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VIII. Pedia Sapiens: A New Genesis Future

4. Sustainable Ecovillages: Social Protocells

Litfin, Karen. A Whole New Way of Life: Ecovillages and the Revitalization of Deep Community. De Young, Raymond and Thomas Princen, eds. The Localization Reader: Adapting to the Coming Downshift. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012. . In this election year bereft of sensible social or climactic guidance, a University of Washington political scientist draws on a natural wisdom to grace an alternative ecovillage movement with a depth and practice not achieved before. As preparation for a book, she traveled widely to experience these fledgling amities, especially in West Africa. In regard, they are “dynamics nodes of global engagement,” a 21st century evidence of participatory, deliberative democracy of mutual benefit to person, community, and indeed planet. As politicians laud a rampant individualism, and try to recover an economy that never existed, here abides a truly humane, sustainable habitation. A strong point she makes is that they are not a negative protest but see themselves as affirmative, positive solutions. On her academic webpage can be found a video “Seed Communities: Ecovillage Experiments Around the World” which evokes these complementarities of entity and empathy, as maybe the only viable way forward.

“Unlike earlier intentional communities and back-to-the-land experiments, ecovillages are not isolated enclaves. They tend to be active in local, national, and transnational politics. Most of the ecovillagers I encountered saw themselves as engaged participants in planetary socioecological systems rather than as utopian fugitives. On a principled level, they view their lives as pragmatic responses to the interrelated global dynamics of North-South inequity, global commodity chains, structural violence, and fossil fuel comsumption. At the level of action, ecovillage activists have been prominent players in the movements for peace, human rights, and global justice.” (136)

Litfin, Karen. Ecovillages: Lessons for Sustainable Community. London: Polity Books, 2014. The University of Washington professor of political science achieves a comprehensive and insightful survey of this truly global and local grassroots movement. From her campus she travelled the world to India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Senegal, Italy, Japan, Scotland, Denmark, Germany and the United States to visit and immerse in a variety of self-made communities that express this vital option. A woman’s wisdom flows from Living the New Story onto sustainable ecologies, economic prosperity, community relationships, and so on, embraced and empowered by an holistic consciousness. The writings of Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Joanna Macy, David Korten, and others are availed to root ecovillages within and in service of the Universe Story, its Great Unfoldment, Work, Turning. A prime difference is a positive personal choice to actively abide in this mode of reciprocal cooperation. The author and I had an engaging series of emails cross country last year to share resources and encouragement, this Natural Genesis site is listed as an annotated bibliography resource.

In a world of dwindling natural resources and mounting environmental crisis, who is devising ways of living that will work for the long haul? And how can we, as individuals, make a difference? To answer these fundamental questions, Professor Karen Litfin embarked upon a journey to many of the world’s ecovillages – intentional communities at the cutting-edge of sustainable living. From rural to urban, high tech to low tech, spiritual to secular, she discovered an under-the-radar global movement making positive and radical changes from the ground up. Not only is another world possible, it is already being born in small pockets the world over. These micro-societies, however, are small and time is short. Fortunately – as Litfin persuasively argues – their successes can be applied to existing social structures, from the local to the global scale, providing sustainable ways of living for generations to come. (Publisher)

Lockyer, Joshua and James Veteto, eds. Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Bioregionalism, Permaculture, and Ecovillages. New York: Berghahn Books, 2013. Arkansas Tech, and University of North Texas anthropologists gather grass roots scholar survivors who live and advocate these vital modes of sustainable settlements necessary for any viable future. A guiding document is Territories of Difference: Place, Movement, Life, Redes by Arturo Escobar (search). The ecovillage section features the Global Ecovillage Network, Findhorn in Scotland, and Nashira, a community refuge for low-income single mothers in rural Columbia.

In order to move global society towards a sustainable "ecotopia," solutions must be engaged in specific places and communities, and the authors here argue for re-orienting environmental anthropology from a problem-oriented towards a solutions-focused endeavor. Using case studies from around the world, the contributors - scholar-activists and activist-practitioners - examine the interrelationships between three prominent environmental social movements: bioregionalism, a worldview and political ecology that grounds environmental action and experience; permaculture, a design science for putting the bioregional vision into action; and ecovillages, the ever-dynamic settings for creating sustainable local cultures.

McCamant, Kathryn and Charles Durrett. Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2011. With a Foreword by Bill McKibben, the wife and husband architect team provide their third whole story volume of this flourishing movement. Incipiently springing up in Denmark and Scandinavia two decades ago, this ecovillage concept of complementary, beneficial support and enhancement for both individual and group, indeed person and planet, is now spreading worldwide. The Introduction to this section describes the many features good for one, all, and mother land. Successful European and North American communities from the inner city to rural settings give credence to its practical merit for so many reasons, in these times of otherwise social and economic chaos.

A man's home is his castle. But demographic and economic changes have turned our castles into islands. How can we regain the elements of the traditional village – family, cooperation, community and a sense of belonging – within the context of 21st century life? Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities is an in-depth exploration of a uniquely rewarding type of housing which is perfect for anyone who values their independence but longs for more connection with those around them. Written by the award-winning team that wrote the original "cohousing bible" and first brought cohousing to North America, this fully-illustrated manual combines practical considerations and design ideas with extensive case studies of dozens of diverse communities in Europe and North America.

Cohousing communities create unique opportunities for designing more sustainable lifestyles. Whether urban, suburban or rural; senior or intergenerational; retrofit or new, the authors show how the physical structures of cohousing communities lend themselves to a more efficient use of resources, and make everything from gardening to childcare to socializing easier. Creating Cohousing puts the "neighbor" back into "neighborhood"; and is an essential resource for anyone interested in more environmentally and socially sustainable living. (Publisher)

Meltzer, Graham. Sustainable Community: Learning from the Cohousing Model. Victoria, Canada: Trafford, 2005. From an architect and scholar of intentional communities, the latest and said to be the best volume on this growing movement. Case studies from Northern Europe, Canada and the United States illustrate their achievement of ecological sustainability along with personal and social sustainability and enhanced quality of life. The book is reviewed in the Summer 2005 issue of Communities which also contains several articles on cohousing.

Miller, Frederica. Ecovillages Around the World: 20 Regenerative Designs for Sustainable Communities. , 2018. A Norwegian architect and permaculture designer, 2018. As the quote says, a Norwegian architect and permaculture designer offers a latest survey of how well this once and future sustainable human abidance is growing and flourishing everywhere.

This illustrated work offers 20 best practice designs from ecovillages around the world to show how we can live lightly on the land no matter where on Earth we live. It demonstrates how ecovillages have already achieved the climate goals all of us are now striving toward. Through their regenerative, sustainable, and peace-promoting practices, they continue the culture of traditional village living in a modern way. In regard, the book cites Hurdal Ecovillage, Norway; Svanholm, and Permatopia, Denmark; Solheimar, Iceland; Lilleoru, Estonia; Findhorn, Scotland; Sieben Linden, Germany; Tamera, Portugal; Damanhur and Torri Superiore, Italy; Kibbutz Lotan, Israel; Sekem, Egypt; Chololo, Tanzania; Tasman Ecovillage and Narara, Australia; Hua Tao Ecovillage, China; Auroville, India; Ecovillage at Ithaca, New York, Huehuecoyotl, Mexico; and Ceo do Mapia, Brazil.

Mulder, Kenneth, et al. The Contribution of Built, Human, Social and Natural Capital to Quality of Life in Intentional and Unintentional Communities. Ecological Economics. 59/1, 2006. This study of ecovillages and co-housing settlements by Robert Costanza’s group at the University of Vermont finds they achieve a quantitative improvement in quality of life due to reduced needs for economic and material possessions along with enhanced cultural and supportive ambience.

Newman, Peter and Isabella Jennings. Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2008. Murdoch University city planners redefine and reinvent urban life by giving it real roots in the bioregional environmental context, from which can be gleaned vital principles for social metabolic and mental health.

Odling-Smee, John and J. Scott Turner. Niche Construction Theory and Human Architecture. Biological Theory. Online July, 2012. Odling-Smee, emeritus University of Oxford anthropologist and founder with Kevin Laland of NCT, and Turner, a SUNY Syracuse forest biologist, first survey how organisms of all kinds proceed to modify their environments to enhance their survival value and prosperity. From this ubiquitous behavior can be gleaned natural principles of “social niche construction” which, the very idea, may be availed for more viable human dwellings and settlements. In regard, a good feature is “biomimetic conversations” between occupants, structures and functions. See also Genes, Culture, and Agriculture by Michael O’Brien and Kevin Laland in Current Anthropology (53/4, 2012) for more examples of Human Niche Construction.

In modern evolutionary theory, selection acts on particular genes and assemblages of genes that operate through phenotypes expressed in environments. This view, however, overlooks the fact that organisms often alter their environments in pursuit of fitness needs and thus modify some environmental selection pressures. Niche construction theory introduces a reciprocal causal process that modifies natural selection relative to three general kinds of environmental components: abiota, biota (other organisms), and artifacts. The ways in which niche-constructing organisms can construct or modify the components differ. Modification of abiota, for example, may have different consequences from the construction of artifacts. Some changes in abiota may simply be caused by the by-products of metabolisms and activities of organisms. Alternatively, artifacts may be ‘‘extended phenotypes’’ that demonstrate obvious prior ‘‘design’’ and ‘‘construction’’ by organisms in the service of fitness needs. Nevertheless, adaptation should always account for the reciprocity between constructed niches and the living agents that construct them. Looking to well-adapted nature for inspiration for human built artifacts must account for this reciprocity between phenotype and constructed environment as well as the novel features of human architecture, including frank intentionality of design and novel culturally acquired knowledge. (Abstract)

Oppenheim, Claire. Nelson Mandela and the Power of Ubuntu. Religions. 3/2, 2012. In this online journal, a Massachusetts General Hospital scholar offers a graceful essay upon this traditional African wisdom of mutual, symbiotic community of benefit to both individual and group that served the sub-Sahara until it was destroyed by military colonialism. Today a global systems science is, in fact, verifying this viable way of habitation as nature’s evolutionary archetype from microbes to meerkats, bonobos, and the future promise of intentional communities. Could devasted, struggling Haiti actually be rebuilt and revived this way - “it takes an Ubuntu ecovillage.” A companion paper is “The African Ethic of Ubuntu/Botho” by Thaddeus Metz and Joseph Gaie in the Journal of Moral Education (39/3, 2009).

Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to fighting for the freedom of his South African kin of all colors against the institution of apartheid. He spent twenty-seven years fighting from within prison, only gaining his freedom when his fellow South Africans could claim it as well. This article demonstrates how his faith, his spiritual development and his noble purpose can be conceptualized through the lens of Ubuntu: the African ethic of community, unity, humanity and harmony. (Abstract)

Ubuntu is a spiritual ideal, a way of life that is conceptually represented in a wide range of sub-Saharan African societies. While Ubuntu exists in many variations within different African cultures and languages, each conceptualization retains the same core of meaning that is both a goal and a guide for humanity. The representation across widespread African cultures, unified by a common message represents a duality that is in itself the foundation of Ubuntu. (2)

Pearson, David. New Organic Architecture: The Breaking Wave. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001. A history of human habitation based on nature from Celtic times to Frank Lloyd Wright along with thirty case studies of current projects to employ organic design principles and environmental sensibilities.

Register, Richard. Ecocities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature. Berkeley, CA: Beverly Hills Books, 2002. Drawing insights from Pierre Teilhard, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme and Paolo Soleri, and with a Foreword by Hazel Henderson, an architect and activist lays out compelling reasons for the recreation and reinhabitation of communities guided by natural wisdom and ecological principles, together with practical examples.

The evolutionary leap 65 million years ago was the bursting forth of the mammals. The next could be humanity collectively learning how to build a healthy future. Inescapably, that means building ecologically-healthy cities - ecocities….Cars are preventing the next step in our now-cultural evolution, the step in which we build as if we knew we were evolving. (17)

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