Green Community Models: the Ecovillage

If you ever found yourself forced to define the term “community,” you might find yourself reverting to something akin to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s attempt to define pornography: “I know it when I see it.” While different communities have different purposes, goals, and activities, they’ve all got one thing in common: resource sharing. You may not give a lot of thought to this idea in your own community life (most of us don’t), but water supplies, waste disposal, police protection, and even economic opportunity are all forms of resources that we share within our various communities.

So, what defines a green community? You may come to the same conclusion that I did: mindfulness about those resources that we share, and a commitment to do so more efficiently,Β  with a eye towards future generations’ access to these resources… natural and other.

As such, I invite you to join me in a multipost (and multiblog) exploration of green community. What are the models? How well do they work? What can we learn from them as we move towards a (natural) resource-constrained world? I don’t know that I can provide all of the answers to these questions… but, as an online community, I’m sure there are ideas we can share…

What is an ecovillage?

The ecovillage concept is a great starting point for this discussion because its likely the most radical, and most holistic, vision of green community out there. Tony Sirna, one of the founder of Northeastern Missouri’s Dancing Rabbit ecovillage, defined this admittedly broad concept as”..places that are aiming for a village-like quality…,” which he defines as

  • places that allow for a full scale of human activity: “A village is … a place for work and play, birth and death, trading of goods and services, celebrations, and all aspects of healthy lives.”
  • places that operate on a “human scale”: “…a population where it’s still possible for people to know each other as people and not as anonymous masses…”

For a community like Dancing Rabbit, creating this “village-like quality” happens in a relatively remote location. In other instances, ecovillages exist in urban settings (i.e. Green Village Philadelphia). Regardless of place or development style, an ecovillage, according to Sirna, represents “…a vision, an ideal, a goal… a commitment or intent to live more sustainably, reintegrating their lives with ecology.”

So, what’s so “eco” about an ecovillage?

You’ll likely discover that the answer to that question varies widely. A community like Dancing Rabbit focuses on a set of covenants that bind the community as they build it: use of natural or reclaimed building materials, organic farming methods, and low-carbon transportation sources are all included in the covenants. Green Village Philadelphia’s approach involves urban reclamation, mixed-use planning, and integration into the fabric of the city. Producing food, generating energy, and transporting members generally all involve considerations of environmental impact. As important as any of these specifics are mindful sharing of resources, whether spaces (kitchens, bathrooms, common areas), food, natural building materials, or even labor.

Is ecovillage another word for commune?

Not necessarily. While sharing resources is important, most of the overviews I read of existing ecovillages allow for plenty of private initiative (and privacy). Cohousing is an element in some of these communities, but not all. A few do have income sharing arrangements, but these generally seem to be in the minority.

Who runs the show at an ecovillage?

In general, the members: most make clear they do not have a single leader or even core leadership group. Consensus-based decision-making seems pretty common. Radical sustainability requires radical democracy, apparently…

Where can I find out more about ecovillage living?

I’ve relied largely on the Fellowship for Intentional Community’s Intentional Community web site. Other information sources include

I’d love to hear more from ecovillage residents… what have I (an outsider) missed about the experience?

Other green community posts (I’ll link them as I get them written and published):

  • Business incubators
  • Cohousing
  • Coworking
  • New green development

Image credits:

  1. Daniel Greenberg

    Thanks Jeff for this series on green communities. My simple definition of ecovillage is a group of people striving to live well and lightly – together. A more complex definition was offered by Robert Gilman in 1991 as, “a full-featured, human-scale settlement that harmlessly integrates human activities into the natural world, supports healthy human development and can be carried on indefinitely into the future.”

    Two other resources your readers might find useful are http://www.gaiaeducation.org, which is a spin-off of GEN that creates month-long trainings in ecovillage design and http://www.LivingRoutes.org, an educational non-profit I direct that partners with the University of Massachusetts to offer study abroad programs based in ecovillages around the world. While not utopias, Gaia Education and Living Routes see ecovillages as ideal “campuses” to learn about sustainable community development while actually trying to live it.

    In community,
    – Daniel

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