The Global Network of Ecovillages (GEN) defines an ecovillage as “an intentional or traditional community using local participatory processes to holistically integrate ecological, economic, social and cultural dimensions of sustainability in order to regenerate social and natural environments”.
The Global Ecovillage Network “embraces a holistic approach to sustainability, encompassing the social, cultural, ecological and economic dimensions of human existence”.
The GEN definition of an ecovillage leaves out two important dimensions which could include the spiritual and the political.
Further, by including the traditional village as a possible way of organising as an ecovillage is flawed, as the latter has a clear goal to break down traditional hierarchies and leadership patterns, and also has a broader vision where the local is not unrelated to the global or “glocal” horizon. The ecovillage cannot be delinked from the rest of the world.
Traditional village vs ecovillage
The traditional village does not share resources more or less equally. It also does not provide for common spaces for all, including women, and sometimes children, to be together without being saddled with traditional role patterns.
The traditional village is based on caste or class divisions and may not agree on environmental actions and objectives, which provide guidance to an ecovillage. The villagers belonging to a traditional society are known to aspire to become more like those in towns and cities and improve their economic standards. They are not interested in reducing their ecological footprint.
This is a general statement and there may be some individuals in a traditional village, who may seem to be less interested in aspiring for an urban life.
This is the reason we cannot equate a traditional village with an ecovillage, even if the traditional village is doing organic farming and not using chemicals, as it alone does not qualify to be termed ecovillage.
Ecological communities need to have a broader vision to include all and strive to create an equal society with greater solidarity and social cohesion to make it worthwhile to pursue aims.
The many demands of a traditional village with its customs and rituals and ways of living may not be forward looking or may not adhere to the principle of ecological living in a wholesome manner without aspirations of joining the mainstream.
Many who join an ecovillage have already lived in a town or city and are aware of the shortcomings that make life difficult in urban centres with daily commuting, traffic jams and air and water pollution. There is also the lack of a sense of community which make them feel alienated and yearn for an alternative lifestyle.
Further, people living in an ecovillage have already tasted what urban life has to offer and do not have the aspirations and liking to go back to such a life, or at least, mostly do not have it.
The romantic notions of village life propagated by leading thinkers like Mahatma Gandhi for instance were not in tune with the aspirations of village people which other leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru observed; with inequalities, caste oppression and low status of women.
Other similar organisations are called intentional communities, sustainable communities and traditional villages, which have the potential to become ecovillages; spiritual communities with ecological aims, transition town with ecological aims, and all those who become environmentally aware often through help from ecovillages.
Even urban communities in the form of neighbourhoods with control of common land, parks etc grow vegetables and share common spaces to strengthen the sense of community. These can be considered as a kind of ecovillage although the purpose may not be exactly the same as a normal ecovillage.
Towns or urban ecovillages trying to become more ecological can also grow food and other essential items in a vertical form and on the roof.
For example, Havana was able to grow 40 per cent of its food in the city because of the blockade imposed on it. Urban neighbourhoods can also make the transition to ecovillage communities.
An ecovillage differs from the traditional village where generally decisions are taken by the elders or the chief belonging to upper castes or a tribal chief. In an ecovillage, some form of democratic legitimacy is significant. The new democratic process in the villages is welcome, but these villages were not designed for this purpose which makes them different and unlikely candidates for becoming ecovillages. However, some of them can make the transition.
A sense of community and doing something worthwhile to regenerate the natural environment also provides greater meaning and purpose to communities in ecovillages. People in ecovillages follow higher ideals than their own narrow interest.