Eco-Villages: which comes first, the eco or the village?

It seems to me that Eco Villages are en vogue with individuals across the Western World from all walks of life aspiring to move to them for a cleaner, greener, healthier lifestyle. And given the turbulent times we live in, the trend is likely to continue. However given the inherent challenges in creating “new communities” (some of which I mention later), I’m asking your opinion on how a few of Ireland’s existing rural villages and towns (which are facing decline) can make themselves attractive to an ecologically orientated community to come and settle in them?

I pose the question because my home county in Ireland, Monaghan (like most rural Irish counties), has underpopulated villages and towns with many available sites and vacant dwellings. Thankfully these small urban locations still retain some if not all of the facilities and infrastructure needed to make a collection of homes a viable community. One such urban area in the County (which has been in on-off terminal decline for decades) has a wide range of facilities including schools, playgrounds, pubs, shops, health clinics, libraries, supermarkets, sports / hobby clubs, and businesses providing multiple services and employment opportunities.

In addition there are local people with the skills, trades and professions that can facilitate the modern lifestyle and a mere two minutes walk in any direction will bring you to the edge of the countryside. And finally, there are people in the community passionate about helping their hometown thrive and prosper into the future and are flexible and open minded to consider initiatives to that end. So clearly, despite the gloom and doom that surrounds any normal discussion of rural Ireland, there is a huge existing “asset base” in place which needn’t be recreated.

However, despite their attributes, many of these existing village / town communities are in decline and crying out for “young blood” as cities expand endlessly sucking investment and jobs endlessly towards them. The knee jerk reaction is often to simply cry out for “high tech” jobs to lure the young professionals back to rural locations but this isn’t proving effective. At best some of these villages have joined the commuter belt with more and more of the primary services relocating to the larger towns. Occasionally an highly successful indigenous industry bucks the trend and changes the fortune of the entire community by providing opportunity and employment. But more often than not, decline can be difficult to stop.

Simultaneously throughout Ireland, Europe and beyond, there are movements of like minded individuals working to create new spaces and new communities based on principles of cooperation and sustainability. The Irish Eco Village Network is a friendly discussion forum and has some 1400 members. However, these would be Eco-Villages face multiple challenges prior to formation: alignment of varied personal goals, planning difficulties, the financial difficulties, the time delays not to mention trying to offer the range of amenities (listed above) that already exist in multiple locations throughout Ireland.

Now, clearly, many would be eco village dwellers may share a preference for a new development where a community based on new shared principles can be established from the get go. However the practical implications of the lives we live and needing to interact with the modern world inevitably means that for many having access to the facilities mentioned above is essential.

Furthermore as society slowly adjusts to the challenges posed by climate change is it not fair to say that all villages, old and new, are ultimately going to need to become more environmentally efficient and sustainable in the long term? The question then is how could we marry the needs of a new “would be eco village” with the needs of an existing small urban center?

As I understand, Ireland’s most notable eco-community at The Village  came to be located on the fringes of Cloughjordan village, Co Tipperary when the pioneers spotted a large block of land which they felt fulfilled their criteria. The eventual development and creation of the unique community has proven a boon for the local community and helped raise the profile and prospects of an erstwhile forgotten village.

So can an existing small urban center be more proactive in framing itself to become the next Cloughjordan? What do these old population centers need to do to become a hub for people wanting to have the best of both worlds? Can an old established village morph into an Eco Community if enough eco-peeps move there and bring the passion and the know how with them?

Is it as simple as assuming that the village or town in question has vacant land / sites with Outline Planning Permission for sustainable dwellings in addition to generous garden/ allotments? In such an example, other eco-peeps may chose to renovate existing dwellings on the streets and in the old estates to suit their lifestyles. Could an existing farmer or market gardener partner with the growing community to offer a year round fresh produce scheme (a la Cloughjordan’s community farm). The questions are endless, but perhaps you have some answers or suggestions you’d like to share?

Reply, I'm all eyes.

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