Creating Community

The Movement Creating Intelligent Sustainable Communities Is Growing

The Sustainable Community Development movement has been growing and evolving over the last 50 years and its history can be traced back to early responses to the disrupting impact of Racheal Carson when she illuminated the environmental and health issues being created by corporate interests as far back as the 60's and 70's. In spite of the fact that the efforts to clean up our environment and our communities began in earnist decades ago, we still have a long way to go. However even as change takes more time than we would like, we must acknowledge that over the last 50 years major progress has been made in efforts to create healthy and environmentally responsible communities and there have been significant initiatives that have made a difference over that time.

1960's - There have been Milestones that were catalysts for significant change in our understanding of the possibilities offered by intentional communities. It began to get public attention with the story of Findhorn in Northern Scotland where Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean unintentionally founded the Findhorn community when they started to reclaim the barren sandy soil in the sand dunes around their trailer to grow vegetables. Soon they had an abundant garden and in spite of the fact that they were located 3 degrees from the arctic circle, they were growing huge plants, herbs and flowers, most famously the now-legendary 40-pound cabbages. Word spread, horticultural experts came and were stunned, and the garden at Findhorn became famous. Findhorn grew into a community and then and eventually an eco-village which now has over 5oo full time residents and over 8000 visitors per year. Today it holds courses and workshops on green living attended by sustainable living advocates, educators and leaders from around the world and its programs has been credited for a large part of the growth in eco communities globally.

1970's - Then in the 70's the art and science of Permaculture was developed by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist and University of Tasmania professor. He had spent many years out in nature as a wildlife biologist observing how natural systems work and became very distressed at the destruction that he saw going on around him. He decided that instead of being angry about what was happening and reacting against the destruction he wanted to work on creating a positive solution and he thought the solution would be living based on the patterns he had observed in nature. He observed that natural systems, such as forests and wetlands, are sustainable. They provide for their own energy needs and recycle their own wastes. He also observed that all the different parts of a natural ecosystem work together. Each component of the system performs important tasks. For example, bees help to pollinate, birds provide pest control, certain plants pull nitrogen out of the air and fix it into a form that other plants can use. So everything does useful work. He applied these and other insights to design and create sustainable agricultural systems. From there Permaculture has evolved into a complete holistic system of designing human activity in concert with natural systems.

1980's - By the 80's ecologically based intentional communities were developing across the world and the movement to create communities that demonstrated best practices was growing year by year. The term ‘ecovillage’ refers to a “full-featured settlement in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future” (Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities, Robert Gilman, 1991). North America had seen a few experimental communes in the 70's and a few of those had developed into stable communities. In Canada environmental journalist and advocate Garnet McPherson had visited many eco village projects both in North America and Europe and was starting to develop workshops about the techniques and technologies for Eco Village Development. By the late 80's interest was begining to grow from across Canada. However at that time McPherson found that many of the village projects that he was encountering were trying to implement forward thinking approaches to community living that just did not fit into the prevailing paradigm of community planners and councils so the rate of approval or adoption of these "futuristic" approaches was typically painfully slow. At the time this was also generally true in North America though some progress with regulatory obstacles were being made in parts of the United States. But this inertia was slowly being overcome by persistant environmentalists. Earthworks had already began implementing the concept of permaculture into its own community development projects and wanted to see it become the rule in community projects rather than the exception. As the need to look at more mindful approach to community development was growing across the western world the Earthworks think tank lead by McPherson began lobbying municipal agencies to take a look at adopting sustainable development plans and to look at local community based solutions to global issues.

1990's - In the 90's there was a surge of interested in sustainable communities in Canada and more Eco Village communities were developing from coast to coast. However regulatory change almost always lags behind innovations within our culture and many communities faces significant obstacles in developing their innovative models of community. This persisted for over the next decade with community groups that were trying to establish community cooperatives and other forms of collaboration were meeting difficulties and establishing clear pathways through what seemed to be endless bureaucratic obstacles.

2000 - As we crossed into the new millennium were began to see signs of progress. A significant breakthrough came about when Brandy Gallagher from Our Eco Village on Vancouver Island was able to work with several levels of government to push through the first Eco Village Bylaw passed in Canada. The founders had requested permission to site a school, organic farm, residential center of natural-built homes, Bed & Breakfast, campground, dorm, food service business, and organic food business on their property. But they were told it wasn’t legal. So they asked local regulatory authorities to help them develop a new zoning category that would accommodate these land uses. The officials and community members studied topics ranging from sustainable forestry to wetlands conservation, natural building innovations, and ways to stimulate the local economy. Together they developed a new zoning category, “Rural Residential Comprehensive Development Zoning,” which was passed in 2005. This not only set a precedent in Canada, but the local officials appeared on national television shows promoting their innovative new zoning category and the village subsequently requested, and got permission, from local building code regulators to build with cob, straw-bale, and other innovative building methods.

2010's - By 2010 we were seeing town councils and municipal planning departments thinking more about global issues and current trends within society. So recently even more progress has taken place and town planners have not only been paying attention to with work of Mollison and Gallagher but they are starting to read books that explore new directions in community design like the work of the Architects in Ross Chapin's Group that are promoting the community building advantages of Pocket Communities. Pocket Communities are small intentional communities that share a communal resource base, that are creating caring and cooperative cultures even within an urban context. They have proven themselves to be invaluable tools for urban renewal and for developing new communities

2015 - In 2015 we saw towns like Rockledge City in Florida passing Pocket Community Bylaws that embraced Tiny Homes On Wheels and other micro community solutions to the growing housing issues that are plaguing communities across North America. The publics priorities are shifting and so to are the priorities within communities. So the movement towards small intentional communities is growing now from coast to coast and municipalities are starting to catch up with these trends and are beginning to clear the way for more enlightened solutions.

We are gratified to see that locally, nationally and even internationally, progress is being made in public policy that is indeed encouraging.

Even in the last decade we have seen Permaculure Courses springing up across the country and municipalities starting to adopt sustainability into thier planning and development objectives. Even where it has not become official policy the conversations have begun and the common sence of forward thinking is spreading.

Now at the United Nations sustainable development has become a matter of policy almost universally supported for example in UNESCO's “Global Goals For Sustainable Development”.

Earthworks has now integrated those goals into our approach to intention community development as well. All this has informed and empowered our approach to creating communities in a holistic manner that is founded in the greater good.

The Earthworks Approach To Creating Community

The Earthworks team has been Developing Intentional Communities for over 30 years, and members of our team have researched and visited over a hundred intentional communities. In that process we have learned a little about what it takes to create successful communities which are designed around positive social impact.

At Earthworks, we are convinced that intentional community development needs to be approached from a holistic perpective in order to thrive. Creating a living community that nurtures its members is an integrative process that is both art and science. In our decades of experience, success of a project is often reflected in the ratio of thought before action applied to the develoment process. So our consulting and design process now starts with the "Big Picture", and works down from there to the specific solutions for a given project. All our community development work is founded in the principles of permaculture. That is the context from which every project evolves.

Before any design or planning work is started, it is very important to define the vision and intentions that will drive the project as a whole. To this end, a project program is developed which helps to put all the elements into context and in support of the whole project. At the begining of every project, our team helps with the visioneering of the project in order to clarify the objectives and to specify the requirements to ensure success. At this stage, we examine world-view of the participants along with the regulatory, geographic, economic, environmental and social context of the project. This process helps to ensure that all the elements of the project stay on course and in-tune with the vision of the participants.

Integrative Whole Systems Design For Sustainability

Our consulting and design process looks at the whole picture of sustainable community development as we take the time to explore a variety of potential building blocks for each community including these initiatives from Gaia Education.

Social Design

Economic Design

Ecological Design

Worldview Design

Take a look at some of the Intentional Communities we have designed.

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