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In a lecture presented by IDPartnership, the first slide outlined their company aim, which read: ‘creating sustainable places that enrich the lives of inhabitants and inspire people to live in an environmentally responsible manner.’ [1] I then wondered what extremity we can reach to design sustainable places. In my research I found a type of community which completely epitomises this statement. Somewhere that really encourages people to lead a sustainable lifestyle and in turn increases their quality of life. An Eco-Village!

What is an Eco-Village?

It is first useful to define what exactly an eco-village is:

“A rural or urban community that is consciously designed through locally owned, participatory processes in all four dimensions of sustainability (social, culture, ecology and economy) to regenerate their social and natural environments.” [2]

With over 976 official eco-villages across the world [3] – why does this concept still seem so radical to us? An incredible opportunity to know exactly where your food is coming from whilst living in a sociable and integrated community seems like a fool proof development idea.

‘Veganuary’

If it isn’t the Australian bushfires or the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest which have made you realise that climate change is very much real, then you must have heard about the rapid influx of people interested in becoming vegan as an act of saving our planet. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled. [4] There is much debate about what extremes are appropriate, but one thing for certain is that we all need to start living more sustainable lives. And an eco-village is the perfect inclusive community environment to ensure that all the produce you consume is local, organic and sustainable.

ReGen, The Netherlands

ReGen Village in The Netherlands is not a place of strict diets and rules, but a smart development aimed at ensuring all resources are created and used on site [5]. ReGen village does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s regenerative – someone’s output becomes someone else’s input.

It is a completely off-grid neighbourhood with both organic and vertical farming all on your doorstep! [6] You can’t get your produce any more local than this! It is any environmentally conscious persons dream, a development which is tailored to both the resident and the planet. You might be imagining buildings made of mud or maybe even a cob house. But no, these houses designed by trendy Danish architecture firm, Effekt, are everything you would want in an innovative modern urban development.

Perhaps the smartest aspect of this development is the idea to create greenhouses out of all the buildings, regardless of function! This breaks the limit that eco-villages belong in rural locations, allowing this lifestyle to be built anywhere regardless of climate [7].

YOU need to be involved

Community integration is key to all good design and recently professionals have noticed this and started taking a step down to make room for the opinions of residents. Judit Szoleczky from the International Network for Sustainable Energy stated “It takes a collaborative approach by involving community members deeply in planning and implementation, while also giving them the tools to be resilient while facing climate change” [8] in a conference looking at the impacts of eco-villages.

Radical or Appropriate?

Do eco-villages have the potential to become a suitable alternative to our current urban model? Their small-scale experimental nature allows them to adopt unique traits without causing too much disruption, trialling new techniques to sustainable living [9]. We will surely reach a point where eco-villages become less niche and start popping up in more and more places. However, their small scale and close-knit community atmosphere is key to them functioning as a sustainable village.

How can we bring this to the UK?

The Dutch have an interesting array of radical housing developments, including the floating houses of Ijburg and Buiksloterham which allows the resident to design their own city [10]. It would be unfair to say that the UK has nothing to show, BedZED is the UK’s largest eco-village – a fun, vibrant and very successful carbon neutral development. However, it seems that there is still a barrier preventing us from matching our approach towards sustainable design to The Netherlands.


References:

[1] Massey, M. (2019). Place Making in the Garden Village Tradition.

[2] Global Ecovillage Network. (n.d.). What is an Ecovillage – Discover Innovative Eco Communities. [online] Available at: https://ecovillage.org/projects/what-is-an-ecovillage/ [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[3] Global Ecovillage Network. (n.d.). Ecovillage Map – Search Ecovillage Projects around the World. [online] Available at: https://ecovillage.org/projects/map/ [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[4] The Vegan Society. (2019). Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.vegansociety.com/news/media/statistics [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[5] Regenvillages.com. (2019). RegenVillages. [online] Available at: http://www.regenvillages.com/# [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[6] Boztas, S. (2016). Fancy life in an eco-village? Welcome to the hi-tech off-grid communities. The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/jul/12/eco-village-hi-tech-off-grid-communities-netherlands-circular-housing-regen-effekt#maincontent [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[7] Effekt. (2018). ReGen Villages. [online] Available at: https://www.effekt.dk/regenvillages [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[8] Climate Technology Centre & Network. (2019). Rise of the eco-village: How community-based design and supportive technologies are creating new models for equality and sustainability. [online] Available at: https://www.ctc-n.org/news/rise-eco-village-how-community-based-design-and-supportive-technologies-are-creating-new-models [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

[9] Irrgang, B. (2005). A Study of the Efficiency and Potential of the Eco-Village as an Alternative Urban Model. Master. University of Stellenbosch.

[10] Design & The City. (2016). Economic Resilience at Buiksloterham — Design & The City. [online] Available at: https://designandthecity.eu/essays/economic-resilience-at-buiksloterham/ [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

Image Refences

Effekt. (2018). ReGen Villages. [image] Available at: https://www.effekt.dk/regenvillages [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

Global Ecovillage Network. (n.d.). Ecovillage Map – Search Ecovillage Projects around the World. [image] Available at: https://ecovillage.org/projects/map/ [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].

 

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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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