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Ecovillages are intended to be socially, economically and ecologically sustainable intentional communities. Most aim for a population of 50-150 individuals because this size is considered an optimal social network according to findings from sociology and anthropology [Hill & Dunbar, 2002]. Larger towns of up to 2000 people are sometimes described as ecovillages, but technically, such ecomunicipalities transcend the definition of a single village and more properly describe clusters of same, each, perhaps, focusing on a different aspect of economy. Settlements of less than 100 are sometimes called "ecohamlets".

Ecovillage members are united by shared ecological, social or spiritual values (see intentional community). An ecovillage is often composed of people who have chosen an alternative to centralized power, water and sewage systems. Many see the breakdown of traditional forms of community, wasteful consumerist lifestyles, the destruction of natural habitat, urban sprawl, factory farming, and over-reliance on fossil fuels, as trends that must be changed to avert ecological disaster. They see small-scale communities with minimal ecological impact as an alternative. However, such communities often cooperate with peer villages in networks of their own (see Global Ecovillage Network for an example). This model of collective action is similar to that of Ten Thousand Villages, which supports the fair trade of goods worldwide.

In 1991, Robert Gilman set out a definition of an ecovillage that was to become a standard. Gilman defined an ecovillage as a:

  • human-scale
  • full-featured settlement
  • in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world
  • in a way that is supportive of healthy human development, and
  • can be successfully continued into the indefinite future. [1]

Note: In recent years, Gilman has stated that he would also add the criterion that an ecovillage must have multiple centres of initiative.

The principles on which ecovillages rely can be applied to urban and rural settings, as well as to developing and developed countries. Advocates seek infrastructural independence and a sustainable lifestyle (for example, of voluntary simplicity) for inhabitants with a minimum of trade outside the local area, or ecoregion. Rural ecovillages are usually based on organic farming, permaculture and other approaches which promote ecosystem function and biodiversity. Some ecovillages integrate many of the design principles of cohousing, but with a greater ecological focus and a more "organic" process, typical of permaculture design.

An ecovillage usually relies on:

Its organization usually relies on organizative principles akin to eco-anarchism, or depends upon some instructional capital or moral codes - a minimal civics:

The term ecovillage should not be confused with micronation, a strictly legal, not infrastructural, concept.


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