Community
How can we build our homes and communities so that they co-exist harmoniously with Nature? What does it mean to create a sustainable house, a sustainable community, a sustainable city? For each additional day that we live, design and build unsustainably, we pull another fibre out of the fabric of Earth’s ecosystems.
 

Building an EcoVillage Economy

by Guy Dauncey

Can an ecovillage have its own economy, as well as a shared community life? If we think back to villages of the past, there was always a local economy, with the blacksmith, the baker, the farmer and the forester.

Today’s world is much more complex, with planning regulations, and centralized cities. Nobody would expect that ecovillage should provide work for all its members – but if we want to rediscover a more harmonious world, we should at least aim to provide some work locally.

In theory, this is just a matter of people running their own businesses from the ecovillage. In practice, it involves obtaining permission from the planning authorities to conduct commercial or industrial activities, and organizing the lay-out the ecovillage so that the noise of working activity does not disturb people.

The simplest way to build a local economy is to plan for home-based businesses, and to make space in the homes for a workshop. Most local governments allow this, but often they will demand that you do not sell anything. An approach which is being explored in the "Talking Cedars" ecovillage on the west coast of Canada is to build a shared home-based business workshop. The building has been approved in the initial plans, and when there are enough people who want to use it, they will be able to build without complaints from the local government.

Home-based work is only a partial answer. A traditional village has a commercial village centre with businesses and shops. In the eco-town of Bamberton, a planned west-coast Canadian project for 12,000 people which was never completed, we planned to build three village centres as well as a town centre, and to have a separate eco-industrial area, where larger businesses could share resources, energy and "wastes". We wrote a ‘Bamberton Business Code’ as a detailed voluntary agreement by which business owners would agree to act in an environmentally responsible manner. It is our economic activities, not our living and family activities, which cause the greatest destruction to the natural world, and if we want to live responsibly, we must re-configure our businesses, our manufacturing, our buying and our selling, to make them harmonious with nature.

In the successful "Village Homes" ecovillage in Davis, California, (70 acres, 240 homes), 12 acres were set aside for shared agricultural land, and 372 square meters of space were built for commercial activity. The villagers are the landlords, and the income from the commercial leases goes into a community fund. The village uses edible landscaping (fruit trees and bushes), and the agricultural land enables some families to grow their own food, building a very grassroots economy.

The biggest challenge – which still lies ahead – is to turn the anonymous, boring suburbs, where so many people live, into ecovillages, so that everyone can begin to experience ecovillage life, not just a tiny few. The secret will be the creation of village centres within the suburbs, where there can be a village shop, a bakery, a café and a few offices, creating a focus where people can meet and begin to realize that they are part of a community, not just a suburb. There will be huge opposition at first, as people resist the change, but once the new villages begin to emerge, people will start to love them, just as they did in the past.

Resources:

‘Designing Sustainable Communities: Learning from Village Homes’ by Judy and Michael Corbett. (Island Press, USA, 2000.)

Bamberton : www.earthfuture.com/community/bamberton

Guy Dauncey is author of ‘Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change’ (New Society Publishers, Canada & Jon Carpenter Books UK, 2001)

www.earthfuture.com/stormyweather

First published in EcoVillage Living – Restoring the Earth and Her People, by Hildur Jackson & Karen Svensson (2002)