The vast majority of people in the world no longer live in any sort of human settlement that could be considered a village. Rather, the increased urbanization of our species and the displacement of rural communities has led to a collection of isolated individuals who have very little relationship to the geographical place where they live and the people they share that place with. During the last two decades, however, thousands of people have begun to challenge this paradigm through the creation of Eco villages.
The Loss of Both Ecology and Villages in Modern Society
When you fly into any major city, one of the most common sights is the neat rows of houses in suburban neighborhoods. The cul-de-sacs and streets seem to be designed with an almost super human exactness and neatness. The similar homes all with their green lawns and neat driveways are in many ways the exemplification of the American Dream.
Behind this neat appearance, however, there are serious problems surrounding the suburban neighborhood. Their reliance on huge amounts of fossil fuel energy, the need to use a car to get to work and for pretty much any other need, the lack of any true sense of community or neighborliness, and their disconnection from the natural world all make suburban communities uniquely unsustainable.
One of the defining moments of the history of human civilization was when people came together to live in communities or villages. These spaces allowed for people to work together to provide for their livelihoods while also maintaining the surrounding landscape in ecological health.
Today´s suburban neighborhood has very little relationship to any sort of village. Rather, it is simply a connection of individual homes in a certain area. Most people never know their neighbors nor share any sort of connection with them. People tend to make their economic living away from the places where they live and thus have little economic connection to the places where their homes are located.
In contrast to the typical suburban neighborhood, eco villages have begun sprouting up all around the world. These new and revolutionary forms of co-inhabiting a specific place offer an exciting opportunity to rethink our sense of belonging to place and to community.
What is an Eco Village?
An Eco village is a type of intentional community where individuals and families come together to try and find ways to live more sustainably. While many of the intentional communities of the past have been likened to the hippy movement, today´s Eco village movement is made up of a diverse group of people who come from different backgrounds and walks of life.
People who have chosen to live in Eco villages, often believe that the multiple crises that we collectively face as a species are directly related to the civilizational paradigm that is defined by industrial production, alienated individuals whose sole purpose in life is to consume, and an economic system whose dependence on unlimited growth is destroying the earth.
Eco villages seek to challenge this paradigm by creating new ways of living within the ecological limitations of place. Concretely, Eco villages are usually small groups of anywhere between 30 and 300 people whose goal is to find ways to live more economically, socially and ecologically sustainable lives.
As Buckminster Fuller once said, “in order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”
Eco villages, then, attempt to change the industrial and consumer civilizational paradigm through demonstrating new forms of ecologically sustainable livelihoods. Most Eco villages generate their own electricity through forms of renewable energy including solar panels, wind turbines, and others. They are most likely not connected to urban or municipal sewer systems meaning that they treat their own wastes, usually through a process of recycling and composting.
Housing is usually built from sustainable, green materials such as straw bale, adobe, timber framing, or cob. Composting toilet systems are common as are grey water recycling systems.
Furthermore, most Eco villages participate in some sort of local food production. They see dependence on the global food system to be one of the major problems with contemporary society. Through producing much of their own food or purchasing what they consume locally, Eco villages develop a localized resiliency that contrasts with our increasingly globalized society. Most Eco villages believe in and practice some sort of organic agriculture such as permaculture design or agro ecology.
The goal of most Eco villages is to live in such a way that they have minimal ecological impact on the places they live. Furthermore, through sharing a space with other families and individuals, Eco villages seek to actively recreate a sense of shared belonging and community. Whereas most people today have little contact with their actual, geographical neighbors, Eco villages seek to reconstruct vibrant, functional communities.
There are often shared, communal spaces in Eco villages. While each family or individual may have his or her own home, shared buildings may include a communal kitchen and eating area, shared laundry services, and other collectively governed areas. Furthermore, the land on which an Eco village is developed is often collectively owned under some sort of trust agreement. The open areas are often farmed or gardened in community as people share in the work of producing for one´s own sustenance.
The most widely accepted definition of Eco villages was offered by Robert Gilman in 1991: “A human-scale full-featured settlement in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development, and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future.”
The History of Eco Villages
In many senses, indigenous and peasant cultures around the world have been living in Eco villages for thousands of years. The concept of living in such a way so as to integrate your lifestyle into the natural world for healthy human development that doesn´t harm the natural world is by no means a new development.
In one sense, then, the first and original Eco villages are those rural, agrarian, and oftentimes indigenous cultures who have lived for thousands of years in a certain place while not diminishing the ecological resiliency of that particular region.
As our industrialized and consumer-driven society moved us away from placed communities that respected the ecological limits of place, however, certain segments of society began to rebel against what they considered to be an ecologically and socially unsustainable way of living.
In the 1960´s, the commune movement coupled with the “back to the land” movement acted as a predecessor to today´s Eco villages. While most of these original communes only lasted for a few years, some of them, such as “The Farm” in Tennessee, continue to exist today as a model for long term collective living.
In 1991 Robert and Diane Gilman wrote a book called “Eco villages and Sustainable Communities.” This was the first broad description of communities attempting to live in an ecological fashion. Since that time, numerous Eco villages have sprouted up around the world. A global Eco village network connects and links numerous Eco villages to each other.
The Benefits of Eco Villages
Finding ways to live sustainably is perhaps the most important and urgent task that our civilization faces. As the fossil fuel era comes to an end, we will need to find ways to live in a post-petroleum world. Furthermore, restructuring our sense of belonging to place and community will help us find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the regenerative capacity of the Earth.
Living in an Eco village offers a practical and tangible example of how we can live well in place. Eco villages offer numerous opportunities for learning the skills that are needed to live a sustainable lifestyle. Furthermore, if you have grown tired of the isolated lifestyle of a consumer, Eco villages also offer an opportunity to find true community.
In many Eco villages, certain resources are shared and communal areas are customary. Governance and the decision-making process are often consensus based as community members come together on a regular basis to determine how the community will resolve any number of issues.
The Revolutionary Paradigm of Eco villages
In many ways, the Eco village movement offers us a glimpse into what our collective future might look like. By directly challenging the industrial, consumer paradigm, Eco villages show us that it is possible for our species to live sustainably in place, provide for our own sustenance and live lives of meaning and purpose in community with others. Many Eco villages are actively looking to grow and add more members and you can find information on several growing Eco villages here. You might just find a new home for yourself and your family.