Interview – UK 2000 person autonomous ecovillage design
plus Ecoville 2000 – a brilliant ecovillage design squased by the UK & French governments
>>> Click here to download the MP3 <<< 48Kbps, 1hr08mins, 13mb
Ecoville 2000 was a giant ecovillage project developed at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales in the 1990s. Roger was director of CAT and one of the project leaders.
Read on for details…
Ecovillage 2000 was the brainchild of two men at the Centre of Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth.
Roger Kelly was a pioneer of Housing Associations in the 1970’s. As director of Solon South-West he built and managed thousands of homes. Roger then moved to Wales, becoming director of CAT in 1988. Richard St. George was intent on putting the ideas of E.F. Schumacher into practice. Small is Beautiful, for Richard, marked the coming of age of the green movement. Specifically his emphasis on researching, designing and building the alternatives.
Richard and Roger had both been racking their brains over a dilemma. Small were acting as beautiful beacons for future sustainable development, but pioneering communities needed to be bigger to compete with the outside economy. The question was just how big?
The fundamental test of a community’s viability, Richard argued, is its ability to retain its teenagers and to enable people of all ages to to share positions of responsibility. strike a balance with everyone sharing the community’s positions of responsibility. So many times with Intentional Communities young people decided it wasn’t for them so many of them fled the nest after a generation or so they died out through being abandoned by their young people. What would keep them there would be a standard of living as good or better than the best civilisation has to offer combined with a real independent spirit.
In the winter of 1994 Richard woke one morning to find himself snowed in. It looked like it might be several days until he found his way into work at CAT. A great time, he decided, to bite the bullet. Richard sat down and listed every service that we might expect in any civilised community: doctor, farmer, teacher, mechanic, builder, plumber, carpenter, printer, IT fixer, and the list went on… and on… and on.
Eventually it ran to over 220 roles under eleven headings, with a job description for each role. Agricultural; crafts; arts; sports; estate management; services; health; educational; commercial; technical and industrial. Over succeeding days for the two weeks he was snowed in, he worked out how many people, considering holidays, training, sickness, shift work, etc. would be need in each of these key roles. Children and the elderly would not be expected to do any work of course. He came up with a figure of each role needing from between one and 25 people to fill it.
[picture of ecoville house design] Meanwhile Roger was working on designs for the Ecohomes. Through his experience with the pitfalls of building social housing he decided on several constraints. Each family house would have an allotment sized portion of land immediately attached to it. Evidence in our cities is that if people have allotments adjacent they use them. But the price of urban land makes that very difficult to realise. Ecoville’s good sized gardens were for the family to use for growing, grazing or recreational space.
Then there was the density of housing. Roger knew that people tend to like living close to other families but not close to too many. He settled on ideal huddle of ten to twenty houses fairly close together, with the clusters being up to a kilometre from the village centre.
Each housing cluster would include individual houses (1), most with attached workshops; a building with communal facilities (2) such as a laundry, meeting room, boiler house or store for shared tools and equipment; and an area of horticultural land (3), providing principally for the residents’ own needs but also selling surplus produce.
The core of the design was the village centre – the existing farmhouse, outhouses and semi-derelict buildings (1-4). These fulfilled a dual function as accommodation for self-builders as the project was being constructed as well as fulfilling an ultimate function, with the addition of some new buildings (5) forming a central village square. Finally the village centre would contain workshops, an exhibition space, a café/bar and a small shop.
The acreage needed for the entire project would depend on what figure Richard came up with for the minimum viable population.
As snowbound Richard worked his figures through it became clear the figure would be higher than either of them had thought. When Richard eventually arrived for work at CAT he announced the magic number: two thousand. After totting up all the roles Richard looked at all the different reasons why a resident would not be able to fulfil that role. 25% were children, 10% elderly or infirm, 10% drop out, 10% away at university etc., 5% nursing mothers, 5% dad’s on paternity leave, 5% on holidays, sabbaticals and secondments leaving only 30% of residents as a workforce. This brought the number of roles needed, around 600 up to a figure of around 2000 total residents.
Under this figure residents were likely to have too much responsibility, Richard felt. Over 2000 would be too many for everyone to feel enfranchised. Once they were clear about the overall scale they started drawing up criteria, starting with water needs, with which to identify potential sites.
The response from UK planning authorities was almost universally negative. No British local authorities would consider seriously allowing permission for Ecovillage 2000 in their patch so, rather than let planning constraints and land values kill the project, in 1997 they decided to focus their efforts abroad.
[map of the site in france] Eventually the team decided the best bet was to build it on a site in France with a highly supportive local authority. A farmer’s son who owned the site had no-one to take on his farm and wanted to retire, sell up. Ecovillage 2000 became Ecoville 2000.
This was a mostly wooded site of several hundred hectares at Versels, Causse de Sauveterre in the Canton of Le Massegros, near where Roquefort cheese is produced. Here, the French government funded much of the Ecoville feasibility study which – 18 months after they first set foot on the land – cleared the way for planning permission to be granted. At this point the tale sadly ends, the farmer’s son changed his mind and his father decided not to sell the land.