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Ecovillage

Ecovillages are not a new phenomenon, just made more relevant by the times. Efforts to turn fictional visions of utopia (literally "no place") into real, grounded eutopias ("good places") go back to the Gnostics. When a whole new continent was first discovered by an off-course Italian navigator using maps purloined from the Chinese, Europeans did not do as the Chinese and set up a few coastal settlements only to abandon them, but rather, they acquired lands through trickery, slavery, pestilence and genocide and invited religious fanatics of every stripe to come across the ocean and try out their wildest schemes.

 

See, e.g., Bethehem, PA; New Harmony, IN; Oneida, NY; Amana, IA, or Nauvoo, IL.

 

The oldest ecovillage affiliated with GEN is in Iceland, site of the world's oldest continuous parliament. Solheimer ("place of the sun") was started in 1930 by a young Sesselu Sigmondsdottir as a sort of Steiner School for developmentally challenged children. The farmland she acquired was graced with a hot spring and so she built greenhouses and began producing winter vegetables. Today Iceland is Europe's larger exporter of bananas.

Architect George Ramsey, who coined the word, "ecovillage" in the 1970s to describe a new mode for sustainable and regenerative human inhabitation of Planet Earth.

The word "ecovillage," as far as we know, was coined by architect George Ramsey, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright who became a prototypical "New Urbanist" in the 1960s after observing the waste and ruin wrought by automobile culture. By the 1970s Ramsey was writing prescriptions for a reboot of the built environment to bring humans back into the natural world, hopefully before petrocollapse or climate change cans their whole unsustainable civilizational thingy, in the most painful way imaginable.

In an interview with John Shuttlesworth, editor of The Mother Earth News, in 1974, Ramsey said:

 

“As we rush toward the limits of our natural resources, our system—which is based on the increasing consumption of such resources—faces a serious threat of breakdown. Every aspect of life in the United States must be reevaluated in terms of the energy it consumes.”

 

His prescription:

 

  • Roads and parking should be eliminated wherever possible

  • If a building—even a one- or two-story, solar-heated structure—is placed so that its usage requires long-distance travel in privately owned vehicles by the public, it would not receive a construction permit

  • Building heights, in general, should be limited to three- and four-story walk-ups, thus eliminating elevators and simultaneously permitting the sun to reach street level.

  • Light industries and businesses should be encouraged to move into existing bedroom communities.

  • New villages and towns must be prohibited from agricultural land

  • Streets should be reserved for bikes only

  • Every possible non-polluting source of energy must be tested and—whenever possible—used in preference to fossil fuels, nuclear power, and other polluting sources.

 

In 1977 in Germany, during the political resistance against disposal of nuclear waste in the town of Gorleben, anti-nuclear activists attempted to build a small, ecologically based village. On the 23rd of May, 1980, a micronation, the "Free Republic of Wendland" was founded. They called their hut village an ökodorf (literally ecovillage). In the largest police action seen in Germany since the Second World War, the camp was forceably removed, but the concept lived on, and small ökodorf experiments continued in both eastern and western Germany. The magazine Ökodorf Informationen began publishing in 1985 and later evolved into Eurotopia. After reunification of Germany, the movement coalesced and became part of GEN.

 

In 1991, Robert and Diane Gilman, founders of In Context magazine, wrote an overview, Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities, for the Gaia Trust in Denmark. They came up with a definition that still works pretty well. An ecovillage is:

 

“…a fully-featured human settlement, with independent sources of initiative, in which human activities are integrated into the natural environment in a way that is sustainable into the indefinite future.”

We can now modestly estimate the number of actual practicing and aspiring ecovillages worldwide at some 20,000 with more than five million residents. We say modest because if you merely examine one country, Sri Lanka, you would learn about the Sarvodaya Shramadana Societies self-help initiative, begun by a follower of Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne, in the 1950s that presently counts more than 4 million members in 15,000 villages. The founder's son, Vinya Ariyaratne, has sat on the GEN board and all of those 15,000 villages would consider themselves ecovillages, with an equal number aspiring to be. A similar scale movement exists in Senegal.

 

The problem of coming to grips with climate change, or any of the world's greatest problems, is a common one. You become aware enough of the challenges facing us as a society, or civilization, or species, to want something to change, to stop the oncoming trainwreck. So you attend a week-long Transition Training seminar, or take a 2-week Permaculture Design Course, or a month-long Ecovillage Design Education course and you become inspired and fired-up and you leave those events just full of energy and ideas and ready to change the trajectory of our planet's future. But if we check back 6 months later, what we see, most times, is frustration, despair, resignation. You are back in your prior life. Why? Because the existing order that you inhabit, the way things work, is designed to frustrate you. There is economic blackmail (called "making a living"); cultural bribery (your data plan, your friends who want to take you out for a night on the town, the consumer society); and a dearth of guides, stepping stones or halfway houses to smooth your transition.

 

What are you going to do, start an ecovillage? You and what Rockefeller family member?

Running under the umbrella of SIRCle (Social Innovation for Resilient Communities) and drawing upon GEN's growing Solutions Library, Evoneers is an advanced 2-day training in how to get beyond frustration (Step 5: Facing the Dark Night), find the others, cull the chaff from your life and get something serious going. When you get done, you are supposed to leap out of bed in the morning with a bounce in your step and a song on your lips.

 

The first step, Answering the Call / Igniting the Fire, is about getting past thinking about possibilities and starting to plan actualities. It is recognizing that each of us has an inner diversity of interests and talents but that none of us can succeed as solitary individuals. We need homo gestalt – a like-minded group. Step One is building an authentic, open and supportive team.

 

We could carry on to describe the whole methodology, but we will leave that to our readers to get from direct sources now online such as this video:

 

Efforts to turn fictional visions of utopia into real 3D paradise need not fail. We come from a well-watered garden planet and it is long past time we remembered our roots. As Thoreau said, "In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.  Now put the foundations under them."