Seeking Sustainability in Community: A visit to Hjortshoj Ecovillage in Arhus, Denmark (1/15)

Hjortshoj Eco Village is made up of 110 houses that contain 250 people (150 adults/100 children) that are committed to living together in community while working towards a more sustainable existence.  Eco villages are typically located on the outskirts of cities because most cities require that citizens be hooked up to the city water and energy systems and people who choose to live in Eco Villages tend to want to figure these things out for themselves.  With 300,000 people, Arhus is Denmark’s 2nd largest city, and has the same laws as other cities around the world.  However, an exception was granted to allow the eco village to be possible.

People who live in the eco village like that they are able to both own their own homes and be part of many communal decisions and activities.  Most people who move to the eco village are community-minded and are committed to the ideals of the eco village, namely consensus decision-making and a high level of involvement in the community.  There are a wide variety of people living at Hjortsoj and sometimes issues do arise, but everyone is committed to working together to figure things out.

Social Justice

The eco village started off with one group of about 15 houses, but has since grown.  In the United States it tends to be the case that only people wealthy enough to own their own homes have the privilege of choosing the alternative existence that an Eco Village provides.  However, in Denmark there is a non-profit housing association that, among other things, makes it possible for low-income people to have the same housing opportunities as the wealthier segment of the population.

Hjortshoj sees itself as a social/environmental experiment and has always wanted the eco village to be a place where everyone feels welcome.  Within the community there is a group of homes that tend to be occupied by single mothers.  These housing units are provided by the government and those who live there are fully integrated into the community and as much a part of the eco village functions as anyone else.

The next phase of building at the eco village will be a housing unit for handicapped persons that are between 18-30 years of old.  There are a lot of social workers that live in the eco village and they are getting tired of commuting long distances to do their work and would like to be able to be social workers closer to home in a slightly different way.  Typically it’s advised that social workers don’t live in the same neighborhoods as the people whom they are serving because it’s important to keep a distance between work and personal life. This community sees it as important to make a space for handicapped people in the eco village and to provide a supportive place where everyone can flourish together.

Transportation

Hjortshoj is located close to the train station and it only takes 17 minutes to get to the center of Arhus, so most residents are able to use public transportation for most of their needs.  There are two common cars that are shared by 30-40 people who paid up front to be part of the car-share project and also pay per kilometer/hour driven.  It’s very expensive to have a car in Denmark so community members like that they can have access to a car when they need it without having to pay all the expenses.  We also saw lots of bicycles as we walked through the village, which undoubtedly receive lots of use.

Food Production

There are a few greenhouses in Hjortshoj, which are mostly used to start seeds in the springtime that will get planted out when weather allows.  In exchange for a mere 20 hours of work time/year, members of the Garden Project can have all the fresh produce their hearts desire.

We were fed a scrumptious organic, local lunch.  Our meal consisted of squash/pumpkin soup with homemade bread.  Later we indulged in apple cake.  Yum!  Everyone loved the soup so I asked for the recipe.  It needs to be translated from Danish, but I will try to post it on the blog if anyone is interested.

Speaking of food, did I mention that every Friday during the summer a member of the community makes fresh gelato?  Yum. I need to come back in the summer!

Water and Energy

A community heating plant uses wood chips to create heat for all 110 houses in the eco village.  This helps to keep bills low and keep heat production local.

Most homes have composting toilets with a unique design that captures urine in the front and allows feces to drop down a hole in the back into a compost tank located in the basement.  Sawdust is combined with the feces to aid the composting process and eventually the product is dug into the ground around trees in the orchard to increase production.

Grey water coming from the shower and kitchen sink is treated in a marsh that the community has developed.  There is a complex system of stones, sand and reeds that act to clean the water.  It’s a closed system, so no water flows out, but eventually the water finds its way back into the hydrological cycle.

Fostering Community

In addition to monthly meetings, this community of people finds value in getting together for many festivals and celebrations, including a Harvest Festival in the fall, Summerfest in the summer, a Winter Carnival and a Christmas Market.

This community has vibrant celebrations around the times of the solstices.  It gets very dark in Denmark in the winter so they celebrate light during the Winter Solstice using milk carton lanterns. They say it’s important to have traditions that people look forward to in the Winter because otherwise the Winter can feel extremely long.

Everyone pays into the general budget each year and the eco village board works together to set the budget, using the consensus approach to decision-making.  Consensus can take a long time to reach and with this model it’s possible for one person to hold up progress, but the process is respected and generally seems to work quite well.

There are lots of experts in the community- people who study dreams, renewable energy experts, chefs, massage therapists- and there are lots of opportunities for people to share their passions with the community. 

We met a very inspiring woman who uses storytelling and theatre to create community and reconnect people with the natural world.  

{ Return to Green Germany J-Term Blog for more posts. }

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