How to start building a community ecovillage or what do we need before buying land?

Zdroj: Pixabay dle licence CC0 1.0
Zdroj: Pixabay dle licence CC0 1.0

More and more people are starting to have a vision of a community ecovillage where we will live in harmony with nature, people and other beings. From ideas and discussions with each other, they gradually begin to meet and form smaller or larger groups, and the desire to realize this vision drives them forward. The question is: How to realize this vision? And where to start? We do need to see the realization, so hurray and we go looking for land. Great! This is the perfect place and it's selling right now! We will quickly find out who has savings and how much and we are going to buy something, let it be realized. We are excited and full of energy to realize an amazing idea, so let's get to it, nothing prevents us from getting in the way! Or yes? How did others actually implement it? Did they also proceed in this way or did they have a different implementation plan? Let's be inspired by successfully established ecovillages.

But a suitable plot of land is already for sale. What to do?

Zdroj: Pxhere dle licence CC0 1.0
Zdroj: Pxhere dle licence CC0 1.0

It can really happen that an interesting plot of land appears, which is ideal for the realization of the vision of the ecovillage community from the point of view of the group. In general, shopping for the emerging community at this stage is not a good practice, as it carries a great deal of risk in the form of so-called structural conflict. If the group still decides to buy the land, it should follow at least the following recommendations: 

1. The basis shall be a sufficient financial amount to cover the purchase, the property tax and any mortgage payments for at least one year in advance. The required amount can be put together by one person or a small group, or it can be combined with a mortgage loan.

2. A suitable company for the ownership of community land has to be established. Shareholders or members of a legal entity are people in a group of the future community. In Czech conditions, a cooperative, foundation, endowment fund or registered institute may be a suitable legal entity for community land. If a company is not established at the time of purchase, it should be established as soon as possible to avoid potential risks.

3. An agreed document of the company or community, which clearly establishes the link between the financial contribution of new members of the community in favor of the ownership of the share in the community land and their decision-making rights in the community.

4. Individuals who contributed financially to the purchase of land should have an agreed vision and other documents. Other interested people interested in living in the community should read these documents and express their consent to them. The key is that the new members are fully acquainted with the vision and other community documents before they make a financial contribution, express their consent by signing so everyone knows what they have agreed.

The above procedure is a very simplified version that covers only those basic risks and should only be used in isolated cases.

There is one or more in the group who already owns the land

Big congratulations. But even here, watch out for various pitfalls. Many founders of community ecovillages are people who want to turn their family lands into a deliberate community ecovillage, or a group of friends who have bought the land together and are beginning to find out how to proceed.

Zdroj: Public Domain Files dle licence CC0 1.0
Zdroj: Public Domain Files dle licence CC0 1.0

Although there may not seem to be possible problems with the financing and purchase of land, the biggest challenge in this transformation is for the landowner. If only some people own the land and other tenants or the land is in a company where only part of the people are the owner and the others are "employees" there is no balance in power and strength. Property owners have a large advantage over others, who can be expelled or expelled from the land at any time. Owners also have other benefits that others do not have, such as complete knowledge of the financial side of the property or company and the right to restrict or deny others access to buildings on the land or the land itself.

It also often happens that owners have an irresistible desire to try and experience life in the community and at the same time have a very strong desire to maintain complete control over individual activities on the land that may affect property value, because in the end they would still bear the financial risk themselves. These two desires are incompatible. You can't have real community and total control over real estate at the same time.

These situations usually lead to a relationship that could be characterized as "master and servants". People come to believe that it is a community, but in reality they have no financial or legal risks, nor do they have any decision-making power, even if the owner or owners of the company introduces one of the types of consensual decision-making process. And he/she can change it to his advantage at any time with his real power and decision. On the other hand, tenants or "employees" may gradually knowingly or unknowingly hate the owner, because only he has all the decision-making power.

This type of community also attracts people who are looking for different types of parental or authoritarian relationships. They can also be very experienced and skilled community seekers, as well as people with very limited skills and financial resources who are looking for a generous "parent" to take care of them. In these cases, the owners end up in a relationship where they have the role of parents, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and a community of "children" around them, which they must take care of.

None of the above relationships is a real community, although everyone involved will do their best.

So how do we make a real community?

One of the recommended ways is to create agreements - contracts that set the procedure for new members of the community to acquire a co-ownership share in the land and at the same time establish a clear link between their financial contribution and their decision-making power. Of course, there is an already established company that owns land and other real estate, and ideally these agreements are part of this company and their internal agreements.

In this transformation phase, the group should also set rules on how financial and legal liabilities will be transferred from the current owner to the company and its members. It can be the payment of taxes, mortgage payments, insurance or a common repair and maintenance fund.

What to do if some members do not have enough money?

There are various ways to do this. One of them is, for example, the payment of part of the financial deposit at the beginning and the setting of monthly installments directly to the property owner. In this case, the property owner acts as a "bank" that "lends" funds to the member to purchase a full stake. In this case, it is necessary to keep in mind the securing of the property, eg by encumbrance and the gradual transfer of rights and obligations at the time when the individual installments are paid.

What if the individual shares are too high for most?

It can happen that the property has a huge market value and the planned size of the community sets the individual shares too high and thus prevents the entry of other members. One of the possibilities is to divide the real estate into a part that can be allocated to a company in which the individual shares will already be adequate for the majority of incoming members. This part can also be divided into individual plots and sold directly to interested parties. In this case, the emerging community should have a pre-emptive right to purchase the plot if the member leaves, in order to ensure the integrity of their intention on the individual plots. For example, the rest of the high-value property may be invested in a foundation or endowment fund with which individual members of the community will have a signed contract with rights and obligations related to the use of that part of the property.

The property owner can thus exercise his property rights through the foundation or endowment fund and at the same time be a member of the community ecovillage. In this case, the owner who invests in the foundation or endowment fund may specify the use of the property, such as for the preservation of wilderness, including forests and water resources, the operation of environmentally friendly community farming or the use of common meeting and training facility.

Property owners who want to build a real community on their land should consider the above areas. In their intention, they should be willing to relinquish full control of the property and find ways for people to become fully involved and responsible partners in the community ecovillage. If property owners do not want to give up full control, they can still join another community ecovillage and experience a real community or have a very good working hierarchical family company with friends. In this case, however, it is not a community and should not be promoted in this way.

What if we don't have land. Where to start?

Zdroj: Pixabay dle licence CC0 1.0
Zdroj: Pixabay dle licence CC0 1.0

1. Get inspired by successful community ecovillages

The first step in realizing the intention to build a community ecovillage is to gain inspiration from other successful community ecovillages. In this view, unfortunately, the Czech Republic is still a source of unsuccessful attempts, but I firmly believe that this ratio will soon reverse.

If we look abroad, we have a lot of inspiration. A very interesting experience is a personal visit to one of the ecovillages, interviews with the founders and experienced community ecovillages or a study of individual websites of well-known and less well-known ecovillages, where their history, vision, mission and goals and the process of accepting new members are described.

Another interesting source is the website of the World Network of Ecovillages, where individual ecovillages and initiatives share successful projects and their intentions.

Another very interesting source is the book "Creating a Life Together - Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities" by Diana Leafe Christian, which describes in detail the process of establishing 6 successful ecovillages in the USA and based on her 20 years of experience with various communities and ecovillages summarize the basic areas that are important for the establishment of a community ecovillage.

2. Setting up a community meeting

It is very beneficial to agree in the group how often and where the meetings will take place. A regular day of the month or week will help everyone in the group organize their time and arrive at the meeting. From the beginning, the meetings can be monthly or once every 14 days, gradually the meetings will be more frequent as soon as the financial and legal options are discussed and as soon as you start looking for land. It very often happens that the meetings will eventually take place at weekly intervals with smaller working meetings between these intervals.

In this regard, it is good to have your expectations for attending the meeting open. It is very demanding and tiring to have an intensive weekly meeting, especially for parents with children. In some communities they provide babysitting or children activities during the meetings. To simplify the process, it is also advisable to send the agenda of the meeting in advance or to collect opinions, ideas and opinions for a specific topic by email or telephone.

Some successful community ecovillages have already set up an "internal bank of hours" for meetings, preparations and development tasks at this stage of the meeting. The idea of ​​this introduction is to involve each member of the community in the creation, where each member should contribute a certain amount of their time to the realization of a common goal over several years.

In this way, people who do not have much time at the beginning of the project or tactically wait , have the opportunity to contribute to the joint implementation later.

Zdroj: Pxhere dle licence CC0 1.0
Zdroj: Pxhere dle licence CC0 1.0

3. Selection of the method for decision-making and the course of the meeting

If the group chooses consensus as a way of decision-making, it should be properly trained in this method, otherwise it will end up with various deviations closer to the majority vote. Another widespread way of decision-making is the socio-short participatory approach, which also sets out the procedures for creating proposals, their modifications and the method of voting. Usually, start-up communities choose one of the decision-making methods and gradually, once they have mastered the method, they can make minor adjustments to their community.

Most start-up communities have gradually learned to give new members and applicants space in their meetings to express proposals and opinions, but decision-making powers are retained by full-fledged tribal community members.

How to conduct a meeting?

A.) Let's have a facilitator - a person who will guide the group through a meeting. This reflects the productivity and smoothness of the meeting. It is advisable to have more trained facilitators and to circulate this role within the community or to undergo training as facilitators as a group. Rotation within a group or even between individual communities guarantees the extension of these skills as well as substitutability in case of illness or absence of a member.

B.) Let's have the agenda prepared in advance - the distributed agenda allows individual members to better prepare. Not everyone will attend all the meetings, but only information on the topics and the time allotted to the topic can increase attendance at the meetings as well as a smoother course.

C.) Let's carry out regular evaluations - it is advisable to have feedback from the participants at the end of each meeting, ie what was successful and what could be improved. Regular feedback leads to improved communication skills within the group but also to better meeting management.

D.) Let's have notes from the meeting in writing - choose a member who will make minutes of the meeting, agree on how to send it to other members. The written record can very well serve as a point of reference in case of ambiguity or as information for non-participating members.

4. Let's agree on the basic principles of community ecovillage

Before starting to create a strategic documents and develop a vision, mission and goals, it is appropriate to agree on the basic principles of community ecovillage. These are mainly the following areas:

- Potential place and its connection to the surroundings and land (town, village, solitude, way of land management on small family fields or community within the whole ecovillage, etc.)

- Preferred distance from important places (cities, airports, educational centers, universities, protected landscape areas, national parks, recreational areas and other important places for community members)

Lifestyle (diet, focusing on individuals or families with children or more generations, pet keeping, sexual orientation, alcohol consumption, drug use, carrying weapons, etc.)

- Preferred input (whether members will contribute the same or different financial contributions, how will the financial contribution be tied to decision - making powers, what costs or revenues will be shared by the community, etc.)

- Spiritual realm (whether the community will practice common spiritual practices or religions, degree of tolerance for other practices and religions, atheism, spirituality, etc.)

- Political involvement (whether the community will be active on the political scene, to what extent, will it support a political party, etc.)

- Education (whether it will offer training courses for members, children, the general public, how the financial policy will be set up, where there will be demonstration facilities, etc.)

Zdroj: Pxhere dle licence CC0 1.0
Zdroj: Pxhere dle licence CC0 1.0

5. Create a financial framework model of the ecovillage

We will anchor your vision and its implementation in numbers so that you can outline the amount that will need to be obtained. For a start, it is important to start from the agreed basic principles, mainly on the type of location, preferences and the current real estate market, the type of land you will be looking for, and an estimate of a possible loan or mortgage and repayment.

Other costs that will enter the financial model include the cost of promoting and acquiring new members (if necessary), the cost of establishing associations and community societies, the cost of finding suitable land and analyzing suitable for purchase, or the cost of land development or renovation. existing buildings.

By simply dividing the total amount by the estimated number of members, we can get a general idea of ​​the costs of a community project per community member. If some information is not available, it is better to make a rough estimate than to leave the field blank.

Subsequent costs can be compared with the financial strength of the group (we will talk about this at another time) and make any adjustments, for example, in the area of ​​the location or the number of future members.

6. Let's draw up a framework schedule

We will find answers to how long we can expect to complete the preparations, move into the land and build the necessary infrastructure. By creating a framework schedule, we can manage the expectations in the group and harmonize the individual steps before buying the land.

Most likely, this framework schedule will be gradually adjusted and revised during its implementation.

The schedule as well as the budget, financial model or graphical representation of the main milestones are planning tools that serve primarily to clarify what needs to be done and in what links to other activities and give us an overview of individual activities and tasks needed to implement the main milestones. in building a community ecovillage. The key is the process of planning and managing expectations, not a specific plan.

7. Let's make a list of agreements and decisions

The list of agreements and decisions is a very valuable reference if we want to go back to the area we have already discussed. The current list can be hung on the wall before the meeting or distributed copies to individual participants. It's a good idea to familiarize new members with this list so that they can fit better into the group and know what stage the group is at.

If the group does not have a list of agreements and decisions, some members may tend to keep coming back to their areas of interest, leading to a waste of time and energy for the whole group.

The group should stick to its decisions and have a procedure in place for reviewing and updating (under what conditions it is possible to change the decision) and should not be subject to the tendencies of new members who may want to change some decisions because they would like something else.

Zdroj: Pxhere dle licence CC0 1.0
Zdroj: Pxhere dle licence CC0 1.0

8. Let's set criteria for admission of members

Let's set the conditions for obtaining full membership with voting rights. From the beginning, they can be set very simple as the number of meetings with the group or introductory training, gradually, as the group progresses with the preparations, the conditions can increase the demands on new members. Many beginning community ecovillages have established non-refundable monthly or one-time membership fees, which increase the likelihood of a new member joining for greater involvement and also separate real applicants from random seekers.

9. Let's agree on a vision, mission and goals

The light that can pull a community ecovillage out of the crisis is in the agreed vision and strategic documents. This is one of the first big tasks of any successful budding community ecovillage. It is a fixed point of intent that has a unifying function in the group, and can also serve to attract new members or additional funding to carry out the plan. The written vision and strategic documents themselves should motivate and energize members. It is like a stream of energy that leads the group from the present to the realization of the intention. They should include the future we want to achieve, principles and rules that reflect the intrinsic values ​​of members in the community, unite group efforts, lay a strong point for possible disagreements and conflicts in the group, include something that everyone in the group can identify with, and increase commitment. and community commitment.

10. Introduce financial records

In the beginning, the costs will be in small amounts such as refreshments, printing business cards and flyers. Gradually, with the unification of the group and greater involvement, the costs will increase, for example, the costs of joint training, visits to other successful community ecovillages, or visits to conferences and international meetings.

In later stages, significant costs will begin to appear, such as membership fees for the purchase of land, profits from charitable events and fundraising, etc. It is also good to determine which contributions and deposits will be refundable and non-refundable.

11. Let's start writing community agreements and rules

At some stage, it will be necessary to start negotiating community agreements and rules, along with defining financial expectations, communication channels and strategies, a code of ethics and other areas. Some of them will need to be prepared before the purchase of the land, others can be agreed only after the purchase of the land in the preparatory stages.

The basic agreements should include agreements on the organizational structure of the community ecovillage, catering, conflict resolution, finances, visits, as well as agreements on housing, land use or forestry.

Zdroj: Pixabay dle licence CC0 1.0
Zdroj: Pixabay dle licence CC0 1.0

12. Introduce a system of mutual assistance

Before we start designing documents, budgets and finding land, it is good to set up a system that will help the group meet deadlines. At individual meetings there are very often defined tasks and activities that must be completed by certain deadlines. Failure to meet the task of one member within the given deadline may result in delays in follow-up activities with a negative impact on the entire group and the project. Reasons for non-fulfillment may be based on unexpected work responsibilities and family commitments or also on an underestimation of the time required for the task. It also often happens that people promise to do something, but in reality they do not do it and their actions have an impact on the whole group.

Setting up a relatively painless system that keeps members motivated and meeting deadlines is an important part of a functioning community. Within the system, various elements of project management may appear, such as revision of tasks or substitutability within the assigned task, or other elements such as the "partner" system.

13. Let's set the rules for group work

For proper functioning in the group, it is appropriate to have defined rules, which are based on a common vision and individual members of the group. Areas for reflection for setting rules include decision-making, honest and honest communication, support for individual members in carrying out tasks, providing feedback and pleading for behavior change without feeling criticized or attending and resolving conflicts.

Many start-up communities do not consider this area important and will only start to address it when they encounter the first conflict or problem, and setting up and training group members at an early stage is a very important prerequisite for successfully creating a healthy and genuine community. Some groups even have a special meeting each month where individual members can openly express their disappointments and concerns and the group then work together to find a solution.

A certain degree of conflict between people is a natural and expected result of the nature and diversity of the individual character traits of the members. It is important for conflict resolution to establish a conflict resolution plan and practice it before actual conflicts occur.

14. Let's set goals, follow them and celebrate their completion

Like individuals, the group feels encouraged and motivated to see the progress it has made. One option is to write individual goals on a schedule, display them in the common room on the wall before the meeting, and set a date when the goal will be completed. Once the goal is done, we can highlight or circle it. Once a milestone or major goal is complete, it is important to celebrate this achievement properly. Creating a community is a huge piece of work, and if you decide to do so, it's a good idea to have a measurable goal set with the right celebration.

15. Let's create documents and present ourselves

At some point, we will want to start expanding the group. We can reach out to our friends or the friends of their friends, write an article in a local newspaper or specialized magazine. It is important for the group to realize what people and their values ​​they want to accept. If we decide to expand the community focused on sustainable lifestyle promotion should also be in this spirit in various magazines on organic nutrition, healthy lifestyles, ecological organizations, farmers' markets or restaurants with healthy nutrition.

Once the emerging community is ready, it can create websites, flyers, brochures and other promotional materials that summarize the main principles and goals of the project as well as the group's introduction. It is also appropriate to publish the vision and strategic documents, concluded agreements and the procedure for becoming a member for potential applicants.

Once the entry fee has been set for individual members, it is advisable to mention this information for potential applicants on the website. Group photos from individual events, where the community looks friendly and passionate about their purpose, as well as "Frequently Asked Questions" can help gain the trust of those interested. Once we have purchased the land, several photos with a possible plan and design can further attract those interested in a joint co-creation.

Gradually, various questions will appear by phone, email or via a web form on the site. In this case, it is advisable to have a dedicated member who will be in charge of the answers. Individual questions may also be followed by a letter of thanks or a short questionnaire to complete. The key focus should be on arousing interest in people with similar values ​​and visions rather than simply accepting large numbers of people

Zdroj: Pixabay dle licence CC0 1.0
Zdroj: Pixabay dle licence CC0 1.0

16. Invite candidates and integrate new members into the group

The next step for potential applicants may be to visit them at a community meeting. It is good to have a regular welcome ritual ready at the beginning of the meeting and introduction of individual members in the group, for example in a common circle. If visitors are interested in membership in the community, it is a good idea to give them a strategy document or a leaflet with the procedure "How to become a member?", A list of concluded agreements and other suitable materials.

An introductory acquaintance may be followed by an explanation of when and under what conditions new members may attend the meeting and when they will have full voting and decision-making rights. Some start-up communities assign a new mentor to new members, who is available on the phone for any questions about progress and integration into the community.

17. Creating a community spirit

Creating a community is not about buying a common plot of land and development plans, but about creating a community spirit - group well-being, where individual members of the community are interconnected on an emotional level and know each other very well. Most successful community ecovillages confirm that what connects and connects them is joint business meetings, eating together, sharing personal stories and anecdotes, honest communication in a circle, singing, dancing, various rituals or practicing "circles of wisdom". We can talk about this in more detail in one of the other articles 🙂.

Development of members in the founding community ecovillage

Community life usually attracts two types of members - pioneers and settlers. The first group of pioneer people are members who take risks and push the boundaries of knowledge into the unknown. They usually start to form a community, conduct market research and find suitable land. Settlers usually wait to see if a group of pioneers break the ice into the unknown. They usually come to the emerging community later, when the project is more described and there is already something visible. Settlers need pioneers to open up new unknown roads, and so do pioneers need settlers at a stage when it is necessary to raise funds and implement a community ecovillage project on land. The community-forming group needs to have both camps to be successful.

In most groups, a relatively small number of members meeting at the beginning eventually move to the community ecovillage, but there are also cases where a whole close group of friends goes through the whole establishment of a community ecovillage until the end. One thing is certain: "A group of people who start meeting at the beginning will not be the same group that moves to a community ecovillage." In some cases, even the founders may leave the emerging community before purchasing land.

People usually leave and also come when certain milestones in the formation of the community ecovillage are completed. These are mainly the following milestone

1. Defined vision and strategic documents where some members realize that this is not really for them and leave. On the other hand, a defined community vision and an emerging community group of members can attract more people interested in membership, because such a vision resonates with them.

2. Defined land criteria, where some members may find that this is not the land they would like and at the same time the defined land may attract new members who want such land.

3. Defined financial criteria for joining the community, where some members find that it is not free and will not be able to afford it. But others will come again because they will find that the agreed financial criteria are acceptable to them and they can meet them.

4. Purchase of suitable land. This is the biggest milestone in the first part of building a community ecovillage. Some people leave because the purchased land is not according to their ideas or they simply find that they are not ready for a significant change in their current lifestyle and will leave.

On the other hand, the purchase of land usually attracts a larger number of people who need to have tangible and visible evidence of building a community ecovillage. And the purchased land is an ideal opportunity to find out and test it. After buying a plot of land, usually far more people will want to become members of a community ecovillage simply because they like a beginning community group, agree with a defined vision, can afford it and admire the purchased plot. This is the moment when settlers watching the development from afar, activate their energy and begin to join in denserness to the emerging community ecovillage.

Questions to think about and realize the context:

- What skills and knowledge do we lack in the group?

- What else do we have to work on?

- What is our priority at this stage?

- Are we able to go and buy land?

- Do we know what we really want to do?

- Am I able and willing as a landowner to go this route?

- Is community life and the desire for it really what I want?

- Am I more of a pioneer or a settler?

- How can I contribute to the construction of a community ecovillage in the initial phase?

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