Re: Cohousing Groups Calling Themselves Ecovillages
From: porcupin (
Date: Thu, 5 Feb 1998 23:57:52 -0600
Michael Mariner wrote:

> At last year's Seattle cohousing conference, I heard Chris Hanson say
> that when his group called themselves "an ecovillage" they generated much
> more interest than when they called themselves "cohousing."
> How do others feel about this?  Most cohousers and cohousing sites *are*
> more ecological than typical suburbanites, but is this enough to use the
> term ecovillage with integrity?

>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. ***
> [The defintion is broken down as above because each line is expanded upon
> by the authors in subsequent paragraphs.]
> Ecovillage at Ithaca has cohousing neighborhoods as components of the
> overall ecovillage that also has businesses and agriculture and other
> features that help it to be an *aspiring* ecovillage.
> A typical cohousing development doesn't have that wider environment, but
> whats stopping them (us) from becoming the hub of a wider community that
> has multiple neighborhoods participating to become "a full-featured
> settlement....."
> Further, if a cohousing group has this intention as it builds it's
> (first) neighborhood, why not call itself an (aspiring) ecovillage?
> Mike Mariner

The problem with the ecovillage concept is threefold.  The first is that
it involves extra up-front costs that banks will not finance and would
disqualify many prospective mortgage buyers.  The second is that state
and local building codes and departments are extremely conservative and
reluctant to approve of alternative materials and techniques.  The third
is that people largely do not want to deal with the extra work involved
with maintaining an ecologically sound building site. For these reasons
prospective cohousing communities would be better off sticking to minor
modifications of the current building standards until the ecovillage
concept is economically supportable.

This reminds me of our flirtation with "passive solar" design concepts
during the planning phase of our project.  As the planning process went
on we decided that we didn't want to line our houses up correctly as
that would be row housing.  We decided not to place all our windows to
the south to preserve views and light.  And we eventually decided not to
incorporate exterior trellising or interior thermal masses due to cost.
In the end we were forced to drop even the words "passive solar" because
they had no meaning and would represent false or deceptive advertising
as we sold our last few units.

For cohousing projects to use the term "ecovillage" without major
environmental improvements (no composting doesn't count) would amount to
greenwashing.  It's the moral equivalent of those chevron commercials
where they pat themselves on the back for obeying environmental
protection laws they fight to have repealed.  Any suburbanite with a
well insulated house, a vegetable garden, a compost pile and a carpool
is doing as well as your average cohousing project environmentally. Our
strengths are in other areas and should be stated as such.

John Poteet
Valley Oaks Village
Chico CA

The valley oaks were originally cut down for grazing cattle, then a
walnut orchard was planted.  The walnut orchard was neglected and
largely cut down for subdivisions, ours included.  The houses are made
out of concrete, (co2 global warming) lumber, (clearcut) and plastic,
(ozone depletion).  A few dozen valley oaks have reseeded under the
walnuts, have survived the building process and are doing well

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