In September 2013 one of the initiators of Ecovillage Boekel made a TEDxTalk about how it is possible to build an ecovillage on a fast flowing river, or to “Go With The Flow”. Here you find the TEDxTalk and below the full text.
It all started 5 years ago, when our son was about 1 year old. We wanted to give him a better future so we wanted to live more sustainably: grow our own food, generate our own energy and even build our own house as sustainably as possible with our own bare hands.
And we didn’t want to do that alone, because frankly, we had no idea how to do any of it. We wanted to do it together with about 10 other families.
So we made a website describing all the dreams we had for a better future. And within 2 weeks 20 families had reacted, saying that they had the same dream. We were a bit intimidated by the number of people who applied so quickly, but we decided to go with the flow and see where it would lead us. Even so, we realised we needed help and three days later an Ecovillage designer saw our website and said what we were describing was an Ecovillage. And it was his life’s mission to help create ecovillages. So we named our initiative Ecovillage Brabant.
Three months after launching the website a hundred people had reacted and we had our first meeting.
We explained that we saw our project as a boat on a fast flowing river and we wanted to go with the flow. Any problem would be dealt with as if it were a rock in the river and we would find a way to follow the current and drift past it.
We divided the whole group into 12 theme groups, like food, energy, building, things like that. A few people wanted to make a group that focussed on building permits. But we explained that wasn’t going with the flow, so we didn’t want a group for that. A year later, a few theme groups wanted to go from learning the theory to putting it into practice. Around that time, the director of The Little Earth, a centre for sustainable living, saw our website and wanted us on their land in Boxtel. He offered us 1000 square meters, to do whatever we wanted with.
So we decided we wanted to build an experimental, sustainable building, and all the work would be done by volunteers only. We could try out all kinds of sustainable materials and techniques with that building. We got a subsidy to buy tools, materials and food for the volunteers, and thirty organisations and companies donated materials.
Part of the deal for the subsidy was that we would spread all the information we learned and educate people. So we organised workshops and wrote reports. And we found out that we did have a positive impact on sustainable living in the Netherlands.
Three hundred volunteers worked on our building. One of them was a teacher at the University of Eindhoven.
He asked us to act as clients for 30 students for a project to design ecotowers based on our wishes. When we asked them not to use concrete or steel, but biobased materials, they almost had a heart attack. They are trained so well with steel and concrete! So now they have all come into contact with biobased building, which is essential for sustainable living. Eight of them even did a course on straw bale building in a German ecovillage. And the university thinks it is so important they are going to expand the project with other disciplines in addition to building. Next year, about 140 students will design sustainable, biobased ecotowers.
A year ago we had a meeting at TNO, a famous Dutch research company, with two experts on biobased building. It turned out that one of them had worked for a day on our building! He told us that what Ecovillage Brabant does, could well become crucial to the building sector.
The architect who volunteered to design the building on The Little Earth was very pleased with our project, because it allowed him to fulfil a long awaited dream of designing with the principles of sacred geometry. Pyramids, temples, cathedrals have all been designed with sacred geometry. And you can also see these principles in a snail’s shell, the structure of a sunflower, the structure of our milky way and… crop circles.
We were so pleased with his design for our building in Boxtel, we asked him to design the ground-plan for the whole Ecovillage at one of our intended locations. During the second meeting he stopped talking and stared open-mouthed at a picture of a crop circle he had hanging on the wall.
He said that at the end of our first meeting the picture hung a little crooked. He adjusted it after the meeting and he was sure it was still hanging straight when he put the coffee mugs there that morning. And during the meeting the picture had tilted again!
He decided he would incorporate the crop circle into the Ecovillage ground-plan. A week later he said the scanned image was already in the right scale. He only had to shift it to the best location.
And here you can see the result.
A few of us went to a conference on cooperations last year and at one point the guy with the microphone asked us where we were located. And in front of hundreds of people the ecovillager said “We don’t have a location yet”.
The mayor of Boekel, a village near Eindhoven, was sitting right in front of her, and he had a piece of land for us. Boekel is unique as a municipality as their vision is based on trusting their citizens. My wife and I are so convinced this will be the place, we’ve already moved there.
So now we are close to realising our dreams. We have learned a lot in the past 5 years.
heat our houses with Rocket Mass Heaters.
We will build the cutest treehouses for ecotourists. And we will become a centre of sustainable businesses, creating win-win situations for one another and the partners we work with. As for building permits, the mayor of Boekel said it takes only 20 minutes to get a building permit in Boekel, as opposed to the average of 6 weeks in a ‘normal’ municipality. I tested his theory by asking someone from Boekel who had just built a house. He said he got his building plans approved within 5 minutes.
So that’s what happens when you go with the flow. You have no idea where you are going to end up, nor how long it will take.
So you have to make it fun, make the trip worthwhile. Then it doesn’t matter where you end up or when you get there. It matters you can realise your dream and make your part of the world a better place.
Thanks to (in order of appearance in the project):
Yvette van Kempen: Inspiration
Rolf Grooten: Ecovillage Designer
Leonie Ruissen: Design T-shirt
Martijn Messing: 1000m2 ground on ‘The Little Earth’
Hajo Schilperoort: Ecotower project
Wenlei Ma: designer Ecotower in the presentation
Huub van Laarhoven: design building on ‘The Little Earth’ and layout Ecovillage Boekel
Fransjan de Waard: Permculture knowledge
Sjang van Daal: information about Rocket Stoves, Rocket Mass Heaters, heating of water and cooling of our houses
Except Integrated Sustainability: Design Polydome
Municipality Boekel: Vision and helpfulness