About This Newsletter What is an Ecovillage? Ecovillage Resources Diana Leafe Christian, Editor

Richard Register on EcoCities and Ecovillages

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By Richard Register and Diana Leafe Christian

Richard Register's rendering of the San Francisco of the future — as an ecocity.
I was recently asked whether ecovillages are similar to ecocities, and more specifically, similar to the work of ecocity advocate and designer Richard Register. I copied Richard on my reply, and his response was so interesting I wanted to share it you. — Diana

Diana on Ecovillages and Ecocities:

(November/December 2010) Ecovillages are small-scale settlements ranging from a few dozen people to several hundred, but are tiny compared to cities, and have a different function. In both rural and urban ecovillages, residents are living out their ecological values: seeking ecological, economic, and social sustainability. They often offer classes and workshops to teach others what they're learning. Please see website of Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).

Ecocities are ecological human settlements on a whole-city scale, which of course is much more complex than a simple ecovillage. Please see website of Richard Register’s ecocity organization, EcoCity Builders.

And please see Richard's wonderful animated drawing of the relationship of a human settlement to adjacent agriculture.

As I see it, ecovillages and ecocities are similar in basic values and some practices. For example ecocities and ecovillages are both based on living more sustainably — ecologically, economically, and socially. And both advocate sustainable dwellings (i.e. passive solar, off-grid, etc.); appropriate technology; growing/raising organic food onsite or very near by; walkability and human-scale transportation (not cars!); and human-scale, fair, participatory governance.

Richard specifically advocates that ecovillages — which come in all shapes, sizes, and configurations of the built environment — have high-density buildings adjacent to agriculture, rather than being spread out like most suburban neighborhoods, with agriculture too far away. (His animated drawing, noted above, demonstrates this beautifully.) Richard suggests that ideally ecovillages would be like certain villages in Spain, with a dense grouping of no less than four-story multi-resident buildings right next to agricultural fields. Such a sane idea!

In fact, in this issue Etienne Gernez describes his visit to the Augustenborg neighborhood in Malmö, Sweden, in "Ecovillages in Scandinavia, Part II”. Augustenborg sure seems like an ecocity to me! —Diana Leafe Christian

Richard Register on Ecocities and Ecovillages:

Ecocity activist and author Richard Register.
I have seen some “regular” villages, not self-consciously ecovillages, that are extremely compact. In China with multi-family dwellings in the three-story range; in Turkey and Nepal in the six-story range — with natural, grazing, and/or agricultural land or waters immediately next door. The walls of city buildings right up against open space.

And at the ecovillage Torri Superiore in Italy, a group of permaculture designers hoping to create a ecovillage purchased this almost single-structure hyper-compact small village. It looks fascinating. I'd love to visit. I even offered to pay the way for Torri Superiore to send a representative to our Ecocity 7 Conference in San Francisco in 2008 to report on their work, but they weren't able to attend.

I keep looking for cities that might break up into larger eco-type city centers: mid-sized district centers with neighborhood centers turning into ecovillages. In Detroit large areas — thousands of acres of former thinly scattered development — are turning into open space, some of it into new farming. The whole galaxy of these habitations — city centers becoming ecocities, district centers becoming ecotowns, and neighborhood centers becoming ecovillages — would be a new and really exciting way to live, with probably one-tenth the energy and one-fifth the land demands of the present average city where most inhabitants use cars.

Zero-car cities like Venice and Zermatt, Switzerland, are very successful. If these cities had some solar energy retrofitting and more biodiversity in or adjacent to them, they would be very close to becoming ecological cities and villages.

Also, people have been using artificial fill since the first cities in the Mesopotamian Valley 4,500 years ago: the cities of the Sumerian civilization were built on mounds to rise above the floods. That would work for New Orleans and dozens of other coastal cities on flat land that's near or below sea level. They could even have new agricultural islands very close by or as a "skirt" around such cities for intensive food production, Biodynamic-style or Permaculture-style, with food also grown in solar greenhouses, some on rooftops, and so on. Very rich possibilities. —Richard Register


Richard Register is a renowned theorist and author in ecological city design and planning He has three decades of experience designing and activating local projects, “pushing establishment buttons,” and working with environmentalists as well as developers to get more sustainable cities built and running. He has spoken at the Stockholm Conference (alternative event),
Rio de Janeiro Conference (alternative event),
Johannesburg Conference (alternative event),
Habitat II, and Istanbul
Smithsonian Institution
National Council for Science and the Environment, among others. His books include Ecocities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature, 2002; Village Wisdom/Future Cities, 1997 (editor); and Ecocity Berkeley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future, 1987. His nonprofit organization, Ecocity Builders is dedicated to reshaping cities, towns, and villages for long-term health of human and natural systems.


Diana Leafe Christian, editor of this newsletter, lives at Earthaven Ecovillage, North Carolina, US.

Related articles:

Robert Gilman on "Multiple Centers of Initiative" — Sep '08
Also in this issue:
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Newsletter Staff

Mission & Purpose

To encourage and inspire new and existing ecovillage projects with news about ecovillages and related projects worldwide.

Advisory Board

  • Lois Arkin,
    CRSP; ENA; Urban Ecovillage Network; Los Angeles Eco-Village, US
  • Peter Bane,
    Permaculture designer; publisher, Permaculture Activist, US
  • Albert Bates,
    Co-founder, GEN; Post-Petroleum Survival Guide; Director, Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm, US
  • Tree Bressen,
    Consensus & Facilitation Trainer; Cofounder, Walnut St. Co-op, US
  • Ernest Callenbach,
    Ecotopia, Ecotopia Emerging; US
  • Giovanni Ciarlo,
    GEN; ENA; Huehyecoyotl Ecovillage, Mexico
  • Raines Cohen,
    Cohousing Association of the US; Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC); Berkeley Cohousing, US
  • Leila Dregger,
    Peace journalist & writer, Peace Research Center & Ecovillage, Tamera, Portugal
  • Chuck Durrett,
    Cohousing; Senior Cohousing; Architect, The Cohousing Company; Nevada City Cohousing, US
  • Jonathan Dawson,
    Ecovillages; Findhorn Foundation, Scotland
  • Robert Gilman,
    Co-founder, GEN; Ecovillages & Sustainable Communities; City Council Member, Langley, Washington, US
  • Michael Hale,
    Yarrow Ecovillage, Canada
  • Jeff Grossberg,
    Guidestone Consulting Group, US
  • Martha Harris,
    Earthaven Ecovillage, US
  • Scott Horton,
    Editor, Permaculture Activist, US
  • Hildur Jackson,
    Co-founder, Gaia Trust; cofounder, GEN; Ecovillage Living, Denmark
  • Kosha Joubert,
    Editor, Beyond You and Me, GEN's EDE Program; Ecovillage Sieben Linden, Germany
  • Elana Kann & Bill Flemming,
    Co-developers, Westwood Cohousing, US
  • Joseph F. Kennedy,
    Designer/educator; The Art of Natural Building, US
  • Fred & Nancy Lanphear,
    Northwest Intentional Communities Association (NICA); Songaia Cohousing, US
  • Mark Lakeman,
    Founder, Portland City Repair & Village Building Convergence, US
  • Max Lindegger,
    Cofounder, GEN; Director, GEN-Oceania/Asia; Crystal Waters Ecovillage, Australia
  • Chris Mare,
    GEN's EDE Program; Village Design Institute, US
  • Ronaye Matthew,
    Canadian Cohousing Network; Cranberry Commons Cohousing, Canada
  • Kathryn McCamant,
    Architect/Developer, Cohousing Partners, Inc.; Co-author, Cohousing; Nevada City Cohousing, US
  • Dr. Bill Metcalf,
    Findhorn Book of Community Living; Professor, Environmental Sociology, Griffith University, Australia
  • Ina Meyer-Stoll,
    Co-director, GEN-Europe; ZEGG, Germany
  • Tim Miller,
    The 60s Communes; Professor of Religion, University of Kansas, US
  • Hank Obermayer,
    Mariposa Grove Cohousing, US
  • Toshio Ogata,
    Professor of Economics, Chuo University; GEPA (Global Environment Project in Asia), Japan
  • Craig Ragland,
    Executive Director, Cohousing Association of the US; Songaia Cohousing; New Earth Song Cohousing, US
  • Penelope Reyes,
    President, GEN-Oceania/Asia; Tuwâ - The Laughing Fish, Cabiao, Philippines
  • Michael Rios,
    Network for a New Culture Summer Camp East; Chrysalis, Washington DC, US
  • Jim Shenck,
    Enright Ridge Ecovillage, US
  • Nicola Shirley,
    The Source Farm Ecovillage, Jamaica
  • Tony Sirna,
    Communities Directory; Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, US
  • Shane Snell,
    Whole Village, Canada
  • Jan Steinman,
    EcoReality Co-op, Canada
  • Liz Walker,
    GEN's EDE Program; Ecovillage at Ithaca; EcoVillage at Ithaca, US