Founding Myths no. 2, Old Crow Hill, afternoon
I have thought of Innisfree often, ever since 2012 when I started listening to Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues obsessively. That beautiful album introduced me to William Butler Yeats' "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," and that poem combined with the 15 years of eco-anxiety and walkable urbanism obsession in my heart and head and ignited into a fever dream of a place, a future place where systems stop working against people and either get out of the way or adapt to center and magnify the human experience. I have thought of little else since then. Innisfree has become a stand-in for all that I desire from my work and life, an end state that I will almost certainly never see, but toward which my wife's work is devoted.
Naturally, as I've grown and changed, my relationship to this idea has also changed. More or less, every two years I've developed a new way of expressing this idea, an attempt to work through all of the arrows in my cultural quiver to find the best way of turning my dream into a reality.
Innisfree as walkable urbanism project
The very first version of Innisfree was to simply build it. I largely conceived of it as a medieval walled city, an attempt to eradicate cars entirely from the urban core, while incorporating many of the design aspects of New Urbanism. At the time, there was a 2 acre site for sale just around the corner from me. It was bizarrely affordable at $750k, and I managed to convince myself I would somehow be able to afford it. I couldn't, and the site has since been turned into a small development of expensive single family houses.
But, the site did give me somewhere concrete to project this fictional town onto. I made a lot of sketches, of individual buildings, of the town layout. I spent a lot of time cruising the streets of European cities with Google Streetview, trying to pinpoint what made them so pleasant.
In the end, I had to face the facts that I was not ever going to have the resources to develop a project like this, so Innisfree went dormant.
Innisfree as entrepreneurship hub
As my career in startups and business education began to grow, I began to reimagine Innisfree as a place where I could blend entrepreneurship and trade education into the wider idea of a regenerative community. By then I was also well on my way to being an advocate for regeneration, and I began to see my earlier ideas of the medieval walled town as being too removed from the natural world. It was also after the election of Donald Trump and the contours of American decline came very much into focus for me.
I changed my conception of Innisfree as both a working town and a place for learning. In many respects, it wasn't all that different than a monastic community, or an 19th century college town, where learning and culture were the bedrock of the community. In this version of Innisfree, the walkable city center was still the foundation of the design, but instead of being an end to itself, it was the starting point for a wider regeneration project. The founding idea was that humans have already developed all the solutions we already need to build a better world; what was missing was that we needed places to integrate these solutions into a replicable whole.
While I was not yet a student of permaculture, the core concepts of permaculture are all present in this iteration of Innisfree. I imagined a walkable village on 40 acres of wilderness, with different guild areas focused on the 5 fundamental needs for human flourishing: water, energy, food, shelter, and healthcare. The idea was that the act of producing these 5 things for a giving group of people is the creation of community and culture. So, each guild area would focus on blending old and new technologies into workable solutions and then the guilds would come together in the model village to put these regenerative solutions into practice.
Unfortunately, this version of Innisfree had the same problem as the first one. Simply put, I still didn't have the resources to make something this ambitious happen in real life. It was an interesting academic exercise, but without funding or experience, it too lost its luster.
Innisfree as community dream
This brings me to the latest (and final?) iteration of Innisfree, as both a specific, individual project that I'm carrying out steadily in my own life, and as a public, community-driven brainstorming session. The seeds of this were planted after a series of calls and DM's with Ashley and Jason last year where we discussed ways of making Doomer Optimism something more concrete and real. During the discussion, something clicked for me, that maybe I should lean into the inherent fantasy of Innisfree and turn it into something where me and my mutuals "dream" of what a future utopia might look and feel like.
It wasn't really the direction Doomer Optimism wanted to go, and I have to admit I wasn't too keep on starting yet another website art project, so I shelved the idea for the rest of 2022, though it kept nagging at the back of my mind.
That all changed about 3 weeks ago, when a series of spiritual awakenings happened for me, and I realized that I needed to write about Innisfree. I needed to get this place out of me and into a form I could look at and study and critique. That the process of doing this had inherent value even if the place was never realized.
So, I started to write.
And now I know what Innisfree is, at least for now. Through fictional stories about the people that live in the early 22nd century town of Innisfree, and blogs about my attempt to convert by suburban plot into a food forest called Old Crow Hill, this version of Innisfree is a way of both working backwards and forward to try and articulate this place I see in my head. I'm hoping somewhere in the darkness, these two places, Old Crow Hill and Innisfree, will meet, so that a path forward to a better world will find expression in a form that can be useful to those seeking to build better communities.
The key is, this time I don't want to be alone, so I'm opening up the story of Innisfree to anyone who'd like join in this collective dream. Like to write or take pictures or paint or make music, I'd like to feature your work on this website. Show me what Innisfree looks like, feels like, tastes like, sounds like. Let's see what beauty we can make together.
Check out the submissions page to see how to submit a project.