Aldinga Arts EcoVillage: A Collaborative Lifestyle for All Ages
“The problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” Bill Mollison
While my own experience was different, I think it is rare for most Australians in cities to consider their neighbours as part of their extended family. An average Australian suburb can often look a little sterile. At the top of my street, developers are turning my city into a dormitory suburb. Imagine a life where you live, work and socialise within a reasonable distance. We are excited to be exchanging ideas at the Aldinga Arts Eco-village, a thriving sustainable community of about a 100 households who have built such a life just 50 km south of Adelaide
The idea for the village came from the vision of a group of artists looking to retire in a space where they could be inspired to practice their craft. They were joined by a group of people interested in designing and building according to permaculture principles, and slowly their dream took shape. The ecovillage is 33 ha in size, a few minutes from the beach, a Steiner school and local markets but it’s how this community collaborates with its mix of private and shared spaces that we are keen to explore further.
We’ve been invited to visit by Dani who came to our Circular Economy presentation. Dani introduces us to Jodie, at the Climate March and her husband Beau shows us around the village and a few days later we join them for dinner.
We are instantly impressed at how each house blends in with the landscape and with each other while still maintaining an individual uniqueness. While each household has ownership of their plot, the community clusters of 10–15 neighbouring properties manage the surrounding streets, the many fruit trees and other shared spaces. Children play in the street. A group of men are building the newest home on the block. We bump into a retiree who tells us she just left a retirement village to move in to the ecovillage — a preferred option for her. A number of families have 3 generations in the village and groups of close friends have also bought into the village to be close to each other.
As I look around, I see that each house has plenty of harvested rainwater. Beau explains that there are a few rules in terms of building a house here. At a minimum, each house must install at least a 10,000-litre water tank and a solar hot water system. Beau and Jodie capture 40,000 litres so rarely run out. All houses are constructed with environmentally friendly materials, and with solar thermal mass. Most people have also installed solar PV and their sewage is treated on site. They harvest and store water communally for watering their vegies and fruit trees. Residents are only permitted to plant edible or native plants and as we walk down the streets, it is lovely to see a number of the fruit trees are bulging with summer fruit. Beau points out the fruit orchard and community garden in the distance. There is a lot of space here and a definite potential for the village to be self sufficient in fruits and vegies in the future.
Last season they had an abundance of fruit, Beau says, so they made jams and preserved fruit for winter.
We are intrigued by the idea of the ‘Help Tree’, an excel spread sheet that keeps a register of skills and offerings that can be accessed by those who need help with meals, shopping, cleaning, gardening, IT and driving. It is all done on a volunteer basis and you ask for help when you are sick or need help when circumstances change. Having close friends means that there is always someone to call on, when you need help with minding your child or with watering your garden if you are away. ‘You pay it forward’ by volunteering your own time, when you are able. There is no tracking of who asked, and who gave.
The Aldinga Arts Eco-village is a drawcard for those who are looking to be more connected with the people and the world around them. You choose your level of involvement depending on your personality, your ability and your in stage life. The choices for social interaction are many. There is a weekly pizza night around the wood fired oven. The nearby village has a ‘Friday’s After Five Markets’, a great place to unwind with a drink and a chat at the end of the week. The community notice board informs us, there are a number of thriving interest groups from the Hangout Hive for teenagers to the Dye and Batik for artists. Jodie shows us the beautiful blanket the community knitted for her, when her daughter Gracie, was born. The Community Shed has tools to share and everyone is looking forward to the construction of a brand new community space.
While decision-making can be time consuming when accommodating the desires of so many people, Beau and Jodie tell us this has become easier as the community has matured. Like with all eco-villages where volunteering is not compulsory, there will always be some conflict with how this is managed. As the demands of the eco-village grow, they must decide if they increase the fees to live here (so outside help can be bought) or if volunteer hours are mandated!
We are impressed by the camaraderie we have found here, the cohesion in the design of buildings and the vision of being self-sustaining in providing for your food, energy and water. This was South Australia’s first ecovillage and we believe it is one of the best we’ve seen.
Collaborating with each other is how we will solve the issues of climate change and peak oil. It is the answer to social isolation and loneliness when we age. It is how we will revive and transition the towns where jobs are being lost due to drought or because mines are closing down. This is what it means to be sustainable-economically, environmentally and most importantly socially.
It is working at Aldinga Arts Ecovillage. It can work in your own neighbourhood too.
First Published by www.polisplan.com.au 10 Decmeber 2015