Doing It For Themselves
Whilst many communities prefer to keep out of exploitative public gaze, Some communities are quite open to the public, and are well known around the world as models of innovative design and uplifting community dynamics. A small sample of those better-known overseas and Australian communities is presented below. Information about some of these communities and resource centres has been sourced from “Communities Directory” and “Designing Sustainable Communities”
Multiple Occupancy in NSW
During the 1970s, many groups of people bought land in rural and remote areas and built and occupied their own individual houses on land held in common. Most of the dwellings were competently built, but illegal, having no local Govt. permits, and many were constructed using mud bricks, rammed earth and bush poles, as well as composting toilets and grey water systems, for which no building codes existed. Many were built in areas of dense bush, where they were difficult to see, even from the air, and many properties had several dwellings in areas designated for far fewer dwellings.
After several serious showdowns between new settlers and several Local Governments, the New South Wales Govt. resolved this problem by devising a template for “multiple occupancy”. Then, after approving various alternative construction techniques, holding workshops with local Govts to encourage them to embrace a more workable code of by-laws, in the face of growing numbers of determined new settlers and homemakers. Other States adopted similar solutions, including variations of existing strata titles, etc.
Many communities functioned with fairly minimal organisational structures, but implemented various sustainable practices such as water heating; wind, water and solar power generation; intelligent house design for passive warming and cooling; gravity water supplies, drip watering and nurseries; health promoting diets and natural healing modalities; composting toilets and non-polluting waste disposal, recycling etc.
Some people built their own homes by saving money through growing their own vegetables, making mudbricks at home, and going to town each fortnight and using part of unemployment benefits to purchase second hand timber, and, etc. Some communities were set up and run in the bush, using only the unemployment benefits and pensions, and succeeded very well. Without a frugal life, well thought out low-cost solutions and heaps of cooperation, this would be impossible. These people were not a problem to society, and many skills were developed that were unknown and could not be learned in mainstream. The outcomes achieved, including permanent shelter for their families without receiving rent assistance, made it an excellent voluntary work for the dole experiment and the development of new skills, without the need of material costs, overheads, insurance, other attending costs or supervision.
Cohousing communities are small-scale neighborhoods that suggest a balance between personal privacy and community involvement. This more recent type of community is designed, planned and managed by its residents and therefore require a higher-degree of resident participation. Most major decisions are arrived at through a consensus, or an agreed upon decision-making process. These communities often include a diverse mix of people, including singles, couples, elders, and families with children. Intergenerational interaction among neighbors is promoted and encouraged with obvious social and practical benefits. Although each home is self-sufficient, the community is designed for and around people who want more interaction with their neighbors. Common grounds and facilities and shared social activities are a theme of cohousing communities. If privacy were one of your main objectives, this would not be an obvious choice. Still, living amongst people who know and care about each other is important to any lifestyle choice. –Pepper Lewis
Denmark has been a leader in Cohousing projects, which were first begun in the early 1970s, when people began questioning conventional measures of success, and believed that a more cooperative living environment would help build a more humane world. By 1988, 38 such cohousing communities had been built, with more being planned. Planning and development is participatory, to allow residents to decide which characteristics and what extent of community do the group want, and what is the desired size of the community and resident composition. This process is considered necessary to promote ongoing good neighbourhood relationships.
These are communities of up to 80 household units, but probably averaging about 40 – 50, that have been architecturally designed and clustered into smaller, intimate groups to form integrated neighbourhoods, complete with common areas such as courtyards, pedestrian streets, community buildings, playgrounds, sports fields etc. Clusters are deliberately designed to promote car-free areas, pedestrian circulation, convenient locations of community buildings, and child-friendly environments. Individual units are designed to allow easy expansion or modification, and are positioned to strike a balance between crowdedness and isolation, privacy and common areas, and faced to make best use of sun, offer protecting from wind, and allow private gardens and individual entrances, etc.
Four characteristics are common to cohousing developments:
- Participatory Process: residents participate in the planning and design process, and are responsible for all final decisions.
- Sustainable Neighbourhood Design: included to increase social contact to encourage a strong sense of community.
- Extensive Common Facilities: designed as an integral part of the community for daily use, to supplement private living areas.
- Resident Management: development decisions of common concern are made at community meetings.
The success of the Danish Cohousing experiment led to similar projects starting in the US, Australia, NZ and elsewhere. It was found that Cohousing allowed people to establish a sense of community relatively quickly compared to years or generations it might otherwise take. Cohousing was found to satisfy the yearning amongst some for the idealised small town, whilst enabling convenient location to jobs, etc, and also to overcome problems associated with condominium development through residents’ being involved in the participatory development process. Other perceived benefits included overcoming the sense of isolation, a balance between community and privacy, a spontaneous social life that does not require making appointments with friends, more contact with people of different ages, and a better place to raise children.
Village Homes is a 242 housing unit development, built in the 1970s, functioning as a self-contained suburban neighbourhood in the city of Davis, California. Housing density is at rate of 7 units per acre, or 4 units per acre overall, when including the common and community areas. Design features were included to enhance social life or improve ecological sustainability. Innovations were included only if they satisfied numerous requirements simultaneously. For instance, narrowing streets:
- saved money and resources;
- made streets safer by slowing traffic;
- used less land making more available for other purposes such as food production;
- reduced urban runoff;
- kept the neighbourhood cooler in summer, by absorbing less heat;
- increased sense of community by making it easier to say hello to neighbours.
Innovative design was applied throughout the community to:
1) allow a sense of community to develop: by residents participating in their own home design; including apartments; designing homes from 600 sq ft common wall to 2800 sq ft detached dwellings; ensuring 16% of homes went to low-income owners; and clustering houses in eight unit sets.
2) enable energy conservation and use of solar energy: by insulating walls and roofs and use of double glazing; using light coloured walls and roofs to reflect heat; using high mass walls to absorb daytime heat for night time permeation; orientating homes with eaves for max. winter heat gain and minimum summer heat gain; adjustable ventilation for same; solar water heating; growing deciduous trees for summer shade and winter sun.
3) encourage walking and cycling: by use of a grid of cycle paths and dead end streets encourage walking or cycling and cuts down on exhaust pollution.
4) design closer to nature: houses look out on common areas rather than facing the street, where heavily vegetated and shaded private courtyards have been constructed to replace traditional lawns. Streets are tree-lined for shade and Hedges and shrubs replace fences and give privacy whilst rendering automobile traffic invisible.
5) create neighbourhood agriculture: community orchards, vineyards and vegetable gardens abound with almost every climate suitable food producing fruit tree and shrub being built on common land. Personal vegetable gardens are grown in cluster housing common areas, and other areas allocated for more serious growers, including nurseries. Solar greenhouses have been added to some houses.
6) utilise natural drainage: lots a graded away from streets and towards shallow, meandering swales that run through common areas behind housing, and thence to larger channels through green belts that are landscaped with rocks bushes trees and dams. Light rains are absorbed, whilst heavy rains, after filling dams will empty any excess into city storm drains.
Substantial economic, social and ecological benefits have made Village Homes properties the most sought after and most valuable in the entire city, but they come up for sale only very rarely. Water savings are huge, with a freshwater table closer to the surface than the rest of the city, whilst being unaffected by droughts and flooding rains. Natural cooling eliminates the need for air conditioning.
Village Homes demonstrates it is possible to live in a beautiful, natural setting, in greater harmony with the environment, and as part of a creative community, and enjoy an ordinary, comfortable and interesting life.
Following on and inspired by the success of Village Homes, a number of similar, even larger projects, called garden cities, and are completed, or are under construction, or in the planning stage.
Civano is sited on the edge of Tucson, Arizona, as a 2600 unit community, with 35 acres of retail and commercial space, more than 200 acres of open space, and a 65 Acre environmental technology business park.
Designed as a walkable, resource-efficient community, with high density development around a village centre, it came with the enthusiastic backing of the Governor, and was joined by the local Govt., after they realised it would save them $500,000 a year in reduced costs to develop this way.
Design is a village centre surrounded by four neighbourhoods each having a neighbourhood centre, and made up of clusters of homes surrounding a common open space. One third of acreage will remain as common open space containing orchards, parks, walking trails, cycle paths, swimming pools and a golf course.
Residents are estimated to use:
- one quarter as much power, through high-efficiency insulation, solar water heating and energy-efficient appliances.
- one third as much water, by using reclaimed water for all irrigation;
- one tenth as much garbage, through recycling;
- about half the amount of exhaust pollution, because of its walkable design.
These represent huge financial savings to residents, enabling quicker loan repayments.
As a garden city, Civano abounds in ecological deliciousness and manufactures solar panels as a local industry.
Created as a 9500 multicultural population, 4,000 residential unit garden city, Haymount was designed around existing larger trees and natural ecosystems, habitats, wildlife corridors and wetlands. Almost 70% of the site is preserved in its natural state, reforested, or maintained as productive organic farmland. Biological waste-water and stormwater management systems are employed to create a wildlife habitat and civic park. Organic and local sustainable agricultural produce supply restaurants, grocery stores and a local farmers market. Development includes recreational amenities, outdoor entertainment centre, green building and recycling of waters and wastes.
Crikey Creek Environmental Developments Corindi, NSW
Developed as a net energy producer, all houses are solar powered and connected to the grid. Potable water is via 45,000 litre rainwater tanks. Non-potable water is treated, recycled water supplied from the local town. All houses have rammed-earth northern walls for heat absorption that will be cooler in daytime and warmer at night.
In Their Own Words
Generally, the following communities encourage a throughput of visitors to promote and encourage a way of life that they have found works eminently well for them. Many regard themselves as a living demonstration of solutions to local, regional and the global ills of exploitation, overcrowding, pollution, resource depletion, ecological destruction, high energy use etc. Some run workshops to convey understandings and skills. This list is restricted to the better-known overseas and Australian communities. They are described in their own words.
Co-ordination Co-op Nimbin, NSW. Began 1973, pop 315
Also known as Tuntable Falls Community, emerged from the Aquarius Festival 1973. The community has changed considerably since its formation, though some aspects can never change – the valley we live in is one unchanging aspect: nature is respected and assisted to reclaim its right to grow. There is a focus on preservation and protection of our rain-forest home with development as minimal impact.
While we may be granted the right to occupy a piece of land, we do not own it. We own only the material of any buildings we may erect; all the lands remain in common ownership,
Members live separately from each other, and while adhering to our rules, may choose their own life styles. There are no enforced community practices, though we encourage energy contributions toward projects like buildings, weed control, reforestation, fire prevention, administration and social support.
All ages and all religious, political and general views are supported in a spirit of tolerance and respect with monthly meetings providing a venue for discussion and decision making.
We are discovering, learning and perfecting modes of living; works of art; forms of communication; methods of awareness; and skills of communication, craft and construction – sharing responsibility for the quality of all life.
Crystal Waters Permaculture Village
Crystal Waters is a showcase Permaculture community, inland from the Sunshine Coast, SE Qld. Residential Permaculture Designer’s Courses are regularly run from the community.
Crystal Waters has been designed from inception according to the principles of Permaculture. A wildlife sanctuary where dogs and cats are banned and people really do try to live in harmony with nature. 80% of the 640 acres (260 hectares) are owned in common, and these are a mix of terrains: the clear waters of the Mary River; serene lakes; open grasslands; timbered hills and gullies; and increasingly, pockets of rain-forest trees, planted as part of the community’s passion for reforestation.
The community is set up for residents to work out of their own homes. Businesses include: foresters; rammed-earth builders; mail order businesses-books and organic gardening supplies; carpenters; builders; electricians; Permaculture course providers and consultants; nurseries; caterers; craftspeople; architects; entertainers; bicycle hirer; bed-and-breakfast accommodation; furniture manufacturers; and also the Oceania/Asia secretariat of the Global Ecovillage Network.
Crystal Waters won a 1996 World Habitat award, and was a finalist in the 1998 Best Practices Awards. Many innovative ideas in building, water usage, waste-water, agriculture and nature conservation are evident. The model has proved attractive to the relatively mainstream as well as an alternative market.
Aldinga ArtsEco Village Port Rd, Aldinga Adelaide, SA
The Eco Village is an arts orientated community, developed with environmentally friendly principles that encourage ongoing ecologically sensitive and sustainable behaviour from all residents. Construction is based on principles of permaculture and sustainability, and consists of new energy efficient houses. Regarded as a leading edge point of reference for the development of intentional communities, it has been commended in the Engineers Australia Engineering Excellence Awards.
Auroville Tamil Nadu, India. Began 1968 pop 1300
Auroville wants to be a universal town, where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds all politics, and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.
- Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to everybody as a whole. But to live in Auroville one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
- Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress and a youth that never ages.
- Auroville wants to be a bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
- Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.
The Farm Tennessee, USA. Began 1971 pop 163
The Farm is an sustainable community of families and friends living on 1750 acres in south-central Tennessee. Since its inception in 1971, the purpose of the farm community has been to provide a secure, ecologically healthy, commonly held land base for its members and succeeding generations. It is a place where we can relate to each other and the natural environment in a sustainable way, to draw upon the collective strength of the community, and contribute to the positive transformation of the world.
The Farm school offers alternative education to school age students. The Farm midwives have delivered over 2,000 babies since 1970. We hold the sacrament of birth as an inherent right of all women, new borns and families. Plenty International is an international aid and development NGO that benefits indigenous peoples and the environment. Its Kids to the Country project brings at-risk kids to the farm to enjoy nature, and study peace education. Ecovillage Training Centre, a member of the Global Ecovillage Network, offers conferences and seminars on organic gardening, Permaculture, straw bale construction and sustainable technologies.
Visitors’ accommodation was originally constructed in the 1970s out of recycled materials. recent improvements include three dormitories, solar showers, rainwater collection, solar electricity, edible landscaping, and waste-water recycling. You can stroll through our strawbale cabin, dome, organic gardens, cob houses and wetlands filtration system. Over 1000 acres of the farm is designated as a wilderness preserve.
Approximately 170 residents and over 20 Farm businesses (including Farm Soy, the Farm Store, the Book Publishing Company, and the Farm Education/ Conference Centre) contribute to the maintenance of the community.
Findhorn Foundation Community North Scotland
The Findhorn Foundation Community has many aspects to its work, all motivated by the conviction that joyful, loving, and sustainable future on Earth will require changes in the way we, as humans, relate to ourselves, other people, the natural environment, and the spiritual dimension of life.
Ever since its founding in 1962, the community has been a place where ordinary life is transformed into a learning experience. This happens by living together and working together in the kitchen, gardens, or area of the community with an attitude of service. Each person takes responsibility for their own spiritual focus, with an awareness that they are an integral part of the evolution of the whole community and of all of humanity.
When people come here, they can experience an expansion of consciousness and their heart opening to themselves, other people, the natural world, and spirit. Sharing this kind of education with the thousands of people who come here each year for Experience Weeks or other programs is a major means by which the community sustains itself. The community is also engaged in developing its built environment and creating an ecovillage as a natural continuation of its earlier work in cooperation and co-creation with Nature.
Rainbow Valley Takaka, New Zealand
A community of individuals. Community is first and foremost about people, not land. The people co-operate and share in different ways, and at different levels. Differences are respected.
Communication is recognised as vital. We want the community to be an environment that encourages cooperative work in all its forms, self-expression and self exploration.
We aim to follow the path of non-violence (physical and emotional) in conflict resolution. Affairs pertaining to the whole community are resolved through community meetings, with consensus always the aim. A company structure represents us legally, in which all members are entitled to equal shares. Children play an important part in our community.
Our community house has a vital role as the heart place, channelling communication, social life and community spirit. The farming/gardening/conserving of communal land is a strong focus, while various arts and crafts manifest another dimension. All residents are responsible for their own income. Produce is sold for an agreed purpose or is shared. Visitors are welcomed when there is space.
Cennednyss Community Summertown, South Australia
We share concerns about our planetary and local environments, social justice and human rights, and interpersonal issues at all levels. We practice organic farming, and are committed to revegetation and conservation. We support each other in our outside work and activities for social change.
Legally we are an incorporated association that owns the land and houses, several motor vehicles and farm equipment. We make loans to the association to enable capital purchases, and developments, and each of us contributes an agreed percentage of our gross income, to cover the costs of running the community. This includes house and car maintenance, insurance, rates and telephone.
Our main object as a group is to provide emotional and practical mutual support, and to develop and maintain the property that we share. We meet formally once a fortnight to discuss various issues, including child-related matters, property, gardens and orchards, finances and any other issues relating to our collective lives. We have a strong sense of belonging, which gives us strength in our various activities in the outside world.