Most sustainable communities on our fragile planet are unintentionally so – their occupants being simply too poor or too isolated to have any modern amenities that cause harm to the environment. Intentional communities – or eco-villages – on the other hand, are consciously designed to cause the least possible harm to the environment and provide a healthier, more positive way of life for their occupants.
Many established eco-villages evolved from the communes of the hippy movement in the heady 1960s and began with a spiritual purpose or desire for an alternative lifestyle away from a consumerist society. One of the earliest was Findhorn on the coast of Scotland, now a thriving community of over 300 people acclaimed as having the lowest carbon footprint of any community in the United Kingdom.
Eco-villages are springing up all over the world, so what have we learned from Findhorn and what will the eco-villages of the future look like?
The Story of Findhorn
House made from recycled whiskey barrels, Findhorn Ecovillage, Scotland
The Findhorn Foundation defines itself as “a dynamic experiment where everyday life is guided by the inner life of spirit, where we work in co-creation with the intelligence of nature and take inspired action towards our vision of a better world”.
The community was founded, quite unintentionally, in 1962 by hoteliers Peter and Eileen Caddy and their friend Dorothy Maclean. The trio, who had all dedicated themselves to following a disciplined spiritual path, moved to Scotland in 1957 to manage the Cluny Hill Hotel in Forres. Several years later, the hotel company terminated their employment and the Caddys, their three young sons and Dorothy were forced to move to the caravan park in the coastal village of Findhorn.
With money in short supply, Peter decided to grow vegetables in the sandy, dry soil of the caravan park. During her meditations, Dorothy discovered she was able to intuitively contact the intelligence of plants and receive instructions from them on how to make the most of the garden. The results were astonishing. From the barren, sandy soil grew huge vegetables, herbs and flowers, including massive 40-pound cabbages. Word spread and the garden at Findhorn soon became world famous.
Other people arrived to join the Caddys and Dorothy and a small community grew around their work.
At the end of the 1980s, the community began work on the Ecovillage Project at Findhorn which now consists of more than 100 ecologically benign buildings, four wind turbine generators and a biological sewage treatment plant, The Living Machine. The village also includes numerous solar water heating systems, has a share-issuing community cooperative and its own currency and has a car-sharing club that includes several zero emissions electric vehicles.
A synthesis of some of the very best of current thinking on human habitats, the Findhorn Ecovillage is now a major centre for holistic learning and attracts thousands of visitors every year.
The eco-village goes high-tech
Proposed ReGen Village in The Netherlands. Image courtesy of EFFEKT Architects.
At the Venice Biennale in 2016, start-up real estate development company ReGen Villages announced its intention to become the ‘Tesla of eco-villages’ with plans to develop off-grid communities around the globe where residents will generate their own power and grow their own food.
The first of these self-sustaining or ‘regenerative’ communities, in Almere, The Netherlands, is expected to be completed in 2020, with plans to expand into other northern European countries in coming years. The striking design of the first village is by Copenhagen-based architecture firm Effekt.
Each village will eventually house 100 families on about 50 acres of land. Each family home will include an attached greenhouse and aquaponics garden for personal crops and the community’s communal farms and livestock will be managed by ReGen.
Each village will also use technology to monitor energy use and food production efficiency and send the data to the cloud so other villages in similar geographic regions can share knowledge. It’s a strategy based on the way Tesla uses machine learning to analyse data gathered by the autopilot systems in its cars.
ReGen’s vision is to engineer and facilitate the development of integrated and resilient neighbourhoods that power and feed self-reliant families around the world. IoT-integrated infrastructure will enable thriving communities to have surplus energy, water and organic food which, in the aggregate, will become asset classes that can amortise and reduce mortgage payments.
With a slew of people already on the waiting list to move into a ReGen village, it seems this is not only the way we should be living in the future, it’s also the way many of us want to live now.
Want to learn more about eco-villages? Visit the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), a non-profit organisation that links together a diverse movement of autonomous eco-villages around the world.
Featured image: Members of the Findhorn community in Scotland. Courtesy of Findhorn Foundation.
About the author
Penelope Barker is an Australian journalist and copywriter. Penny is Editor of Permaculture News and can be contacted at [email protected].