenants must be willing to do recycling and composting.

No business would want such a complex landscape, Ole says, because it requires a lot of maintenance. But the secret lies in turning maintenance over to the residents. “They get joy; it’s an antidepressant; it’s a way of creating food; it’s a way of creating community; so you have to do it in a certain way, but it’s definitely a lot more work than the typical grass and shrub landscape for sure.”

And if an earthquake should strike, Kailash Ecovillage is prepared to cope.

Sources:

Rundown apartments reborn as food-forest coliving Agritopia. Kirsten Dirksen, You Tube, Sept. 26, 2021

Kailash Ecovillage website.

Kailash Ecovillage Permaculture Pandemic Virtual Tour. Northwest VEG, You Tube, April 21, 2021

Kailash Ecovillage: not your typical apartment house. Pamplin Media Group, June 2, 2011

Profile Of Kailash Ecovillage, An Urban Intentional Community In Portland Oregon. Clean Technica, Jan. 3, 2017

Kailish ecovillage. Communitecture.