Carfree out of town:
The Carfree Ecovillage
Draft Article for Carbusters
Edited by Francois Schneider (Soifito) with participation of the list “carfree ecovillages”
Monday, 12 May 2003
Remote alpine villages, island in Polynesia, poor African villages , or rich tourist centres... Visitors and inhabitants alike seem to enjoy the ambience of these carfree places. However they are usually not carfree by choice, but by default, because inhabitants cannot afford a car, because they are too remote for cars or because there is an economic incentive as in the case of tourist villages, not because it is a sane and healthy lifestyle choice.
When we talk about the carfree idea, people seem to agree: “you’re right, in the city it’s really possible to live without a car. But in the countryside you need one”. I conceded this in order to please some car adepts on the issue. It is true that it is easier to live in the city without a car. But if I want to live close to nature, it disturbs me that in order to make this possible, I need to be dependent on what I consider one of the worst destroyers of nature. One could argue that ecologically sensitive people are a threat to nature because by going to live in the countryside, we develop decentralised habitat leading to new roads, new car use and new developments.
But there is an alternative: carfree ecovillages. There are a lot of good reasons why the carfree idea makes sense in the countryside. We have started an internet discussion to explore the idea of voluntary living carfree in the countryside.
An ecovillage is a settlement of relatively small size but large enough to allow a diversity of people and lifestyles, while remaining small enough so that people know each other and integrate sustainably with the surrounding ecosystem. In an ecovillage everything is closed-by. Food, energy, construction materials, most medicines are from local sources. Relations between people are based on cooperation and commitment towards self-sufficiency. Imports and exports are kept to a minimum. Transport of people and goods is accomplished by ecological means.
An ecovillage is a place where people live, who are committed to living in a sustainable way. A sustainable way of life is one that is as maintainable as possible within a specified context. An ecovillage is a group of individuals living in physical proximity who respect practices that contribute to the good of the group and who reject practices that benefit an individual at the expense of the group.
Here is the definition from the Global Ecological Network.
Ecovillages are communities of people, who strive to integrate a supportive social environment with a low-impact way of life. To achieve this, they integrate various aspects of ecological design, permaculture, ecological building, green production, alternative energy, community building practices, and much more.
Although many ecovillages develop car-sharing, most use cars and sometimes quite intensively still. A large part of ecovillages activities are still based on car use. As the car is an important tool of ecological destruction (do we have to convince readers of carbusters?), should it be welcomed?
On a quest
for a place
What was once our liberation
our enslaving vehicle.
Escape the oil controlled economy
move freely, with other means.
Bike around, walk the scene.
I dream to live car free!
We believe that carfreeness should be an integral part of an ecovillage. However as this aspect is often missing, we will always specify that we are talking of a “Carfree” ecovillage. Even if this is redundant.
A carfree ecovillage is not accessible by car and the inhabitants do not rely on the automobiles for their activities. In its optimal setting, the carfree village does not have a parking lot, even far away, but still is a site with intense human encounters that many people can visit. Stays and perspectives have slower pace, letting time to appreciate the full pleasure of the senses. Carfreeness is not an end in itself, but a path that may enable us to tackle lots of issues, creating a practical unifying idea and in the same time leaving a lot of free space.
Car-free means that if private motorized transport ceased to exist, the activities of the villagers would not be affected. Aspiring to the car-free ideal most likely will mean locating the village in such a place that it is not affected by private motorized transport, in addition to the activities of the villagers themselves not being dependent upon private motorized transport.
We are seeking to develop communities where the resources (space, energy, materials) devoted to moving things around are minimized. All transportation needs are considered in the following way: (1) is it necessary for life? (2) If it is not necessary, does it add beauty to
A carfree ecovillage should be mostly agricultural, a mostly self-sufficient settlement, using only renewable resources, including for transportation needs. Of course, the degree of self-sufficiency depends on the number of eco-villagers.
Almost all villages in Russia are car-free, because peasants are mostly very poor and can't afford a car. But those, who still survived in the villages, dream to move to a city and probably to have a car.
On the other hand sub-urbanization is going on. Many rural territories become settlements for rich city-dwellers and therefore turn into places with some or a lot of traffic.
There are some eco-villages too, where people (mainly coming from cities) intend to revive traditional lifestyle and agriculture, or to create different sustainable society. Though some of them are actually car-free (no roads, can't afford a car), as far as I know, none of them has carfreeness as a specific goal.
There are ecovillages :
- that reduce car use
- that manage to keep cars at a distance (numerous examples or old villages)
- that do not have private cars but share them
- that do not use cars for the construction phase
- that do not have even a parking lot
Does someone know an aimed truly carfree ecovillage?
Why the carfree idea makes sense in the countryside
Combining people and nature
Our society has been totally cut up from nature. Basically, if you like great environments, pure air, free growing forests, wild animals and not too much noise… you should not be close to people. On the other hand if you like social life, you have to give up on ecological enjoyment. Could we imagine some human settlement that would combine ecological and social life? This harmony seems only possible if we give up ecological (and social) destruction tools like the car (and the bulldozer!…). Many people identify with their car, they consider that humanity fundamentally needs the car, as if it was air for breathing. If we do not like their car, we do not like those people? On the contrary getting rid of the car could open a very interesting path towards an harmony between people and within nature.
Getting concrete with the CARFREE ecovillage
We know that if we use cars we are going to use lots of petrol, use lots of space, create lots of death. Something should be done about it. Like in official speeches, just saying that we should be ecological, that we should recycle, that we should use renewable resources can remain at a very general level. That’s why such a choice as being carfree leads to something very concrete.
Troublesome country cars
Using cars in country means burning oil as well as using car in a city. Using cars makes ecovillage not self-sufficient and strongly dependent on selling and buying goods.
Country cycling is actually more dangerous than city cycling per km travelled. Walking and cycling along country roads is dangerous, as cars are not expected and drive at high speed without visibility, and there are no sidewalks for pedestrians.
Cars also destroy roads making holes, they create clouds of dust or water spray and turn roads muddy. The number of kilometres of roads per vehicle is very high in the countryside especially when habitat is very spread. Use of cars creates costly use of space, destruction of water-permeable surface and increase of erosion. Cars pollute edible and medicinal plants: one has to go as far as 100 m from a road to collect plants free of pollution. Bio-diesel requires large surfaces of monoculture.
Living carfree leads us to look what's all around us in our close environment like to develop a knowledge on local plants throughout the years and to re-use old paths. When we are travelling by car, we just go from one point to the other, but we don't see all the land in between. The countryside cars develop a new perception of the space, zoning the area with fences and walls, and ignoring the needs for pedestrian right of ways.
In countries with still little car ownership in the countryside, there are lots of little shops and little cafés in villages. This is not the case when everybody has a car and goes to the supermarket in the next centre. Also when everybody has a car, authorities do not hesitate to close smaller schools.
The countryside does not have cars for long enough to make people realise all the problems linked to them. The only way is to denounce, denounce and denounce.
Unity and individual liberty
Setting a carfree ecovillage sets up a structure that enables everybody to live without a car, in the same time, lots of liberty is gained for different lifestyles. A carfree village would create in the same time a unity, because people then need to work together towards some kind of group self sufficiency, and an individual liberty because the car is often a lack of respect for the others.
There would be then room for the nature lover, the social ecologist, the internet junky, the bike and train fanatic, handicapped people, children playing outside, having a meal in the middle of the street, growing cabbage on the side walk?…
Autonomy and the car
The idea of autonomy has been very important when I talked with different people in eco-communities. One thing clear is that the car is not so much seen as a problem, but much more as a solution for the autonomy goal. It is true that there is some willingness to reduce its use, but basically the car ends up appearing as an important tool for the search of autonomy. It is here, we do not like it but we need it. With the car, people do not have to rely on public transport, they can go wherever they want whenever they want. They have no schedule. They can live wherever in the countryside.
But we can have a different opinion: the car enables non-autonomy to go-on forever.
Every time one does not manage to produce something himself, like for example food or energy, one uses the automobile. Without cars we would develop independent systems that would make us independent of the car. This would include transportation systems. By freeing yourself from public transport and bike infrastructures you make yourself always dependent of the car. People that do not have a driving licence are then deprived of their only means of distance transportation.
Ideas for the carfree ecovillage
The idea would not be to go back to the old-time closed village without any interactions with the exterior. Bicycles, trains, buses and now the internet enable the contact with the world.
The challenge could support many innovations: super trailers, cooperation with train companies, cable transport, bike taxis, recumbents, cargo bikes, bike powered washing machines, grinders, computers, pumps, everything remains to be invented...
If I would choose to live in a carfree ecovillage (which I would love to!), it would have to be very close to a train station. When I say very close, I mean 1 km or 2 from the village. I really want to remain accessible and have easy access to transports.
Use of animals
A mellow horse is a companion animal as well as a work animal. People used horses for transportation thousands of years before automobiles were invented. Their manure makes fine fertilizer. With the right attention, they are capable of becoming loving members of a human family. Even if you choose to walk somewhere instead of ride, the horse can be taken along, either for the companionship or to haul back a load of supplies.
It would be nice to live at a human rhythm. We don't have to invent so many things, for centuries people have lived without petrol.
I agree that we should find a way to use modern machines like computers or washing machines with natural, durable and ecological energy.
If I lived in a carfree ecovillage, I would want it to be as opened as possible to the people who could not live in it and who would like to learn how it is possible. I do not want to live apart of the world and apart of the people. I think it's very important for someone to live in respect of his engagements, fights, and priorities and we should not be afraid to live our dream, but if it works, it should be a village opened to anyone who wish to live or visit, a village that invites children of the neighbourhood for example.
Carfree and dog free
In my opinion, in order to have a really good result, a car free ecovillage has to be dog free.
To me there are obvious similarities between the bad sides of cars and dogs:
- they are very noisy;
- they stop us - either by shitting or by parking - from walking freely on the sidewalks;
- they smell bad;
- they can be dangerous;
- they can turn people aggressive;
...so, I really believe that being car free AND dog free will avoid many neighbourhood problems.
Carfree not an end
Refusing cars shouldn't be an end in itself, in the same way that oil or transports issue are not the only problems for a village (or for the world as a whole). Items like foods, clothing, medicines, social organization, each demand alternative ways to the current mass consumption and industrialization, if we want to build a harmonious and liveable whole.
Do you have more ideas for carfree ecovillages?
(carfree)cities vs (carfree)villages
Most people live in cities, for this reason, anti-car actions are fundamental there, it is where it reaches the most. The hyper-centralisation of cities makes it easy to live without a car as public transport exists and distances are short.
But there are fundamental problems with cities: they are dependent on the countryside for food, they require the imports of materials for construction, of energy, of water, they need fresh air from outside. It seems that even the city role of transformation of materials is losing
ground as the importance of services is increasing. Cities have been efficient in generating contacts between population of very different origins. But even this is getting questionable, as everybody seems to be watching a computer/TV screen and as the fear of the others is developing. There is one thing that cities are doing well: they manage to consume incredible amounts of materials and generate air pollution and liquid and solid waste in large amounts!
We should not recreate city problems in the countryside.
Car development is actually also killing village life: shop migrate to big centres, car usage encourages sprawl instead of village concentration, cooperation between people reduces, villages become dormitories because the work is elsewhere and because there are many secondary houses, the environment is polluted... How many villages are crossed by a main road that kills a few kids regularly? Many villages have no more public transport because people all have cars. On the global scale, the car and petrol use leads to gulf wars, asthma for kids all over the planet and greenhouse effect (...). Importation networks cannot be avoided in cities because of the hyper-centralisation. But they can largely be avoided in villages.
We need a "decentralised centralisation".
Decentralisation can link us back to our basic necessities: like food, shelter, nature, friendship, recognition for what we do. Avoiding all this waste of energy working for things that are not worth it.
Decentralisation can make us consume nearby resources and understand their impacts.
The closeness of production can make us aware of the importance of caring about the environment because we see it, because we work on it.
Centralisation can lead us to develop systems for water collection, for transportation, for water treatment, for composting and recycling. It can help us to group imports. It can make us know our neighbours.
The "decentralised centralisation" is basically a car-free ecovillage!
Carfree countryside experience
Marion and I already have a little bit of experience of an ecocarfree life in the countryside as we lived the last year in Portugal in such circumstances.
The setting is perfect in that:
- it is close (20 minutes walk / 5' by bike) to frequent public transport linking to a large city in 25 min (Lisbon);
- it is carfree as buildings and river bank do not let space for building a road;
- we managed to keep and develop a nice foot path linked to the village centre (it is really fantastic to walk 20 minutes in the countryside by a wild path to get to the bus station without being annoyed by cars.);
- the rainwater is not polluted like in cities. We manage to collect rain water with a very simple system of gutter. The water is stored in a container and is used for watering the garden or cleaning dirty hands. We have recently developed a little subsoil irrigation system in order to avoid the problem of evaporation.
- we also avoid flushing thanks to our compost toilets. This is also an amazingly simple solution. It makes a nice humus, while avoiding to pollute the water. The greywater (from shower and kitchen) is usable to water the garden. This system is actually the best when it is the most decentralised. I see carfree as a general import/export-free situation: this includes the case of water. We do not want to export water pollution or to import cleaned water;
- we have lots of pleasure with our compost-hip of kitchen waste, it dealt with most of our waste, and delivers now amazing fertilizer (also avoiding the necessity to transport, often by car, fertilizers and wastes).
- we are not isolated: people love to visit us as the life quality is amazing. Well, we live in front of a big cascade and we do not need to walk far to enjoy fresh air and wildness. Sadly, the cascade will dry this summer because upstream swimming pools users prefer the water for them than in the river;
- about the problem of ambulances and emergencies: the environment is the most healthy, that is why I stay here a lot: I am really recovering from city stress, and city pollution. There is no risk of car accidents. In case of emergency, an ambulance can still come not so far by a little track. And we could very well imagine to have special emergency bikes to carry sick people to the doctor. But this also requires a critical mass to make it worth it. Well emergency units manage to go by skis, why not by bikes? We can also call a taxi;
- I recently managed to work from home which further reduced the travelling necessities;
- not having an easy car access is also a security concerning robbery, robbers do not like to steal with backpacks and bikes it seems;
- carfreeness leads to reduced pollution on the plants around. We are eating wild salads everyday. We are actually planting salads only for fun and buying at the market because the old lady is really nice!
- We do long trips by bikes sometimes to change of the public transport
We begin to know about all the paths in the area. But we always discover news ones.
But the site is not perfect (and we look for another site) because:
- we cannot set-up all things necessary for a carfree life because we do not own the land and others non-ecocarfree projects are developing;
- the traffic situation is getting horrible near Lisbon, with more and more trucks and cars, pedestrian are really seen as pariahs, and although there are some remains showing that the region might have been as friendly as Holland in the past, the present situation for bicycles is awful, nothing is done to improve it: it lacks the power of the numbers to react to the situation;
- in a carfree ecovillage we would develop systems for bicycling transport, we would be able to develop a good bike link. Not like this dusty or muddy dirt road destroyed by cars. - concerning the transport of heavy goods. We have problems because we need help to climb the stairs with our bike trailer. But this could be easily improved if the site was fit for handicapped: we could pull the trailer until our wooden house. Proper structures to ease carfree transportation of goods would require to have the right to do it, to make it easy to handle a hand cart for example, and set up ingenious systems;
- well water is likely to be polluted by the wrong water management going on. Some of our neighbours carry then bottled water in their car, something we could avoid in a well functioning carfree eco village.
- we are growing food and buy at the local market, but we lack the cooperation for producing everything we need. A group of car free adepts living near each other would tend to cooperate to produce and get food locally. This would reduce a large part of the needed transportation.
- One thing that we are missing also, is the support feeling, knowing that others are nearby motivated by our carfree way of solving problems.
- car dependents can go to the supermarket easily. A car free village would create good clients for small shops. It would be the perfect set-up to create a food coop. We actually do not really have this problem as shops are close by;
- we lack support for bikes parts, special trailers or whatever bike tool has to be built. We built a strong steel bike trailer (very handy!), and we have a tandem-taxi and 3 normal bikes. Lots of welders can be asked, but sharing talents and motivation would ease things, it would be essential to share special tools and so on;
- with a carfree ecovillage, public transport would tend to be efficient, as a group would be important regular users;
- to further reduce the import-export necessities we could use local construction materials like mud, stones and straw.
- we could improve a lot on the energy side. We still use gas to warm water which obliges us to get gas bottles every 2 months (with the trailer). Clearly this could be improved with the development of solar energy, wind energy and water energy. Everything is around us.
We would find nice to share more such quality of life.
Generally my feeling is that the carfree ecovillage idea has the potential to unite all motivations.
Tell us your experiences of carfree life in the countryside!
Finding a site for a carfree ecovillage
The car culture has succeeded in shaping most infrastructure and social structure to the car. There are a few oasis left: islands, mountains and old villages remaining from car free times. Some areas remain potentials for carfree life but they are not so numerous.
I would find really a shame that some potentially fantastic carfree spots are overtaken by car lovers!
Here is a list of requirements for potential carfree spots:
- proximity (not more than 2km) to public transports (preferably train station)
- carfree area
- ideally an old village or group of houses, building potential
- good environment
- possibilities to grow food
- motivated local people
- administrations supporting the idea
- good conditions for renewable energies
- possibilities to exchange/buy food locally
- potential for economic base
- internet access
Help us to find potential sites for carfree ecovillages!
Join us: we wish to explore visions of ecovillages car-free and free of car Dependency, share experiences and solutions, and support the practical set-up of one (or more) carfree ecovillages in Europe or elsewhere.
Join us on the listserve http://lists.riseup.net/www/info/carfreeecovillages
Email: soif -at- gmx.at
and spread the word!
Colin Leath <>
|Carfree ecovillages: combining people and nature, by colin on 2003-05-12 19:23:13|
some minor corrections:
closed-by -> close by
cut up -> cut off
sorry I don't have a more substantial critique yet!
|Carfree ecovillages: combining people and nature, by colin on 2003-05-14 15:58:58|
I would recommend adding an abstract/ summary at the top of the article, as well as a table of contents / highlight of the important points.
Because the article is so long, this would be a very helpful addition-- readers can focus in more easily on the parts of the article that interest them.
my proposal at:
has a TOC but it is lacking an abstract/ summary of important points.
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