Back in the days when baby boomers were just…well, babies…no one knew they’d be the first generation to explore personal development, health and well-being.
We are searching for multiple solutions on multiple fronts. We want to be healthy; we want to know where we’re going; we want to learn happiness; we want to be less stressed; we want to be better people, and we want to know what it’s all about.
If the new millennium was marked by anything, it was by the rapid growth in the search for self-development. For many, this has equated to a kind of self-interest that was unknown in the post-war years when the message, still echoing the words of wartime leaders, was: united we stand. The baby boomers were brought up in communities. Places where people met at shop counters and chatted about children; where they borrowed cups of sugar, and popped around when a neighbour was ill.
It didn’t mean you all had the same taste in music, or furniture, or you actually wanted to be joined at the hip. It was just where you belonged; where you fitted in because, by and large, you all held the same values; where you were nourished almost without knowing it, by a kind of social osmosis. And although those particular kinds of communities are now as rare as the small, rural populations in which they still survive, it’s the search for that kind of belonging that has seen the birth — and the global rise — of ecovillages.
Finding a definition of an ecovillage is not easy. Or to put it another way…it’s too easy. On the internet you’ll find definitions that run from a sentence to a few pages. But they have one thing in common: sustainability. The underlying principle that gives them life is not a common belief in a deity, or a moral principle, but a non sectarian, non-political, non-fiscal idea that if we continue to live like there’s no tomorrow – there won’t be.
It was bound to happen – the baby boomers, who grew up with an understanding of community – also have an understanding that life can’t work if it’s all take and no give. They have brought respectability — and perhaps even viability — to life principles that started out on the fringe of society and that are increasingly becoming the driver of mainstream thought, inspiring advocates and supporters that include university lecturers, doctors, researchers, analysts, writers and artists.
There was a time when ecovillages were seen as something of a radical experiment, but those days are over. Now mainstream planners and developers are exploring the options offered by these new models of urban planning, and though they may not — yet — embrace the concepts in their entirety, they are increasingly adopting parts of the whole, such as sustainable design and building materials, water conservation and social value. This booming worldwide phenomenon even has its own internet-based global ecovillage network (www.ecovillage.org) with input from the renowned Findhorn ecovillage in Scotland, to Huehue Coyotl, Mexico, and Thlolego, in South Africa.
The site defines three elements that drive ecovillages everywhere: social and community, ecological, and cultural and spiritual. “Ecovillages are one solution to the major problems of our time – the planet is experiencing the limits to growth, and our lives are often lacking meaningful content,” says the website. “According to increasing numbers of scientists, we have to learn to live sustainably if we are to survive as a species. Ecovillages represent an effective, accessible way to combat the degradation of our social, ecological and spiritual environments. They show us how we can move toward sustainability in the 21st century.” To date Australia does not yet have a national ecovillage web listing, but a web search for ecovillages will uncover them in every state.
And at least one organisation — InterNational Park Tours in Queensland — is sufficiently confident of the interest in ecovillages that it’s running tours for its clients to explore ecovillages abroad.
Almost without exception Australia’s ecovillages are based close to modern urban societies – where consumerism is rampant and greenhouse gas production is an epidemic. And they thrive there. Take the new Ecovillage at Currumbin, on the Gold Coast: 15 minutes from Surfers Paradise, within sight and sound of the flight path to Coolangatta Airport – its success (90 percent of its first homes release has been sold and the second stage is booming) derives in large part because there is, within the urban society at its doorstep, a diverse population of people who are looking for more, while looking for less. More connection, more satisfaction, more growth; less consumption, less confusion, less stress.
Or the Aldinga Arts Ecovillage, 50kms from Adelaide, where over-urbanised professionals from the city are enjoying the benefits of more than 16 hectares of residential development and 12 hectares of village farm, where nearly half the land has been set aside as community land and common facilities.
Eco villages are growing – fast and healthily. But like all healthy growth, it can’t be contained. The tree is growing new branches. Sustainability alone is no longer enough for a society that is embarked on new kind of exploration – the spiritual and personal growth that was unforeseen when the new age of leisure was predicted.
A wider learning is developing to meet the needs of those who seek growth not just in ecological terms but in terms of those two other ecovillage principles: social and community; and cultural and spiritual.
Meeting this need has given birth to Australia’s first holistic ecovillage — The Ridge on Binna Burra — where ethical investment in a sustainable community of homes is linked to a learning centre (The Ethos Centre) where a broad base of experiential programs explores the arts, physical and mental wellbeing, spirituality and health.
This new (for Australia) kind of ecovillage is set on the very edge of Lamington National Park in Queensland, on the fertile slopes of the Mount Warning caldera, where it forms part of Beechmont, the small community within which it stands. The village includes a vast expanse of old growth rainforest sweeping down into the Coomera Valley that is being conserved for all time as a natural haven and wildlife refuge.
Plans for the completed ecovillage include a vital link between it and the surrounding community in the form of a creative arts and meeting complex.
Unlike its ecovillage cousins, The Ridge on Binna Burra offers not permanent residential blocks, but apartments, cabins and homes as occasional retreats (the components of these homes are constructed off-site and built on-site with minimum land disturbance, in accordance with the village’s sustainability principles). Some will be managed on behalf of owners to perform a dual role: providing ethical return on a sustainable investment, and broadening the field of influence of the growing sustainability ethos by offering holiday breaks to visitors for rejuvenation and reflection, with access to more than 150 experiential and learning programs through the Ethos Centre.
Some will be in the hands of private owner to use personally in their own way and for their own purposes according to the ecovillage’s principles. Here, too, as in other ecovillages, owners and visitors will have access to the benefits of permaculture gardens and orchards. Like Hollyhock, the Canadian learning centre of some 40-years’ standing, The Ridge on Binna Burra seeks to provide a new path for people who fear the stream of their life has turned into a torrent that is tearing their fingers from the bank.
Alastair McCracken, Managing Director of The Ridge on Binna Burra, said: “The words of Hollyhock speak for us too. They say: ‘We offer no dogma or guru. We’re a learning centre, perhaps not so formal as a university, but a precursor to a more organic style of learning institution for the 21st century.’
“It’s true that we live in a torrent,” said Alastair. “The baby-boomers have lived through a greater acceleration of technology and growth in leisure than any other generation. The rate of change is so fast that no one believes we can return to the old ways of community. People engaged in the creative industries can find a place of renewal revitalisation, free from the pressures that constrain their work, and limit their freedom to work.
One way of defining the purpose of ecovillages is that they offer a chance of creating sensitive communities once more. Not by going back, but by going forward.”
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