Earthsong was founded on a deep commitment to address both the isolation and the high resource use arising from conventional settlement patterns, by building a neighbourhood that is more socially and environmentally sustainable.
By balancing the need for individual privacy and autonomy with cooperation and commitment to community, and by applying the principles of green architecture and services on a neighbourhood scale, Earthsong demonstrates a multi-layered approach to creating a healthier and more sustainable living environment.
Our goal was articulated in the first of the three aims in our Vision Statement:
To design and construct a cohesive neighbourhood whose layout, buildings, and services demonstrate the highest practical standards of sustainable human settlement
The site layout is designed to work in with the existing landform, vegetation, and climate to create a beautiful and flourishing ecosystem, and to encourage a strong sense of community while safeguarding privacy and autonomy.
All the homes at Earthsong are correctly oriented towards north and designed for energy efficiency and natural climate control using passive solar design. Building materials and components were chosen that best fulfilled sustainable architecture criteria, with attention paid to such issues as embodied energy, toxicity, environmental impact, durability and recyclability.
Our services harvest the natural resources of sun and rain where we can, to reduce our reliance on bulk supply and to reduce the waste that we send off-site for others to deal with.
The physical design of systems such as the passive solar houses and the overland stormwater system not only function to reduce the environmental impact, but also contribute to quality of life and a flourishing eco-system.
Social sustainability has always been equal and complementary to the environmental goals at Earthsong, as articulated in the second of the three aims in our Vision Statement:
To develop and foster a living environment which uses clear communication, decision-making and conflict resolution guidelines that promote tolerance, safety, respect and co-operation.
A sense of community has declined in western society in the last 100 years, and this correlates with increasing materialism. Rebuilding our interdependence and connections with each other and the earth creates a rich life not dependent on high levels of consumption.
Social sustainability includes elements that support us to live full, satisfying lives:
- a sense of belonging, trust and respect, that people know and care about each other
- support when we need it at different stages of life
- participation - that we all have some influence and some responsibility, and the opportunity to have input into our surroundings
- cooperation - because together we can have so much more than we can individually
- acceptance and welcoming of diversity, because we each have strengths and different things to contribute
- balance - balancing the needs and rights of the individual, and the needs and rights of the collective, to allow both to flourish
- security, feeling safe in your home by knowing your neighbours.
A physical neighbourhood design that supports this is human scale, works for all ages of people, and can adapt to needs over time. At Earthsong houses are designed to balance privacy and community, with the layering of transition zones between common space and private space.
There is a range of house sizes and types from one bedroom apartments to 4 bedroom terrace houses, to accommodate singles, families, owners and renters, old and young. All paths have a gentle gradient and most houses have level-entry thresholds to allow full accessibility to all. The pedestrian-focused neighbourhood is safe, peaceful, and quiet, leading to more community interaction and cohesion.
The social organization that supports these elements has clear agreements around personal and collective rights and responsibilities, and strong social tools for communication, decision-making and conflict resolution. Learning to live peacefully and respectfully with our neighbours is a key to sustainability.
Earthsong has developed a robust social infrastructure, and this continues to underpin the neighbourhood. Alignment to a shared vision and clear group agreements allowed a group of ordinary people to work together to develop a major innovative housing development. The inclusive development process maximized the empowerment and contributions from all, in stark contrast to the sense of powerlessness and disconnection of modern suburban life. This strong foundation is now supporting the ongoing maturing of a flourishing community life.
Cooperation and good design lead to efficiencies and reduced costs, and this is an important element of social sustainability. Household running costs are much reduced as the sun provides most of the heating for homes and hot water and the rain provides most of the water.
Residents retain individual financial autonomy, while at the same time enjoy considerable economies of both money and time through co-operation and the shared ownership of various items such as laundry, garden and workshop equipment. Shared community buildings mean that everyone has access to far more than an individual household would.
Sharing of resources and facilities also leads to reduced consumption, while having access to increased facilities and "common wealth". Instead of 32 washing machines and 32 lawn mowers, we have 4 washing machines in our common laundry which are used by most residents, and 2 lawnmowers serve the entire neighbourhood.
Formal sharing of tasks, such as the cooking of meals in the common house, working bees in the garden and organising the organic vegetable cooperative, as well as informal co-operation around such things as childcare and carpooling, all reduce both time and costs to individuals.
We've been able to achieve our innovative housing neighbourhood not only in addition to the social and cooperative structure, but because of our social cooperative structure. The two go hand-in-hand.
Knowing and cooperating with neighbours builds connections that facilitate a greater sense of responsibility to each other, and ultimately to the global community. Sustainability requires us to look beyond ourselves as discreet and independent lives and acknowledge our interdependence with each other and with the natural world. A sense of belonging and connection between people and with the natural environment are key elements in learning to live more sustainably.
Within Earthsong there is much spontaneous sharing of information, working on shared work projects, and informal support networks that inform and encourage more sustainable behaviour. The social and environmental benefits of cooperation on gardening, childcare, carpooling, and other activities are significant and observable. Earthsong is not utopia, but is a very fertile environment for learning the skills of sustainability in all of its facets.