Richard Register on EcoCities & Ecovillages

From Ecovillages Newsletter

I was recently asked whether ecovillages are similar to ecocities, and more specifically, similar to the work of ecocity advocate and designer Richard Register. I copied Richard on my reply, and his response was so interesting I wanted to share it you. — Diana

Diana on Ecovillages and Ecocities:

(November/December 2010) Ecovillages are small-scale settlements ranging from a few dozen people to several hundred, but are tiny compared to cities, and have a different function. In both rural and urban ecovillages, residents are living out their ecological values: seeking ecological, economic, and social sustainability. They often offer classes and workshops to teach others what they're learning. Please see website of Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).

Ecocities are ecological human settlements on a whole-city scale, which of course is much more complex than a simple ecovillage. Please see website of Richard Register’s ecocity organization, EcoCity Builders.

And please see Richard's wonderful animated drawing of the relationship of a human settlement to adjacent agriculture.

As I see it, ecovillages and ecocities are similar in basic values and some practices. For example ecocities and ecovillages are both based on living more sustainably — ecologically, economically, and socially. And both advocate sustainable dwellings (i.e. passive solar, off-grid, etc.); appropriate technology; growing/raising organic food onsite or very near by; walkability and human-scale transportation (not cars!); and human-scale, fair, participatory governance.

Richard specifically advocates that ecovillages — which come in all shapes, sizes, and configurations of the built environment — have high-density buildings adjacent to agriculture, rather than being spread out like most suburban neighborhoods, with agriculture too far away. (His animated drawing, noted above, demonstrates this beautifully.) Richard suggests that ideally ecovillages would be like certain villages in Spain, with a dense grouping of no less than four-story multi-resident buildings right next to agricultural fields. Such a sane idea!

In fact, in this issue Etienne Gernez describes his visit to the Augustenborg neighborhood in Malmö, Sweden, in "Ecovillages in Scandinavia, Part II”. Augustenborg sure seems like an ecocity to me! —Diana Leafe Christian

I keep looking for cities that might break up into larger eco-type city centers: mid-sized district centers with neighborhood centers turning into ecovillages. In Detroit large areas — thousands of acres of former thinly scattered development — are turning into open space, some of it into new farming. The whole galaxy of these habitations — city centers becoming ecocities, district centers becoming ecotowns, and neighborhood centers becoming ecovillages — would be a new and really exciting way to live, with probably one-tenth the energy and one-fifth the land demands of the present average city where most inhabitants use cars.

Zero-car cities like Venice and Zermatt, Switzerland, are very successful. If these cities had some solar energy retrofitting and more biodiversity in or adjacent to them, they would be very close to becoming ecological cities and villages.

Also, people have been using artificial fill since the first cities in the Mesopotamian Valley 4,500 years ago: the cities of the Sumerian civilization were built on mounds to rise above the floods. That would work for New Orleans and dozens of other coastal cities on flat land that's near or below sea level. They could even have new agricultural islands very close by or as a "skirt" around such cities for intensive food production, Biodynamic-style or Permaculture-style, with food also grown in solar greenhouses, some on rooftops, and so on. Very rich possibilities. —Richard Register


Ecocity activist and author Richard Register. I have seen some “regular” villages, not self- consciously ecovillages, that are extremely compact. In China with multi-family dwellings in the three- story range; in Turkey and Nepal in the six-story range — with natural, grazing, and/or agricultural land or waters immediately next door. The walls of city buildings right up against open space.


And at the ecovillage Torri Superiore in Italy, a group of permaculture designers hoping to create a ecovillage purchased this almost single-structure hyper-compact small village. It looks fascinating. I'd love to visit. I even offered to pay the way for Torri Superiore to send a representative to our Ecocity 7 Conference in San Francisco in 2008 to report on their work, but they weren't able to attend.