Silly me. I open my big mouth about my unscheduled relaxing week in Pittsburgh, and sure enough…never a dull moment.
It turns out that the housing situation for the second half of my stay in Cincinnati was only the start of something bigger. My matchmaker introduced me to someone, who introduced me to someone else, who linked me to a whole cascade of people, and my schedule has been relentlessly filling up.
I’ve been repeatedly amazed by the network that exists in this region. As I mentioned a couple of posts back, there is a lot of faith-based work happening to build everything from local food production to communal living. Rather than focus on the exact links that connected me to all these projects, I’ll just list the connections I’ve made in the last few days (not counting a mess of referrals to cities I have yet to visit).
First, the Union Project is an old church that is finding new life as a community center. The old daycare area is now offices for nonprofits, and the basement is filled with a pottery studio (being rearranged to make yet another classroom) and a stained-glass restoration workshop. There was a cafe in the old foyer, but it was apparently not immune to the economic downturn.
The Open Door church is exploring issues of sharing, and have launched an urban farming project called the Garfield Community Farm. I haven’t seen this urban farm yet, but I plan to attend their harvest party Saturday if it isn’t raining too hard. Incidentally, Open Door worships at the Union Project’s great hall (which I’m told is not called a sanctuary).
There are at least two loose intentional communities in Pittsburgh. One of these is a cluster of three big houses in a row, right next door to one of the many urban farming projects launched by Grow Pittsburgh. These houses are affiliated with a project called Formation House, which is fixing up a big old mansion into a training center so people can actually learn about what works in intentional communities before they just move in and start randomly trying stuff. What a concept.
Another intriguing project is the Sprout Fund. Pittsburgh is doing relatively well, and this is often credited to its decision to shift from a manufacturing economy to “meds & eds.” That is, pharmaceuticals and education. One problem, however, is that college graduates often leave town due to a lack of job opportunities. The Sprout Fund seeks to retain this talent by helping to fund start-ups.
And of course, I’m just scratching the surface. There are many other great things going on just outside of the faith-based networks in which I’ve been swirling (and other faith-based projects that I haven’t mentioned. There is simply a lot going on in this city. For examples, consider Bike Pittsburgh (especially impressive since this city has lots of hills and often-interesting weather), Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest, and Grow Pittsburgh. The latter two have adjacent offices next to the Sprout Fund, and right across from the Quiet Storm, which is one of the coolest vegetarian restaurants ever. Quite a groovy little cluster there.
But it hasn’t been all Pittsburgh all the time. In the course of my wild chain of referrals, I was strongly encouraged to pay a visit to a Bruderhof community about an hour south of town (in theory – we became profoundly lost trying to escape the southern suburbs, where I must admit they could use an expressway).
Bruderhofs – now calling themselves Church Communities International – are a pacifist anabaptist movement (somewhat related to Amish and Mennonites, who do not practice infant baptism). They practice radical sharing of property. That is, they are about as communal a group as you are likely to find anywhere. They live in large buildings with apartments for several families. They have their own farm, school and medical clinic. They dress modestly (I felt utterly out of place in my bright green jacket).
They also limit their community sizes. Just across the road was a younger sister community, also with about 250 members. Each operates by consensus, with elected leaders making some decisions. We didn’t have time to delve too deeply into the exact governance, and I didn’t feel like I should pry too much. When I initially called, I mentioned that I am “studying” such things, and was politely told that they’re not big on being studied but I would be welcome to come experience things a bit. I appreciated that distinction.
And they do know what to do with gawkers. They have a large and modern workshop (perhaps 50,000 sf) where we were both briefly put to work making Community Playthings. I was assigned to final assembly (attaching a really clever system of retractable wheels) and boxing of shelf units, and my friend helped with inspecting and packaging chairs.
Somewhere out there are a handful of kids’ shelves with my fingerprints on them. I love that.