Crystal Waters Ecovillage

Last week I was able to spend a few days at Crystal Waters, the well-known ecovillage developed around permaculture principles about two hours northwest of Brisbane. We took a tour of the village and got the inside scoop on Crystal Waters.  The highlight for me was walking among the majestic and ethereal bamboo stands.  See the slide show below for images and captions.

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Based on a collective dream of integrating quality of life, social needs and wildlife and nature preservation, Crystal Waters was founded in the mid 80’s.  Apparently a number of share holders got together and purchased the property, but for a number of reasons couldn’t quite get things off the ground initially.  That’s when they turned to permaculture, and Max Lindegger, to design a permaculture-based ecovillage.  Today it is considered a model ecovillage.

A total of 640 acres, about 85 lots on about 15 % of the land are owned and inhabited by residents, about 5 % are visitor and village areas, and the remaining 80% of the land is owned in common.  About 200 people live in Crystal Waters today, and among these a number of nationalities are represented.  While weeding the village green path in preparation for the Saturday Market, I spoke with one resident, originally from Germany, who had been at Crystal Waters for about 6 years.  A parent of young children, he finds Crystal Waters to be “a great community that offers a lot of support, with music groups, mens groups, book clubs, and activities for nearly any interest.”  However according to our tour guide, it’s not all roses.  A handful of members tend to carry the weight of the masses and then burn out, so while new projects attract a lot of energy, attention wanes for ongoing maintenance of the same projects.  Perhaps not even a model ecovillage is entirely immune to challenges associated with the Tragedy of the Commons (Hardin 1968).

Aligned with permaculture principles, the land features over a dozen dams for multiple uses, including drinking water,  irrigation and safeguarding against drought.  Most of the buildings at Crystal Waters are models of green building materials, including the rammed earth, community-built Crystal Waters Info Center.  Huge stands of bamboo are grown on the common land, primarily for the sprouts which fetch high market prices (and they are delicious!).  A quaint village green is bounded by a cafe on one end and a bakery and gathering space on either side, although the hours are limited and excepting the First Saturday Market, the place feels sleepy.   There is no communal farm or garden, though most people here do grow at least some of their own food. Crystal Waters also rents out cabins, tent-sites and rooms in a bunkhouse (where we stayed), and this generates a revenue stream for the ecovillage.

In looking for more information online about the Crystal Waters,  I came across an extremely interesting article by Chris TurnerThe Outquisition & The Future of The Ecovillage (17 Nov 08).  Perhaps more relevant to my research, which is by default focused on how permaculture can be applied in urban systems (since the majority of the world’s botanic gardens are in urban centers), was a comment to the article, posted by Diminoc on 23 Nov 08 at http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/009045.html.  Here, the myth of permaculture as a movement to a rural, agrarian lifestyle is dispelled, and clarified as a “set of design tools” that is applicable to the environment of here and now.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons permaculture has been passed on by botanic gardens. Please read on.

“I think there is an essential misunderstanding of permaculture. Permaculture does not necessarily demand us to return to a pre-industrial eden, although many adherents of permaculture think this way. Permaculture is a set of design tools that enable us to become more sustainable within the limits posed by the ecosystem within which we operate, and the social demands we have. Good permaculture design unites the possibilities dictated by the environment, with the day-to-day realities of society in today’s world. In other words, an urban sustainable lifestyle is just as much part of permaculture as a pre-industrial eden. Permaculture was born in an era where being sustainable was equated with rural self-sufficiency, so the design manuals all talk about farm design and nature conservation. If permaculture was born today, in a city, it would treat zones not as parts of your farm, but parts of your community. All permaculture really demands from us is that we take a long hard and critical look at our needs (not wants), and try to satisfy them in whatever way is most sustainable. If we live in a rural area, then local eco-friendly food production may be the answer. If we live in cities, then collective action aimed at improving efficiency may hold solutions. What we don’t want, though, is for everyone to misunderstand what permaculture demands, and all head out into some rural paradise. If we all did that, where would the rural paradise be? In our dreams and history books only.

Point well-made.  There are some camps of permaculturalists who are focused solely on self-sufficiency.  Interdependency, however, is what is called for in urban landscapes, whether in public gardens or otherwise.

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