Friday, September 11, 2020


VISITING LIBERTYVILLE September 4, 2026  - A Free City

There was strong pressure on the NDP-Green coalition government to do something real about the housing crisis. There was also the on-going social crisis with the breakdown of community and the looming environmental disaster. How to tackle all three at the same time? Members of Extinction Rebellion, anarchists, eco-socialists, co-housing, trade unionist and cooperative activists got together and devised a plan which they called “the Libertyville Project.” Proponents of the Green New Deal long ago said we should tackle the climate crisis with as much fervour as we took on fascism in WW2. The building of “Liberty ships” came to mind. So why not the same effort put into building affordable, ecologically sound genuine communities and kill three birds with one stone? So the Libertyville Project came to be.

In the previous decades activists had to move mountains of bureaucracy to create cohousing developments and an eco-village on Vancouver Island. Rather than this uphill battle, why not have the various levels of government assisting and encouraging such projects?

Liberty ships were up to 10,000 tons and it was realized that a city of 10,000 inhabitants, by using a combination of old and new miniaturized technology could provide most of its own material, cultural, social and educational requirements. It was also small enough that people could easily take a direct hand in its governance. (More about that later.)

The Covid Crisis of 2020-2021 showed how vulnerable neoliberal policies had made us, but also showed how we could all come together in solidarity to defeat a problem. People now spoke openly of a “Triple Crisis”, environmental, social and economic. Nevertheless, the various levels of government dragged their feet, as they had previously. This all changed with the Canada Day Riot of 2022.

Canada Day 2022 drew about a hundred thousand people into down town Vancouver, who used the opportunity to peacefully protest the housing and climate crises. A group of counter-demonstrators comprised of neo-Nazis, climate crisis deniers and anti-vaxxers attacked the crowd, injuring a woman. Unfortunately for these fascists, they had chosen to attack the very moment a contingent of construction workers was marching by. The workers began turning the right-wingers into low grade hamburger, and seemingly out of nowhere a Black Bloc arrived and joined in the fun. Then cops appeared, protected the right-wingers and tried to arrest the workers and black clad youth. Cell phones spread the news within seconds and all hell broke loose. Some $50,000,000 dollars of damage was done to corporate businesses and luxury apartments – the Trump tower burned for hours. While the police could dominate a few thousand ideologically minded militants, a hundred thousand bitter, angry working people were beyond control. The insurrection only ended when people got exhausted and straggled home.

All levels of government got the message. No more dilly-dallying. No more totally panderring to the developers and financial interests. They would now have to march a fine line between the wishes of the people and the one percent. Greens and left-wing members of the NDP suggested examining the Libertyville Project. They met with the organizers and agreed to a pilot project on Vancouver Island. A land trust was set up and 150 hectares was donated to it.

The basis of the project was that land trust. The trust owns the land in perpetuity and leases it out to groups and individuals on 99 year leases. The lease cost goes to pay for services, to finance projects and to fund future Libertyvilles. The leases are little more than what one would pay in property taxes in a regular city. Cooperatives and cohousing developments are encourgaged, though individuals may lease too. In order to prevent any monopolization there is only one lease per person or family.

I spent several days visiting Libertyville and saw how well the town functioned. It is a genuine city with a proper downtown comprised of shops and public buildings, not like most small cities, which are a down town slum with suburban sprawl and shopping malls ripping out its guts. The city is compact and no one is more than a kilometer from the center. There are down town arcades, but no malls. No building may exceed 5 stories to keep the city human scale and each must have apartments on the third to fifth floors. The commercial buildings are cooperatives, thus rent is very low and this encourages the sort of creative enterprises ruled out by high rents in regular cities. Every street is lined with deciduous trees to cool the city in summer, provide oxygen and maximize sun light in the winter. All downtown shops that deliver must do so gratis and by electric vans. A tram connects the neighborhoods with downtown.

You might think putting 4000 living units on 300 acres would require a shoe horn, if not high rise towers. Not so. In regular cities, not to mention suburbs, much space is wasted. Streets are unnecessarily wide, dwellings are set far from the sidewalk and the houses are unnecessarily large and poorly designed. The average Libertyville row house has a 600 square foot surface. (Two floors plus basement equaling 1512 square feet of living space, accounting for width of outside walls) Add to this 800 for the back yard (20x40 feet) and 300 square feet for the sidewalk and the “share” of the street (20x15 feet) and you have only 1700 square feet. This works out to 25 units per acre. If 40% of the land is set aside for public and commercial spaces, you could actually have 4500 units, not 4000. When you consider that all commercial buildings have apartments on their upper floors, approximately 500 units in total, half the land surface has easily been set aside for public and commercial purposes.

All buildings have been built to the highest environmental standards – zero energy. All have solar panels feeding into the grid and solar hot water heating. Initially, this was more costly than regular construction, but was more than balanced out by the vast savings in utility bills. All roofs are metal, thus no costly roofing every 20 years. Shutters keep the heat in during winter and the heat out in summer. Building orientation and the use of deciduous trees also is a factor in heating and cooling.

Not having to pay a share of an expensive lot, low utility and maintenance costs, the smaller size of dwelling and yard, the use of row housing, all brings down the overall cost of a dwelling to genuine affordability. But this is not all. Sweat equity lowers costs even further. Many residents, guided by skilled tradespeople, have worked on their own dwellings. Since everything you need is within walking distance, deliveries and the tram are free and there is regular bus service to the Big City, 25 km away, an automobile is unnecessary. Many of the cohousings also have their own van. If you really need a car there is the auto coop. Since most families in Canada pay 17% of their income on transportation, you can see the huge saving. But I am still not finished with the savings. Flood and fire insurance for buildings does not exist. A housing activist realized it was far cheaper to rebuild a damaged house out of lease funds, than have everyone pay large sums for insurance.

Neighborhoods are the basic unit and there are seven of them. Each neighborhood has a large park known as “Mutuality Parks” as in the “Ginger Goodwin Neighborhood Mutuality Park.” The park has a Neighborhood House and an assembly area for mass meetings. Each neighborhood is mixed use and therefore a genuine community not the oxymoronic “bedroom community” – dwellings, allotments, shops, schools, non-invasive enterprises all together.

Governance– Each neighborhood meets at least twice a year in its assembly ground. Policies are decided by modified consensus, or if need be, supermajorities. Recallable delegates are selected to go to the City Delegate Council. The sole mandate of the delegates is to carry out the wishes of the Assembly. Important issues that arise in Council that might differ from the original position of the Assembly, must be taken back to the Assembly for final decision. Libertyville does have a mayor, an older woman whose wisdom is universally respected, who was selected by the delegates after public nomination. She has no vote and is there to help create unanimity and “cut ribbons”, not tell people what to do.

As far as bylaws and regulations go, the unwritten rule is to have as few as possible. The land trust sets the basic egalitarian and environmentally sane paradigm, which cannot be changed. One regulation in place is that democratic/human rights as well as the environmental code trumps property rights. The authoritarian meddling one sometimes sees with condos, such as being forbidden to place election posters in your window, everyone having to hang the same types of blinds and not being allowed to have a clothesline, are seen as violations in Libertyville. The phrase you often hear from citizens is “:Harm no one,” that is, you can do what you wish provided you are not undermining the health and saftey of the community. As such, there is a great deal of experimentation and imagination used in home building and public structures, forbidden by city bylaws elsewhere.

Neighborhood Committees. (NC's) These are extremely important and along with the neighborhood assemblies form the basic level of governance. The NC meet at least once a month at the Neighborhood House where they also have a permanent (but small) office. It can bring issues to the attention of the Assembly or Council Delegates. Issues dealt with by police or bylaw officers in “regular” cities are often handled by the NC. Example -– suppose a woman is being stalked or harassed by her ex. They will be asked to attend a meeting of the NC and resolve the conflict. Refusal to attend is looked on very negatively. There is a sliding scale of actions that the NC can carry out against the perpetrator, based upon the Seattle Solidarity method. (Please Google) The NC's also oversee any public (commons) areas of the neighborhood such as parks, street furniture etc.

City Works – Since the citizens have twice as much free time as the average person there is a great deal of volunteering, which is also encouraged by the various institutions. Much of what is usually done by paid staffers is done by volunteers. There is a small city staff comprised of skilled workers who assist the volunteers and do the work they cannot do. The the daily running of city works and all other departments is by self-management, eliminating costly and inefficient bureaucracy. The cost of running essential city services is lower than elsewhere. Since the city belongs to all citizens and not just its employees, City Works is overseen by a board comprised of Neighborhood Committee representatives and city workers.

Schools. In order to eliminate bureaucracy and the problems of bureaucratic control, schools are owned by the neighborhood and run by boards comprised of student, teacher and parent delegates. Every school is within walking distance and thus a costly school bus system is eliminated. The curriculum emphasizes critical thinking, social, historical, and environmental awareness combined with cultural and “practical” skills. Volunteers from activist groups, coops, trade unions, along with local scholars, writers, artists, and craftspeople all participate in the education of the children.

Health Care is provided by community owned clinics and mutual aid societies. The hospital is owned by the community. Clinic doctors are required to do home visits. All facilities are under worker self-management and overseen by elected worker-community rep boards. The pharmacy is run as a cooperative and is part of the Libertyville Food Cooperative.

Association House was developed to encourage the formation and growth of voluntary associations. In a regular North American context, small voluntary groups have to spend much time fund raising to have an office or meeting place. Association House provides both for a nominal fee, freeing the groups to do what they were created to do. City-wide associations belong to the down town Association House. The same service is provided by the Neighborhood Houses for any group that serves only that neighborhood.

Media- There is a Media Coop Federation which consists of cooperatives in radio, TV and a weekly newspaper. Publishing is also provided at cost for local authors. In this manner the media are democratized and people are no longer subjected to a combination of corporate propaganda and the ignoring of important stories and issues.

Urban Farming. Libertyville is – or soon will be – surrounded by small farms. This is part of the plan. The City, through its land trust agreement can never encroach upon on farmland or forest. Combined with garden allotments and home gardens, much of the seasonal food is grown within the city and its immediate surroundings. Feedlots, caged animals, GMO's are absolutely forbidden and only organic farming is allowed.

Once the whole of Libertyville is built up – that's it. The city is self-limiting in size and thus population. Those in future who wish to live there but cannot because all the spaces are taken will be asked to join the Libertyville Foundation, which provides financial and technical support for the development of new free cities. As I write there are some dozen or so new projects being built or planned.

Libertyville is the freest and most egalitarian city in North America, if not the world. Low costs of housing, transportation, services and taxes means that an average family need work half as much as families in other towns. This is an immense gain in freedom. With self-government and self-management, there is individual input into every important decision, whether at the neighborhood, city or workplace level. Since all institutions are run on a democratic basis, including large shops, all of which are cooperatives, there is not an area of life in which the citizen does not have a say. Exercise, healthy local food, the freedom to control ones life, the connection with people though community and voluntary associations and the resulting lack of stress, has given rise to a population that is physically and emotionally the healthiest in existence.

Of course, this is a fantasy. But it is not an airy-fairy utopia. Everything mentioned here, except for one aspect alone, already exists, has existed for a long time, and functions better than the “regular” way. There are land trusts. Neighborhood associations exist, and just need beefing up. Neighborhood houses are not unusual, Association Houses are common in France. Every environmental building method mentioned is being done. 40% of Germans live in housing cooperatives, 50,000 Danes in co-housing. There are eco-villages worldwide. A million people belong to worker cooperatives and a billion to regular cooperatives. Towns in New England and cantons in Switzerland are run on the assembly-delegate method. And so on and so on. The one fantasy is that a government, even in the face of an uprising, would be willing to stand up to corruption and introduce the Libertyville Project. That I doubt, but would love to be proven wrong.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

Blogging Change
BCBloggers Code: Progressive Bloggers Site Meter