Guest post by Dr Jenna C. Ashton, Lecturer in Heritage Studies, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester. Jenna’s research, practice and teaching concern social and ecological justice and creative socially engaged methods. She is currently PI on “Community Climate Resilience Through Folk Pageantry”, AHRC/ UK Climate Resilience Programme, 2020-2022: https://creative-climate-resilience.org/
She has also signed the petition for a seventh scrutiny committee, dedicated to climate policy, at the Manchester City Council level.
Climate change and environmental destruction presents not just a challenge to how we physically live. We have to radically shift our philosophical and psychological position to be able to think creatively about the deep adaptations that are going to be required of us. This means rethinking our economies, our industries, how communities work and share together, how we live differently. Indigenous, Black and Eco Feminist practitioners have been working through these ideas for some time.
Witnessing the panels of “whiteness” scheduled for the GM Green Summit 2020, doesn’t fill me with hope that we are anywhere near where we need to be in terms of a social and cultural shift. The lack of diversity within the speakers is shocking. One young Black female is included on the official speaker list, a representative of the climate youth movement. A huge opportunity has been missed here to draw down on varying cultural and intellectual perspectives and ideas concerning land and resource use and ownership – especially when Manchester is such a diverse, international city.
This reflects one of Manchester biggest barriers to truly moving forward on its climate actions. The white men in positions of authority and power need to reach beyond their political circles and cultural experiences to evolve solutions.
During the Green Summit there are likely to be discussions around how to inspire urban community environmental action. The examples listed on the agenda are positive interventions, but incredibly piecemeal, small, and cannot possibly hope to have an impact on the carbon targets or make much of an indent in pollution levels. For example, it’s also no point designing biodiversity interventions on the one hand, and building non-eco structures on vital green-space, on the other. Having worked in and around Manchester for over 15 years, I’ve also come to realise how disconnected research, activism and politics is from one other.
Over the last two decades, I have been following the Ecovillage movement – based on my interests for local collective action and better joined-up thinking, for social change. The developments listed in the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) have been evolving solutions since the 1960s. (Yes, the 1960s!!) These global sites are acting as live research and experimental hubs, devising practical, working examples of regenerative technologies, water irrigation, food growing, ethical economies, creative education, and sustainable housing design. Once dismissed as “hippy dippy” nonsense by mainstream capitalism, these ecovillages are now looking like the true radical reformers amongst the political noise.
“Imagine a world living abundantly, while within its limits. A world that is regenerating rather than depleting the environment, and where cooperation and connection are rewarded. GEN aims to create such a world by spreading the physical and cultural technology of ecovillages.”
So what is an Ecovillage?
“An ecovillage is an intentional, traditional or urban community that is consciously designing its pathway through locally owned, participatory processes, and aiming to address the Ecovillage Principles in the 4 Areas of Regeneration (social, culture, ecology, economy into a whole systems design).”
“Ecovillages are living laboratories pioneering beautiful alternatives and innovative solutions. They are rural or urban settlements with vibrant social structures, vastly diverse, yet united in their actions towards low-impact, high-quality lifestyles.“
Significantly, these ecovillages are successful, not based on the odd cycle lane here and there. They result from the implementation of holistic, community co-created plans for living, and being differently in the world, in collaboration with nature. Plus, the Ecovillage Network is not protective about its practices, but in the spirit of sharing it offers courses for regenerative community design, for trauma informed resilience. It has a free “solutions library”, and planning resources for communities matching onto the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Note the significance of integrating the 4 principles of social, culture, ecology, economy into co-design. These are considered essential for long-term sustainability:
Social Sustainability: Ecovillagers tend to actively work to build trust, collaboration and openness between people, and to make sure they feel empowered, seen and heard. Ecovillages often provide a sense of belonging through community relationships, common projects, shared goals, and social processes, but do not demand that everyone is the same – unity and strength through diversity is important to the ecovillage movement.
Cultural Sustainability: Ecovillages aim to build or regenerate diverse cultures that support people to empower and care for each other, their communities and the planet. Many actively engage with practices that encourage people to feel deeply connected to each other, to the planet, and to themselves. Celebration, art, dance and other forms of creative expression are often embraced as central to thriving human life and communities. Most ecovillages find their own ways to talk about, connect with, respect and support life and the beings and systems that sustain it.
Ecological Sustainability: Ecovillages aim to access food, shelter, water and energy in ways that respect the cycles of nature. They aim to integrate human with the rest of nature in ways that increase biodiversity and regenerate ecosystems, and that give people a chance to experience their interdependence with systems and cycles of life on a direct and daily basis.
Economic Sustainability: Ecovillages aim to build economic practices and systems that contribute to sharing of resources, mutual support, and strong local economies and networks that serve the needs of local people and ecosystems. Most ecovillages actively work to provide sustainable alternatives to the mainstream economy and monetary system, and reclaim ways of thinking about wealth and progress that include all aspects of life. Local currencies, sharing, social entrepreneurship, circular economy and collaborative forms of ownership are central to many ecovillages.
Key terms reappear in their principles to inform actions: trust, care, sharing, support, collaborative, connected, creative, circular. These concepts are easier to write about than to put into practice, and – as ecovillage leaders admit to – conflicts and tensions arise within any community, however principled it aims to be. But that conflict is worked through to find equitable space for everyone’s input.
This might all sound very utopian and ideological – but the beauty of the ecovillage, is that it is a working-model already being tried and tested. I think it’s entirely possible to activate ecovillages within Greater Manchester, and the Mayor’s Green Summit conference could be the opportune moment to really start thinking radically.
“What matters the most is that the lands are healthy, the water is pure, the wind is free from viruses, and the human beings are at peace with themselves.”
Calixto Suarez, Chief Elders of Arhuaco People, Colombia
(GEN Annual Report, 2019: https://ecovillage.org/)
Standard disclaimer we put on all guest posts – “guest posts don’t necessarily reflect the views of CEM.”