Seeing as ecovillages are essentially a matter of community interpretation, the design methodology behind them is highly individualistic. However, physical attributes of ecovillages tend to have much more in common. Gilman recognizes a few key design considerations that must be addressed in ecovillage construction, starting with the bio-system challenge. The village must be integrated into the existing natural environment, which means designing with things like natural habitat preservation in mind. The village should ideally have the capacity to process and neutralize wastes produced onsite, and have the ability to produce as many bio-resources onsite as possible — including food, fuel, and forms of renewable energy. Ecovillage architects must also try to avoid adverse environmental impacts from importing products from offsite, and vice versa.
Gilman also addresses the built-environment challenge, which calls into question the ways in which proposed ecovillage structures impact the native land and local ecology. It’s important to build with ecologically-friendly materials and rely on renewable energy sources as much as possible. All forms of waste produced in ecovillage buildings must be handled in an environmentally friendly manner, and ecovillages should be designed to be walkable or bikeable, with minimal need for motorized transport. Buildings must also be created with the neighborhood aspect in mind, balancing public and private spaces and encouraging community interaction.
Many ecovillages thrive in the countryside, where there’s more land and less preexisting build environment to navigate around. However, urban ecovillage projects do exist, primarily because they offer a grassroots style of living but are in close enough proximity to the urban community to have convenient access to existing public transport, shops, and facilities. Urban ecovillages are more likely to be developer-led than community-driven, and are often forced to make compromises due to a lack of space. BedZED, in South London, is the UK’s first large-scale, carbon-neutral housing development. It features individual units, co-housing, and low-income options, while incorporating energy-efficient building materials and designs. BedZED residents have access to communal facilities and washing machines, childcare, and food purchasing and production to subsidize living costs.
It can be devastatingly expensive to build an eco-community from scratch, so the UK has also pioneered the concept of transition towns, which were developed in response to threats from climate change and peak oil. Similarly to ecovillages, the central focus is all about community. But in these places, the town already exists and the community has come together to address global challenges through local action. This can be through reclaiming the town’s economy to boost local buying and selling, empowering small businesses and new entrepreneurs, and re-imagining energy infrastructure, jobs, and webs of connection, all the while moving towards greater self-sufficiency and taking on the climate crisis with a can-do attitude.