The Ecovillage Movement Today
I often find it hard to tell people just what an ecovillage is, since ecovillage projects take many forms, and the ecovillage movement keeps on morphing and evolving.
However, I had a wonderful overview recently when I got my own personal dream job — taking minutes during the three-day board retreat of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) held at Los Angeles Eco-Village February 7-9.
I was fascinated by the insights of these veteran ecovillagers into the current state of the worldwide ecovillage movement. And their scope was truly international. I got to spend time with:
- Jonggon Duangsri of GEN-Oceania/Asia in Thailand,
- Ismael Dialo of GEN Senegal,
- Max Lindegger of GEN-Oceania/Asia and Crystal Waters Ecovillage in Australia,
- Giovanni Ciarlo of ENA and Huehuecoyotl Ecovillage in Mexico,
- Linda Joseph of ENA and Earth Arts Institute in Colorado,
- Ali Rosenblatt of NextGEN (the ecovillage organization for youth),
- Jonathan Dawson, GEN President, Co-Directorof GEN-Europe, and Findhorn Foundation in Scotland,
- Robert Gilman, a GEN co-founder who served as special consultant to the board retreat,
- Bea Briggs of IIFAC (International Institute for Facilitation and Change) and Huehuecoyotl in Mexico, who facilitated the meeting.
- In the Industrialized North (which includes Australia and New Zealand) most ecovillages are intentional communities whose residents want to live a more ecological lifestyle and experience more of a sense of community in their lives. (Some examples: Munksoegaard in Denmark, Ecovillage at Ithaca in the US, Crystal Waters in Australia.)
- Because villages are often defined as traditional settlements of 500 to 1000 or more people, ecovillages in the North are usually much smaller than true villages.
- Robert Gilman has often observed that most ecovillages in the North are not only smaller than villages but also don’t function like them. True villages, he notes, have multiple centers of initiative (the village governing body itself and the many enterprises, associations, and projects of its residents). But because most intentional-community ecovillages in the North have just one governing body they function less like true villages and more like what Robert Gilman calls “centers of research, demonstration, and training.” Intentional communities thus can be potential “seeds” of future villages.
- Findhorn in Scotland with 500 residents and Damanhur in Italy with 1200. Both have attracted new people as well as former members to settle on adjacent land, start their own businesses, and participate in the community's social and economic life. Thus, these two communities were “seeds” that started villages, and now they really do demonstrate multiple centers of initiative.
- Since most intentional community ecovillages don’t meet the criteria for villages or the well-known ecovillage definitions, a more accurate term for these smaller, newer projects might be “emerging” or “aspiring” ecovillages.
- Relatively few new ecovillages have formed after the groundswell of those founded in Europe and North America in the 1960s through the mid-90s. (For example, Ökodorf Sieben Linden in Germany, Huehuecoyotl in Mexico, Dancing Rabbit in the U.S.) Intentional community-style ecovillages were much easier to start on both continents 10 to 40 years ago because of lower land costs and fewer and less restrictive zoning regulations.
- In contrast to intentional-community ecovillages in the North, most ecovillages in the Global South are traditional indigenous villages whose residents want to stop environmental destruction, generate sustainable local economies, and preserve their traditional culture. (Examples include villages in the Senegalese Ecovillage Network in Africa and the Sarvodaya Movement in Sri Lanka.) In Russia, Eastern Europe, and parts of Spain, some ecovillages are intentional communities but others are also traditional villages with similar goals as those in the South.
- Given global climate change, Peak Oil, and the current international economic situation, there’s a need for thousands more ecovillages. And some suggest the emphasis in the ecovillage movement should perhaps shift from technology and off-grid power to food production and establishing viable farms, gardens, orchards, and woodlots.
- The Transition Towns movement in Great Britain is an example of people in some towns and cities preparing in many of these same ways for much higher food and energy costs. (Notable examples: Totnes in England; Kinsale in Ireland.)
- The growing edge of sustainability may not be the task of the ecovillage movement alone, but a task increasingly shared by the Transition Towns, Bioregional, and Localization movements, and by experts in Climate Change, Peak Oil, permaculture design, and food production.
- Maybe promoting ecovillages is not as important as promoting ecovillage principles. Findhorn, for example, finds that some number of their course participants don’t want to create new ecovillages but to apply ecovillage principles to their own hometowns and neighborhoods. What the ecovillage, Transition Towns, Localization, and other, similar movements all have in common, Robert Gilman suggested, is that in different ways they all value and practice “sustainable living in human-scale community.”
And Robert’s phrase seems to capture the essence of all these various manifestations of ecovillage principles: places where you, and I, and all the people out there looking for something like ecovillages, even if we don’t know it yet, can practice that way of life most of our species yearns for on a deep level — sustainable living in human-scale community. This idea inspires me profoundly. I hope it inspires you too.