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Are Ecovillages Impossible?

This article is reposted from the Terrenity Substack. See the original article here

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Pop question: are ecovillages aging out?


The trends don’t show it. More and more people are starting offgrid homesteads, buying cohousing projects with friends, and joining sustainable community real estate projects. There are even network states forming around this concept.


Maybe a more accurate way to phrase it is: what is happening to the ecovillage pioneers that started as free-spirited communities in the 70s?


They are being forced to transform. Some of them are facing struggles around intergenerational leadership, but because they are so well-known, they still welcome new members, skillfully acquire funds, and have established infrastructure and relationships with their local governments that they can coast on.


The real struggle happening now is that our generation of free-spirited thinkers are setting out to build a village where they can live harmoniously with others and the environment, and they’re hitting walls.


I’ve been an ecovillage researcher for 6 years. Let’s talk about where village building is headed.


Differences between ecovillage and regenerative village

My main problem with the word “regenerative” is that it’s multi-syllabic and hard to meme.


My secondary problem with it is that it’s an ambiguous concept that functions more as an ideal, inviting people to swoop in and try to police what is regenerative or not.


Yet it represents a profoundly holistic approach to our role in the ecology of planet and people.

And as I have been quoted saying in Moneyless Society documentary footage, regeneration “is only the most important social movement of our time”.


Auroville’s regenerative city concept

Regeneration has too many layers to peel right now, so instead I will ask a guiding question: how can communities support the regeneration of our planet?


What characterizes a regenerative village:


  • Integrating regenerative practices, the main ones being agriculture and construction, since villages are land (re)development projects.


  • Transforming degraded land with the intention to reestablish a mature ecosystem (read about the difference between regeneration and restoration).

  • There are more grey versions of this, like communities buying castles or old historical buildings, and practicing a kind of cultural regeneration to reclaim spaces that were previously degenerative (I think of this community project outside Berlin built in an old prison or Selgars building a regenerative village out of a gorgeous old paper mill).


  • Regenerative communities are acutely socially aware, combating inequity, building not for but from diversity, and acknowledging that most regenerative ideals originally come from indigenous practices.


  • Although tech doesn’t determine whether it’s regenerative or not, regenerative villages are typically tech-positive rather than tech-adverse. They seek to integrate technology with nature.


Regenerative villages are not inherently better than ecovillages, but are definitively more modern in social and technological context. However, ecovillages represent a wealth of traditional knowledge that must be honored.


I tend to use the term ecovillage, because it isn’t syllable soup.


Hot take: “true” regeneration might even require more radical concepts like degrowth and #landback, because we need to go beyond solving existing problems and heal humanity’s deeper historical scars.


Do you think we can regenerate with villages?

  • That's my goal!

  • We need to stack solutions



Why people struggle to build an intentional community in this day and age


3 Reasons:

  • Money

  • People

  • Lack of knowledge


Money


I find that people with idealistic desires to “change the world” (myself included) characteristically lack the self-organization and relentless ambition to acquire resources we can allocate towards village building projects.

We are still learning how to market regeneration to people with lots of capital. Even through we have a cooperative culture, we need to create new ways to coordinate effectively to pool our own resources to achieve our aims.


People


Good old interpersonal conflict. And it’s not even that the involved humans aren’t suitable, but that they don’t have the suitable skills to thrive in community. We’re emerging from an individualistic society with a lot of wounds. We need tools to be healthier individuals and therefore healthier community members.


Lack of knowledge


Tools, resources, role models, case studies, hard data — you name it. Currently, if you want to know how certain projects “did it” you usually have to visit them, take some of their workshops.


Maybe you are lucky to find a good online course that teaches what you are seeking to learn (I’ll be breaking my list of favorite courses down in future articles). Either way, we are still organizing and packaging our knowledge and trying to increase access to that knowledge.


Terrenity is an initiative to share this knowledge. To support this mission, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber to the Terrenity Substack.

What would make villages more ‘possible’?


(Higher) Education

I am not about to throw shade at the 5 months I spent completing the ecovillage design education program with the Global Ecovillage Network, but I actually already knew a lot of the theoretical concepts they shared through self-study.


What I wanted was practical applications and a freaking roadmap.


Actually, maybe I’m spilling the tea too early, but since summer of 2023 I’ve been designing The Village Mastermind with Nico Alcala from re:build and Joshua Smith from BIOM. It strives to be a masters level course incorporating all the existing frameworks around designing, building, and operating a village.


Tools & Frameworks


I love my ecovillage mentors, but they taught us that there was no blueprint for building a community. I think that makes sense the same way there’s no blueprint for a business or a healthy marriage, but there are techniques that you can study, learn, and practice to do the thing better and avoid common mistakes.


I’ve been obsessed with building roadmaps, templates, and frameworks for building a village. Some of these I only share with my paid subscribers, simply because I’ve put so many hours into designing these tools that I can’t comfortably give them away.


Should I go fully open-source? Maybe I will when I establish a solid audience. If you want to help me share all of my content for free, consider sharing this publication with a friend.


Community Skills

Many people need experience living in community and training around consciously sharing space.

For that, I recommend coliving experiences. Communication skills, authentic relating, and conflict resolution methods are some examples of community skills. Something people don’t think about is processes that making coliving easier.


Read my article on how to build community skills and which tools can help you do that.


An initiative I really like for this is Conscious Coliving. I also recommend Supernuclear for their coliving case studies.


A Knowledge Commons


We need information on village building that is easily discovered and shared. This publication attempts to distribute resources and knowledge to a wide audience so they can build their village already.


  • Follow BioHarmony for content on bioharmonic, open source village building.

  • Follow Agartha for open source solar punk community building and web3 tech



Current State of affairs


Finally, here are my plans for the movement and my big dreams:


  • Incept and move forms of capital that were previously being wasted in unsustainable sectors to fund building a regenerative network state.


  • Collaborate on building stunning new landscapes straight out of your solar punk fever dreams. One example of what I want to help build: la tierra


  • Build a regenerative protopian mecca of my own. This will be a campus of community creators to incubate more villages all over the world.


Who this publication is for


Ecovillagers? Regenerators? Utopians? People building conscious and sustainable coliving projects? Groups of people building environmentally friendly network states? Web3 people building tech enclaves in the desert?


All the above. My main concern is that most people with a dream to build an ecovillage or something similar are, well, dreamers. You need practical advice and real world knowledge to face the reality of redesigning society at local (and transnational) scale.


It doesn’t matter the vehicle that your project takes shape. If you stand for the ideals of regeneration and are willing to learn how to build these physical communities where we can live more harmoniously with the planet and with each other, then you can benefit from everything I have to say.


Terrenity is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

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