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Analysis: Eco-villages provide socially, environmentally and economically sound lifestyles, demonstrating that prosperity without growth is possible

Ecovillages arose around the world as organic, innovative and contextual responses to local challenges. They have all considered providing socially, environmentally and economically sound lifestyles, proving that prosperity without growth is possible.

Humans have lived on Earth for thousands of years by living in sustainable societies, and many indigenous peoples still do. In many ways, contemporary eco-villages are learning what ancient cultures have always known: we must cooperate with nature and with each other in order to survive and thrive. The four elements of modern eco-villages are healthy livelihoods (localization as an alternative to consumer capitalism), community, ecology (low carbon impact, zero waste, renewable energy, organic food) and a worldview that, if not spiritual, is strongly ethical.

The origins of eco-villages are diverse and each has its own story. There are some common threads that involve committed people with visionary ideals coming together to tackle real-world problems. Founding members often had long-term relationships before their eco-village was formed.

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From Morning Ireland for RTÉ Radio 1, Cian McCormack reports from Cloughjordan’s Eco Village, Co Tipperary

Ireland’s only eco-village is located in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary and was purchased in 2005 by Sustainable Projects Ireland. Like many eco-villages, it has had years and succeeded despite the financial crash of 2008. It has a low carbon footprint, renewable energy, passive homes, organic food, forests, social enterprises, and educational projects and is well worth a visit.

Findhorn emerged in Scotland from unpromising beginnings. In 1962, Peter and Eileen Cady, their three children, and their friend Dorothy MacLean were living in a mobile park on unemployment benefits. Through their spiritual journey, inner listening, and connection to the elements, they successfully grow vegetables and attract visitors to what is now an eco-village of 700 people, hosting 4,000 visitors annually. It is home to the Global Villages Network, founded in 1990, which provides a UN-accredited training program, eco-village project consultancy, social community and environment workshops, and an annual conference.

Austrian philosopher and thinker Rudolf Steiner has been the inspiration for at least two ecological villages, as well as the Camphill communities, where intellectually disabled people can live outside of institutions. Solheimar was founded in Iceland in 1930 as a home for children with special needs and has developed into an eco-village of 100 people with communal greenhouses, kitchen, bakery, cafes, offices, gym and museum.

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From CNN, Nicki Shields visits from Going Green Findhorn, a Scottish eco-village of 500 people

Sekem was established in Egypt in 1977, by Ibrahim Abouleish who was inspired by Steiner’s biodynamic farming methods. Abouleish has turned 70 hectares of desert near Cairo into an oasis and a thriving community of 1,500 people. Damanhour in Italy is a federation of 600 people, founded in 1975 by Uberto Ayraudi. It is famous for its amazing, hand-carved and beautifully decorated underground temples.

The Los Angeles Eco Village grew out of a project founded by Louis Arkin in 1980. What began as an idea to create shared service spaces became a land acquisition plan for an eco-village. Her group got the option to build on a hilltop on the site of a decommissioned landfill when riots broke out in 1992. They decided to modify their neighborhood instead and bought the first of three apartment blocks, giving the seated tenants the option to stay and join or not. Innovations included detached paving and rain gardens, converting alleys into allotments, and converting garages into work spaces for social institutions.

Dancing Rabbit was founded in 1990 by alumni of Stanford University who wanted to go beyond protesting environmental destruction. They left California for Missouri and less difficult zoning regulations. They purchased 113 hectares near the community land project, Sandhill Farm, from which they learned a lot.

If we learn from living laboratories that are eco-villages, we may look to the future with some hope

Sieben Linden was motivated by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Obtaining planning permission to build a new village was a long and slow process, and the founders lived in caravans on the site during this time. Its environmental strength is among the lowest in Europe. Tamira was founded in Portugal in 1995 and is now home to 170 people. Its high environmental standards include sustainable agriculture water management planning to regenerate arid landscapes.

Beddington Zero Energy Development in London was led by Bioregional, a social environmental sustainability consultancy, to provide 100 homes, community facilities, and offices, built from natural, recycled and sustainable materials. Distinctive wind caps and solar photovoltaic panels on south-facing terraces overlook open spaces, growing spaces, and meeting spaces. It also has a car club and transportation links.

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From the biome, a tour of the UK’s first major eco-village located in south London

Bioregional is also building an eco-friendly, carbon-neutral city in Bicester, Oxfordshire, to accommodate 6,000 people. It inspires an awareness of futuristic design and creates cohesive communities and its community center includes co-working spaces.

In an ever-deepening environmental emergency, we need a socio-environmental economy to sustain life on Earth for humans, the animal kingdom and the natural world. Change begins with criticism. We must cast the error (infinite growth on a finite planet) into the past and look to the future. The goal is to focus less on the present, which cannot go on indefinitely. If current trends continue, more of us will live urban lives. If we learn from living labs that are eco-villages, suburban modification and slow-moving cities, we might look to the future with some hope.


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ


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