Livin’ Off the Grid: 7 Alternative and Sustainable Communities to Check Out
BY EDDIE NICOLAU
We tend to take it for granted, but society is a pretty impressive feat of humanity. From the first agrarian settlements all the way up to the Industrial Revolution, people have been perfecting how we share limited space and resources with each other for hundreds of years. So why stop now?
We’ve found some folks who have been dreaming up more sustainable ways to organize themselves (that happen to fall outside the confines of traditional society), and they’re starting to live out those dreams. Here’s a look at some of our favorite—and most ambitious—visions for future cities as realized by the pioneers who are out there today, living the great green dream.
1. Auroville, Southeast India
Under the golden dome lies the world’s largest optically-perfect glass globe, but be sure to admire it quietly—talking is forbidden inside.
One of the largest and most famous experimental ecovillages is Auroville, a community designed to exist without religion, money, government, or strife. Located in the Viluppuram district of India, Auroville seeks to “realize human unity,” which, you know, is no small order. But with nearly 2,500 people from 40 countries each working towards progressive harmony and sustainability since 1968, the place seems to be doing alright.
At the center of town, you’ll find the stunning Matrimandir, a golden metal sphere representing humanity’s aspiration for perfection. It also houses a solar power plant providing energy to the general township and the Green Belt Zone—an environmental research area equipped with farms, seed banks, and water catchment systems that keep Auroville self-sustaining. If anyone is going to have a hand in sustainably colonizing space, it’s these folks.
2. Arcosanti, Arizona
Science fiction authors often use arcologies to explain communities that are 100% self-sufficient, but it could be a reality soon.
Arcosanti is literally built on the philosophy that urban living can exist alongside nature. The whole point of this place is to see what Arcology—a unique marriage of architecture and ecology—looks like in practice. (Spoiler: It looks like some of the coolest buildings we’ve ever seen.)
The community has been built by over 7,000 volunteers since it began in 1970, and has been referred to as an urban laboratory. The population is relatively low, but it hosts over 30,000 visitors each year who enroll in the dozens of workshops, including urban planning, philosophy, science, and agriculture. Their gift shop also sells some of the raddest looking bells we’ve ever seen, if you’re into that sort of thing.
3. Findhorn Ecovillage, Scotland
The Scots have taken the term “drink responsibly” to a whole new level—these houses are made from whisky barrels built in the 1920s. Image courtesy of Findhorn.
The Findhorn Ecovillage is a secret oasis of sustainability tucked away in Northern Scotland, and it’s well worth a visit. Comprised of 450 members who have been supporting the Ecovillage since the early 1980s, the project exists to “demonstrate a settlement that could be considered sustainable in environmental, social, and economic terms.” To do that, they’ve adhered to their own set of building codes that go way beyond what you’d find in the UK, outlawing any toxic paints, glues, or resins in the construction of their homes.
They’ve also built Europe’s first Living Machine—an ecologically engineered wastewater treatment system built to accommodate a population of up to 350 people. Because of this (and tons of other sustainable living solutions), research shows that the community’s ecological footprint is lower than any other in the industrialized world. Waste not want not, right?
4. Twin Oaks, Virginia
A typical day at Twin Oaks, where members grow and harvest nearly everything they consume. Image courtesy of Twin Oaks.
Founded in 1967, Twin Oaks is one of the oldest (and largest) intentional communities in North America. About 100 people live in this ecovillage, where the core values are cooperation, egalitarianism, non-violence, sustainability, and income sharing. The community was actually inspired by a fictional novel titled Walden Two, a book that we haven’t read but assume has a lot to do with nature.
Unlike most intentional communities, you live here income- and rent-free—all the necessities (including healthcare and food) are provided to members in exchange for 42 hours of work each week. If you’re looking to keep up with those HBO original series, though, you’re out of luck. TV is prohibited at Twin Oaks, though members do have access to the internet and public computers. (HBO Go, anyone?)
5. Tamera, Portugal
These 330 acres are home to over a dozen grassroots projects and movements that aim to change the world. Image courtesy of Tamera.
In Portuguese it’s called a “biotope,” which means “a place where life lives.” And Tamera is just that. About 250 people (including children) live and study here, dedicating their time and energy to discovering how humanity can create a more peaceful and sustainable future. The community is responsible for a number of environmental initiatives, organizations, and global projects—including an independent anti-war publishing company!
Some of their more notable establishments include The Global Campus (a how-to for establishing autonomous peace villages), the GRACE Foundation (meant to direct money away from war industries and into peace education), and The Love School (a school with the goal of ending sexism and gender discrimination).
6. Free and Real, Greece
Mindful meditation and reflection are daily parts of life in most off-the-grid communities. Image courtesy of TheRealLifeProject.com.
Looking for some experimental eco-cohousing while traipsing through Northern Greece? Look no further—Free and Real has you covered. It’s a nonprofit experimental community that (like most ecovillages) serves as a school for sustainability, self-sufficiency, and living with nature. Like Acrosanti, they do that by building the perfect structures and shapes that minimize impact on the environment. They keep waste to a minimum, use something called bioclimatic integration (sounds sustainable) and get their hands dirty using natural farming methods on the resident farms.
And if you think Free and Real is just a cool and fitting name, you’re only half right: it’s actually an acronym for Freedom of Resources for Everyone, Everywhere, and Respect, Equality, Awareness and Learning. We can get down with that.
7. Colufifa, Senegal
To make a difference, it doesn’t just take a village—it takes 350 of them. Image courtesy of EcovillageBook.org
Colufifa’s choice to become self-sustaining wasn’t born out of choice, but necessity. Nearly 350 West African villages have been working together since 1964 to become self-sufficient through widespread efforts in organic farming, adult literacy, women’s rights, and malaria prevention—all of which are in dire need in the area.
Unlike a lot of the experimental communities in the west, Colufifa’s goal isn’t to build a new village, but to make the existing ones more sustainable. It may not be not be your average experimental community, but it definitely counts.