This image by @russellordphoto is of Sativa Sanctuary Holiday Home, a solar passive hemp house recently built by Hemp Homes Australia in Witchcliffe.

Ecovillage, sustainable community, co-housing, intentional community: there are many terms used to describe residential projects like the Witchcliffe Ecovillage that have similar meanings and are often difficult to clearly define. One thing they all seem to have in common is their pursuit of a shared set of values and / or a common purpose. The way in which these communities are structured and the way they go about manifesting or delivering that is often the major point of difference.

The Witchcliffe Ecovillage model

The Witchcliffe Ecovillage is a product of its shared values around social, environmental and economic sustainability. Sustainability is the foundation upon which every decision is made and is the glue that will bind our community together. Each future resident of the Witchcliffe Ecovillage will have a unique motivation for arriving at the same shared ideal: to live sustainably. All are welcome in our community. However, it’s worth noting a few key points about the way in which the Ecovillage is structured and how it operates, which may help to clarify how it will function and perhaps dispel some misconceptions.

  • The Witchcliffe Ecovillage is a developer-led residential village, which differs to varying degrees in its conception, planning, delivery and operation to an intentional community or a co-housing development.
  • It is owned and privately funded by a 50/50 joint venture partnership between Sustainable Settlements and Perron Developments. The project was conceived, designed and developed by this team and, on completion, will be handed over to the community-owned Village Commons company (VCC) to run and maintain in perpetuity.
  • The Ecovillage is a Strata Development and is subject to this regulatory planning framework, which dictates land tenure, i.e. how the land is bought, owned, used and maintained.
  • Each of the 11 residential clusters comprise approximately 20 privately-owned survey strata lots, which surround a commonly-owned community garden. While all clusters will be managed as individual stratas, they will be united by the same strata by-laws to ensure the Ecovillage’s sustainability objectives are met.
  • Shares in the VCC are held at the cluster-level but, effectively, each household has an ownership stake in the land and infrastructure of the VCC, which comprises conservation areas, dams and agroforesty areas on the Ecovillage site.
  • The balance of the Ecovillage site is made up of privately-owned land (residential, agricultural, commercial lots), public open space (Village Square, oval, highway earth bunds) and road reserve (streets).
  • There is no membership or vetting process prior to purchase as per a traditional intentional community; all residents will simply agree to abide by strata by-laws, which will enshrine the Ecovillage’s sustainability principles.

Co-housing options at the Ecovillage

There has been some enquiry as to whether Sustainable Settlements will be offering a co-housing option as part of the Ecovillage, which is part of the reason for writing this article. One of the more recent changes to the concept plan included a change to some of the lot types along the highway on the western boundary of the site, including the proposed addition of some, as yet unapproved, strata blocks that have been earmarked as medium density housing. The proposed subdivision of these “super lots” would allow the creation of additional small lot, affordable housing options in a cluster design. They will also potentially accommodate co-housing groups, which may be interested in co-purchasing a “super lot” and creating a co-housing development within the Ecovillage, perhaps modelled on the pocket neighbourhood concept. To be clear, Sustainable Settlements is not specifically designing a co-housing model but is open to and supportive of co-housing groups who may wish to pursue this option with us. We encourage those groups to contact us to discuss this further.

The interplay between privacy and sharing

The Witchcliffe Ecovillage aims to strike a healthy balance between people’s desire for privacy and family cohesion, and the innate need for social interaction, belonging and security that community brings. We have deliberately tried to create a structure to facilitate this, whereby residents purchase their own individual block on which they build their own private home and garden to which they can retreat if they need. Yet the opportunity exists, in fact, the physical design of the Ecovillage encourages and draws residents out of their houses to socialise and collaborate with one another in the shared spaces and community gardens.

How each micro-community will function on a daily basis will be entirely down to the residents who live within that cluster. However, all of the communal infrastructure will be provided by the developer and included in the price when you purchase a block. The governance and management of the strata clusters will be guided by strata by-laws and a Community Garden Handbook. We look forward to watching the community evolve and flourish, and trust it will be a thing of beauty. Together with all the other carefully considered measures that have gone into developing the Ecovillage model, we are confident of achieving our objective of social, economic and environmental sustainability.

In his book, Ecovillages: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Communities, Jan Martin Bang refers to the following definition of Ecovillages, which formed the basis of the Global Ecovillage Network thinking and is a useful reference point.

Human scale, usually thought of as somewhere between 50 and 500 members, but with exceptions.

A full featured settlement, in which the major functions of life – food provision, manufacture, leisure, social life and commerce – are all present in balanced proportions. This should not mean that Ecovillages be totally self-sufficient or isolated from their surroundings.

Human activities harmlessly integrated into the natural world. There is an ideal of equality between humans and other forms of life. In practice, this means we should aim for a cyclic approach to resource use, rather than the linear, throw-away lifestyle, which has become the norm in western society.

Supportive of healthy human development. We envisage a balanced, integrated approach to fulfilling human needs – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – not just for individuals, but for the community as a whole.

Successfully able to continue into the indefinite future. This is the principle of sustainability.

The book goes on to list a number of additional areas:

The bio-system – the relationship between the Ecovillage and its ecological environment is as low impact as possible.

The built environment – building technology, materials and design are looked at holistically.

The economic system – fairness and non-exploitation would be hallmark features.

The governance of the community – democracy, conflict resolution, leadership and the relationship between the Ecovillage and its neighbours would all need to be redefined.

The ‘glue’. How do communities keep it together? What is it that binds us together as a group of people?

The whole system. All these ideas need to be integrated and understood as being parts of a greater whole, that work together in symbiosis. This is where Permaculture becomes relevant as an integrated planning system.

Ref: “Ecovillages: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Communities” – Jan Martin Bang [2005]

Sativa Sanctuary Holiday Home is a

Solar Passive Hemp House recently built by Hemp Homes Australia in Witchcliffe