Ten years ago, a dozen of us boldly set out to go where few had gone before: by envisioning a human-scale community designed and built in harmony with the natural world, we wanted to show a healthier way for humans to live with each other while stepping on slightly the earth.
This remains our vision and, to a large extent, we have achieved it.
But we have also tempered our idealism with the awareness that we brought human nature with us through the door and the laws of gravity work here just as they do in the larger world around us.
Rediscovering the laws of gravity was indeed one of the important lessons we learned over the last decade, along with other basic physical sciences, but I’m getting ahead of my story.
Lessons In Village Design
In keeping with this approach, we have developed a culture of experimentation, cooperatively tempered anarchy, and small-scale individual action.
How has all this come about and how has it worked to shape the town?
And most importantly, what lessons have we learned from our development that may be relevant to other communities?
pioneers in the forest
Earthen came together around a cooperative community vision in 1991.
Over the next two years, it built a core of members, formed a body of agreements, and searched a long list of potential sites in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, Carolina. from North. before locating the 320-acre parcel that we now own. Then the fun began.
Lessons In Village Design
In 1994 we bought this wooded property. He had a road, a rundown old hunting cabin, and a phone line.
The trees were poplar, pine, maple, and other third-growth mixed hardwoods, mostly 40 to 60 years old. There were streams, which the road forded, but there were no bridges.
There was evidence of old farms and logging roads, long overgrown, but no cleared land anywhere. And we were going to build a village for 150 people or more, here?
We spent the next three years figuring out how and where to position ourselves in the landscape.
The encounter with the forest was exciting. This was going to be our home, and it was beautiful. It was also a slow-motion collision. Like a great wave, our hopes, expectations, and needs broke through the wooden wall around us.
For us to live here, the trees had to fall, the buildings had to rise. Sunlight was needed to heat homes, generate electricity, and grow crops.
(For more on the history of conversion from trees to houses, see
“Seeing the Forest and the Trees,” page 25, by Diana Christian.) sites for housing, as well as land for village buildings, for agriculture, and to extend some connecting roads to the main sections of the land.
Where to build?
The community hired me and Chuck Marsh I, both permaculture designers, to develop a neighborhood site plan.
We also borrowed a pattern from Christopher Alexander and his colleagues, “Agricultural Valleys”, (1) inspired by the work of Ian Char (2),
which suggested that valley bottoms were too valuable as agricultural land to cover with buildings.
and that therefore houses and settlements must be located on the slopes above these valleys. Our landscape fits this pattern in a “T”.
Steep slopes occupied narrow valley bottoms. Flat farmland in the southern Appalachians is scarce and was developing rapidly throughout the area.
In late 1997, Chuck and I presented our findings and maps to the community council.
We had found 15 areas that we thought would be suitable for housing clusters or public buildings. Some were small (only three houses were contemplated), or