The Eco-Village

At the absolute opposite end of the spectrum from the eco-city we have the eco-village.

The wiki (of 2017) defines Eco-Villages as:-

“intentional, traditional; 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.” [3]

The movement is strongly influenced by ideas like David Holmgren’s Permaculture, and Ted Trainer’s The Simpler Way, emphasising extreme localism in all interactions between food, trade, commerce and culture in a post-oil world. It’s beautiful, and I think there’s a niche place for them in the world. But as I show you the photo of the Ithaca Eco-Village, can you spot the problem?


My comments:

Cars! It’s like a tiny New Urban neighbourhood getting disconnected from the normal expanding fractal matrix of neighbourhood, town square, then overlapping city superstructure that comprises the lot. It’s a neighbourhood on its own, trying to do the primary, secondary, and tertiary economic roles all in one. Where are the other neighbourhoods? Where’s the town square? Where’s the city? Where’s the trains or trams or trolley buses (or these days, electric buses?) Their small group of 100 to 150 is disconnected from the larger structures of city life, so you know that means. Cars. Most eco-villages I’ve read about require cars. They don’t have a dense enough population to support a railway. A railway requires at least 3km of solid housing either side of it to be financially viable. (See the ACNU guide.)

It loses the 30% GDP bonus! We have seen that economically, cities have advantages of scale. The more people that can live together, the better the GDP effect. Remember, doubling population of an interconnected town gives you a free 30% GDP!  More people can live together and do more at scale, like support a University or Silicon Valley industrial park and computer chip manufacturers and hospitals. It’s about the metabolism of cities, and the 30% GDP bonus you get every time you double the population of a city. It is easier to do this without cars when more people live closer together.

The real estate costs are prohibitive! Because eco-villages tie in the relationship with agriculture, they require vast areas per person and are simply not an economic proposition in the big cities of the world. Unlike the eco-city or Sky City above, they do not have the density and diversity to provide everything we need. They have a romantic back-to-the-land view of what we need that is not compatible with the modern world. How will all our doctors and dentists and fashion stores and IT departments deploy to this scale? How will they roll back suburbia to denser New Urban cores and rehabilitate the land, when they seem to house less people per area than suburbia? It’s got “new suburbia” written all over it.

I love the idea of them, and think they reflect what suburbia wanted to be: a rural homestead with an integral relationship with the land. But they’re not going to house the 10 billion people we’ll have by 2050. It’s not their role. I see them more as rural retreats, places us city folk can visit to reconnect with the older, pre-industrial rhythms of our history. We can run educational programs, nature retreats, and even business or church weekends away in these places. Let’s embrace their good intentions and visit them more often! But New Urbanism does not seek to grow food within city limits, nor does it need to in a future world with the abundant clean energy. It simply imports it from the best agricultural areas, and hopefully consumer power will exert some influence over how that food is produced.

Next page: the Village towns: incorporating agriculture