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Ecovillages are intentional communities with the goal of becoming more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. Some aim for a population of 50-150 individuals because this size is considered to be the maximum social network according to findings from sociology and anthropology. Larger ecovillages of up to 2,000 individuals exist as networks of smaller subcommunities to create an ecovillage model that allows for social networks within a broader foundation of support. Certain ecovillages have grown by the nearby addition of others, not necessarily members, settling on the periphery of the ecovillage and effectively participating in the ecovillage community.
Ecovillage members are united by shared ecological, social-economic and cultural-spiritual values. An ecovillage is often composed of people who have chosen an alternative to centralized electrical, water, and sewage systems. Many see the breakdown of traditional forms of community, wasteful consumerist lifestyles, the destruction of natural habitat, urban sprawl, factory farming, and over-reliance on fossil fuels, as trends that must be changed to avert ecological disaster. They see small-scale communities with minimal ecological impact as an alternative. However, such communities often cooperate with peer villages in networks of their own (see Global Ecovillage Network for an example). This model of collective action is similar to that of Ten Thousand Villages, which supports the fair trade of goods worldwide.
In 1991, Robert Gilman set out a definition of an ecovillage that was to become a standard. Gilman defined an ecovillage as a:
In recent years, Gilman has stated that he would also add the criterion that an ecovillage must have multiple centres of initiative.
The modern-day desire for community was most notably characterized by the communal movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which became more focused and organized in the co-housing and ecovillage movements of the mid-1980s. Then, in 1991, Robert and Diane Gilman co-authored a seminal study called "Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities" for Gaia Trust. Today, there are ecovillages in over 70 countries on six continents.
Ecovillages are "urban or rural communities ... who strive to integrate a supportive social environment with a low-impact way of life." Although there is no blueprint for realizing this goal, ecovillages may integrate various aspects of ecological design: ecological building, alternative energy, environmentally benign manufacturing or production, permaculture (landscaping designed to mimic nature and to provide the community with food, fibre and fuel), and community building practices. The hindrance of restrictive policies such as zoning and building codes to the development of sustainable housing and infrastructure in urban areas in particular is discussed. It is argued that the ecovillage movement provides some of the most relevant work and knowledge available for moving into a more sustainable future.
The principles on which ecovillages rely can be applied to urban and rural settings, as well as to developing and developed countries. Advocates seek a sustainable lifestyle (for example, of voluntary simplicity) for inhabitants with a minimum of trade outside the local area, or ecoregion. Many advocates also seek independence from existing infrastructures, although others, particularly in more urban settings, pursue more integration with existing infrastructure. Rural ecovillages are usually based on organic farming, permaculture and other approaches which promote ecosystem function and biodiversity. Ecovillages, whether urban or rural, tend to integrate community and ecological values within a principle-based approach to sustainability, such as permaculture design.
An ecovillage usually relies on:
The goal of most ecovillages is to be a sustainable habitat providing for most of its needs on site. However self-sufficiency is not always a goal or desired outcome, specifically since self-sufficiency can conflict with goals to be a change agent for the wider culture and infrastructure. Its organization also usually depends upon some instructional capital or moral codes - a minimal civics sometimes characterized as eco-anarchism:
The term ecovillage should not be confused with micronation, a strictly legal, not infrastructural, concept.
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