Sunday, 12 April 2015

The EcoVillage Question

Whose question is it – and what do we need to know? Having had a long-time fascination with these miracles of human stick-to-itiveness and stick-togetherness, the question would have to be mine. 

How do they come about, what is their ideal form and what sort of benefits can they bring?

Questions. At any rate, far from being un-answerable, others have trod[den] this ground before me and yes, solutions have arisen, mostly through trial and error and sheer force of determination to find them. 

[Referring jointly to the process of inquiry into, and the actual work of making and maintaining EcoVillages.]

Our journey begins with Earthaven Ecovillage..

Warm and fuzzy.. visit Earthaven Ecovillage's blog.
They are in Black Mountain, North Carolina, USA.

EcoVillages are no accident. Intention to live on the land in a certain – sustainable way and to live together harmoniously in a microcosm of society as we know it. 

The common denominator is that the environment – both social and physical has been arranged to yield maximum growth potential (both human and food) with the minimum amount of disturbance to life (human and otherwise) and enjoyment thereof (this is unabashedly of the human variety).

This article tells how one group successfully dealt 
with their neighbours' concerns, in the beginning 
of their planning process.

Yarrow Ecovillage in Southwest British Columbia, Canada, 
found a way to distinguish themselves from being
 just another development.

What does not work may be just as instructive as what does – (refers to the error part of trial and error). No experience is ever wasted in this regard – and all may learn from the trials of others, no matter what the outcome. has many helpful, insightful 
articles on the EcoVillage process.

This particular story talks about an EcoVillage as
a wellspring of numerous productive
cottage industries.
(Photo by Diana Leafe Christian.)

Consensus over what does work is surprisingly widespread (and results are easily verifiable). Make sure the group is on the same page (or at least the same series of books) before commencing, settling on or acquiring a piece of land.

Winning hearts and minds, and contributing to their
 community, Sunraysia Sustainability Network 

This "village" features demonstrations and 
education for the public.  
It is located near the local rubbish tip!

However, it has proven effective for a small group [e.g. a family or two] to provide the steering necessary to overcome earliest obstacles. For example, a group so small that democratic procedures are not a hindrance to choice or decision-making as often happens at latter stages once group size has increased.

One way of obtaining land is by retro-fitting an
 existing neighbourhood.  
BEND (Bega Eco-Neighbourhood Developers) 
have taken matters of sustainable 
living into their own hands.

Here is some more about them.
And advice on similar housing groups.

As a counterpoint, the [decision-making] group should be larger than say one – as autocracies have been proven to be unsustainable. Ideally it may begin with the vision of one (person) and supporters in small numbers arrive to provide energy, ideas and consciousness that benefit the burgeoning/budding project, as well as spreading the work-load evenly around.

Another way of securing land 
is by crowd-funding your project.  If enough people
 (world-wide) become interested, and you are a good
 project planner, you get your land!

How many people does it take 
to have the same 
idea before it happens?

As for the form, there are several choices (an infinite number in fact) but a few templates have already been chosen and experimented with. The degree of success having more to do with the skill in managing the human factors, rather than luck (or skill) in choosing the format itself.

It's comforting to know 
you can buy
a place like this in a functioning 

Because EcoVillage participants share a guiding or founding intention, there must needs be a degree of togetherness or sharing on the physical level – (structures, resources, time and energy channeled to a common purpose). 

Whilst the sharing can vary widely (some definitions of an EcoVillage allow people to “buy in” and then to become hermits if they so choose), it is my understanding that the group's identity (often arising from a sense of place or purpose) is one attribute that always rises above any tendency for individualism or isolationism amongst members. 

In fact, building a shared identity is one of the success factors and is highly recommended.

  And let's not forget EcoVillage tourism. 

  Annapurna any one?  

To design – one of my chief interests in the EcoVillage establishment process. Here we have one of the factors that could be addressed at the “less democratic” stage.  As it could be quite daunting to achieve [or complete] by committee. Community consultation would be most beneficial in later stages, as the process of growth or re-development was undertaken. 

Visions of one person when complete and heart-felt and executed (carried to completion) with the proper amount of compassion and foresight are both rewarding for the maker – and can as well be successful in that they have integrity to the architect's ingenuity.  Second-guessing is usually not as helpful as the second-guesser might intend. 

But, co-creation, where the visionary person is aided and amplified (in their efforts) by the contributions of others is most welcome. The distinction, critically, is adherence to the design integrity of the creator's plan and any modifications would be purely for practical purposes only.  (For example, the architect may not also be the engineer..)

 A way to get council 
 approval (Australia), subdivide 
 your farm into smaller organic farms. 

 That's what was done at Rivers Road 
 in the Cowra (NSW) area.  
 Being organic meant neighbours wouldn't 
 interfere with each other's land by spraying 
 chemicals.  A problem that the Cowra 
 Council had been having.. 

This brings me to a notion that may be a successful guiding force (or power) in some EcoVillages. Utilitarianism. What does this mean?  {I am not the first to believe I made up this word.}

Why not re-visit the idea of forming a co-operative?

 Tenterfield Shire (Northern NSW, Australia).  
Their "rural land sharing community" 
succeeded in developing a site 
near Koorelah National 
Park (despite some murmurs in that area).

That what brings people together is a shared desire to pool their practical abilities (and to build their knowledge of what this entails).  While it is an “ISM” (a set belief system) its main difference from other idealistic aspirations is purely in its practicality. 

Example, when people create a community together there is a clear and present need for the basic necessities of life . Whilst ideals of equality and utopian viewpoints may exist in the backs of people's minds, the utility value of one person's construction or well-drilling or road-making skills may prove to be the over-riding factor in the course of completing the day's work. 

All skill levels not being equal, the most valuable commodity would be the ability to get things done in an orderly, timely fashion – not the ability to write a thesis on water conservation or land-use management.

Sometimes the process can be uncertain,
 (Chidlow, near Perth, WA, Australia).

Here is some background information.
(On this, and another in Geraldton, WA.)

Peace prevails when people's needs are met, and unless the thesis-writing directly and materially served one of these, utilitarianism as described above would be the dominant conceptual motivator. 

After all, there would be plenty of time for philosophy once all the bellies were full to capacity, and any disagreement arising from varying points of view would cause little unrest in the village and only be of academic interest or importance.

 Going back to school? 

 can be held in numerous locations world-wide. 
 They are partners with GEN, 

Therefore, in a utilitarian EcoVillage the unifying force is living together in a way that provides the material requirements for all participants, and decisions can be made on this level. 

This seems refreshing – if somewhat mundane to some – and has the potential to unify participants from a broad cross-section of society's palette (not just members of the same face book group!).

A permaculture course at Sieben Linden
Eco-Village, (Okodorf Sieben Linden).

It is a social and ecological settlement, as 
well as a housing and farming 
cooperative near Wolfsburg, Germany.
(The Altmark region of the former E. Germany.)

Active in the international 
inhabitants live in multi-family 
dwellings in distinct neighbourhoods.

It has been suggested a success factor for EcoVillages is to design them taking into account human nature, just as permaculture does (by taking natural nature as its model). That means that human needs – we have the hierarchy of Maslow (although recent research suggests that even this is open to further discussion and modification) must be accounted for when planning our villages. 

Obviously, without water and food things won't get very far, but provision also must be made for safety and security, such as long-term viability of the group's resources and assets. (And social structures – such as, how robust will the group be at handling the process of change, expansion and the inevitable setbacks – as well as success.) 

The so-called psychological factors then assume paramount importance. (When the basics are covered.) We have – in both individualistic and collectivist arrangements [the issues of] – how healthy and possible are friendships, relationships; is a sense of belonging-ness fostered, and can individuals reach their full potential (and thus create maximum benefit for the group).

A visionary group, 
involved in many practical projects, 
Tamera Healing Biotope I 
in Monte do Cerro Portugal
 currently aims to change its local 

 is part of an ecological approach to healing the land.

It would be wise to spend a great deal of time, energy and effort in EcoVillages on the processes of communication and conflict resolution to ensure the basic human need of “being heard” is met. 

For until we all communicate effortlessly on the unspoken level – words, words, words and more words will be needed to create a meeting of the minds (and hearts ) and to foster a sense of inclusiveness.

 The Findhorn Foundation in Findhorn, 
 Scotland contains an education centre, 
 EcoVillage and is home 
 to a community of people who wish 
 to explore conscious 
 living and co-creation with nature. 

 The Park at Findhorn begun as a caravan 
 park, now increasingly 
 is home to 
 beautiful structures designed 
 and built by its inhabitants. 

 It is the 30 acre hub 
 and heart of the community's EcoVillage, 
 and one site where the foundation members live. 

What other aspects of human nature are there that might mirror natural systems (in our permaculture analogy)? 

Well we mentioned the need for an initiator to “go first” in creating the village. Our pioneer person, just as a pioneer species, enables others to then move in once favourable conditions are established. 

The strong nucleus of the village, or the first seed if you like, creates the likelihood of other allied energies (people) or species being able to first find, then establish themselves, then begin to prosper and contribute to the overall ecology of the system (village). 

It is a hallmark of living systems (just as in the development of intentional communities to full-fledged village economies) that a primary root or source begets other similar (but not identical) sources that can take on an independent life of their own

In EcoVillages this translates to a single decision-making body (the village council for example) devolving [some of] its authority to lots of functional groups (businesses, associations, educational bodies) thus allowing a smoother process of innovation and growth. 

Keeping this process down (artificially) is thought to hamper the initiatives of bright, motivated members who wish to create new structures and innovate – because they can.

The Dancing Rabbit EcoVillage
 offers easy entry to lease-holders through 
its Community Land Trust structure.  
Only structures that lease-holders build 
can be bought and sold in this system.

They are a small intentional 
community whose goal is to grow into a self-reliant town,
in Northeastern Missouri, USA.

Read more about them and their local currency,
 that can be used for all an individual's daily needs.

Examples exist in Crystal Waters and Findhorn (and others) where the EcoVillage becomes firmly embedded in the matrix of the surrounding community (a good ecological analogy – the village cannot exist in a vacuum, and does not). 

Here is an ideal situation, and is the opposite of isolationism, which EcoVillages need to guard against (how often has the word “cult” been bandied about by those outside the village proper, meaning that integration has not been sought or effectively achieved).

Some good media coverage on 
Eco-village Rodnoe (Vladimir Region, Russia).

This of course is inspired by the 
Anastasia or Ringing Cedars 
of Russia movement.
Many Russians today are leaving behind
 the stress of city living for a natural way of life.

Space of Love website reviews 
the above DVD, about Rodnoe and its people in summer.

News from Russia -- 

The Far East of Russia is now open 
to a new homestead act, 
where people can have a hectare of land, 
and five years to settle it and use it 
before it can be officially theirs.

For the individual (organisms!) inside the village, the question often arises as to how do I make a living for myself and my family? This has been answered beautifully and a summary is shown here.

Primary Production-  Growing Plants and Animals 
for Food and Fiber, 
    also Nursery and Seed Propagation, Herbs 
for Cosmetic and Medicinal Use

Preserving and Packaging Produce, Teas, Cosmetics, Paint-
making, Hand-crafted Furniture, Locally-
made Crafts, Textiles, Arts, Pottery, Leatherwork,

Professional Services/ Creative and Performing Arts-  
    Whatever you are already trained to do

Education-  Master Classes, Children's Camps, Workshops

Hospitality, Tourism and Events-   Offer Opportunities

Telecommuting-  Using Internet Connections


Again, when the village is taken in its social context, it is at the group level where individual intiatives (cottage industries, or larger cooperative ventures) are either stifled or actively encouraged. 

Both examples exist, sometimes even in the same village. This shows the complexity of group dynamics and points toward the need to firmly establish vision and purpose early on, and to put in place those effective communications and conflict resolution protocols.

 Volodar Ivanov writes 
 about possible ways of making a living 
 on his kin's settlement in Russia. 
 "There is more than enough work," he states. 

 Basically, doing what you love, 
 as does this artist.

By working with human nature, planning for the future and allowing freedom of movement (to stay or to go) and innovation, villages increase their chances of carrying on for decades to come. 

An aspect of EcoVillages I find fascinating is the degree to which personal space is granted, for example, do all live together in one shared “family” home, large of necessity, or is each family encouraged to live as self-sufficiently as possible on one hectare domains? 

Whichever the case may be, the need for centralised services remains.

 (See Blog article on Chris Cole's Kin's Oases Homestead  
  Settlement in Coonabarabran, NSW, Australia,  
  for more information on the one hectare model.)  

It is recommended that the shared functions of the village be attended to first – effectively and on as large a scale as possible. This creates a strong centre that provides group unity, cohesion (and practical supports such as laundry facilities and meeting rooms and visitor accommodation) and serves to attract future and prospective members in the years to come.

The nucleus may be a social “club”, a village green (a beautiful, enjoyable open space for communal use), a school, a sustainability centre, a community or global education resource place, a store or even a shared home for the core group members or initiators. 

Whether architect-designed or just pragmatically put in place, this strong nucleus allows members and visitors the shared delight of meals (and cooking) together, special events and celebrations and just a visual or tangible reminder of what the group stands for.

  Crystal Waters is an Eco-oriented village  
  near Maleny, Queensland, Australia-- founded on  
  permaculture priciples.  It features  
  private ownership of land blocks, but its  

  The Village Green has monthly  
  markets, camping,  
  cabins, kitchen facilities, and is  
  managed by the co-op.  

  Events include permaculture education,  
  the markets, earth-building classes and seasonal celebrations.  

  Crystal Waters has declared itself a wildlife sanctuary- so no pets allowed!  

  There is also a listing of businesses that community members  
  are involved in. 

The EcoVillage process is a long one, and time should be allowed for the conception, gestation, birth, growth (and maturation) of these shared ventures. The composition of the group may change over time, but it is the pattern of the village that must be allowed to persist. 

In answer to my question, they [EcoVillages] arise from intention, exist in many forms and offer benefits that extend far beyond their own borders, deep into the surrounding areas and wider bioregion.

Resources on the development and founding of EcoVillages.

These links are convenient to have in one place (contained in text above):

  "Rethinking Ecotopia," vision of Marcel Matusz.  

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