Sunday, January 15, 2012

Dyssekilde Ecovillage (Denmark)

Just before Christmas, while visiting a very lovely Klara Wengman in Denmark, I had the fortune of visiting Dyssekilde Ecovillage. Contrary to every prior ecovillage I had visited, arriving at Dyssekilde (prounounced doose-uh-kill-uh) required absolutely zero driving. A forty-five minute train ride outside of Copenhagen drops you off at what appears to be an abandoned train depot surrounded by agricultural fields. Yep! You can live in a rural ecovillage just forty-five minutes outside a major cosmopolitan city.

I’d like to offer a quick description of the Danish countryside before I dive into the ecovillage itself. Riding the train through rural Denmark is a bit like traveling through rural Wisconsin—gentle rolling hills, the occasional charming farmstead, towering “Cheese Palace” advertisements…well maybe not quite, but it’s an endearing region. What’s amazing, from a planner’s perspective, is that there is no “suburbia” once you leave the metropolis of Copenhagen. By every American standard, a city the size of Copenhagen should be rung with sprawling gated subdivisions, strip malls, gas stations, and vast empty parking lots. And while there are definitely urban outskirts, Danish “sprawl” remains clustered around, well, other train depots. It puts US transit-oriented development to shame. The rural landscape is also pocked with wind turbines, and it’s not like the ominous, apocalyptic wind farms that are growing along rural interstates in the US. A turbine here. A couple turbines there. It doesn’t dominate the view, although I noticed more power lines than in the US.

Okay! Back to the ecovillage. No need to notify anyone that you're coming. Just get off the train, and you can walk around the community as if you got off the train in any neighborhood. "Just be respectful of peoples' privacy," one community member instructed us over the phone. Walk about one hundred feet beyond the depot, and you’ll find you're in one of Demarks oldest and seemingly most successful ecovillages. Dyssekilde was founded twenty-five years ago, just as the Brundtland Commission was inventing “sustainable development” for us. As a result of its relative maturity, one of the most remarkable features of Dyssekilde is that it’s built out, and the buildings are finished. That’s right! No piles of used lumber, empty five-gallon buckets, tarps, or half-finished structures. The place has the appearance of completeness and serenity that I hope its American counterparts will achieve in their maturity.

Like Dancing Rabbit (in northeast Missouri), automobiles in Dyssekilde are a part of the fringe. You can find the community’s few cars hidden in a parking lot next to the community gift shop/cafĂ©, where Klara and I stopped for a snack. The attendant at the gift shop explained (in perfect English, of course) that her boyfriend, probably in his late twenties or early thirties, was raised in the community, left for a while, but has since settled in the community as an adult member. The attendant works part time in the shop and commutes to a job Copenhagen on other days. And this, I believe is the magic of a place like Dyssekilder: you can have a city job and live in a rural ecovillage without compromising your morals by driving fifty miles a day. It is a feature that I fantasize about coming to fruition in the United States.

Now, I love my rural ecovillages. I think they’re heroic and innovative. But rare are the type that is willing to abandon their connections to urban places so they can experiment with construction and energy production in a very rural place. If low-impact living is to grow more popular, we’ll need more places like Dyssekilde.

I wish I could have stayed longer! And I have many more questions Where does their water come from? How are most of the homes heated and cooled? Where do they find building materials? Food? Are any of the buildings owned in common? What is the land ownership structure? Does their proximity to an urban area make for a less cohesive community (I can imagine for example, young folks might choose to spend more time in the city in the evenings and weekends)? From the looks of it, most of the homes take advantage of passive solar energy for heating and lighting, and seem to be using natural materials for insulation.

The website has some answers and stories that make me even more excited about the place. Apparently they all share a wind tower, which is probably easier to run your community on year-round in a windy place like Denmark. What's even more fascinating is that Dyssekilde has revived the rural town in which it is situated. The website explains, "When the eco-village was founded the village of Torup was slowly dying out as many other small villages in Denmark at that time, now however that has changed, and thanks to the eco-village people move here, not just to the village, but also to the surrounding area. The fact that there is now a school, a kindergarten, 2 shops etc. also help." 

Pretty inspiring. Perhaps we regional planners can learn a thing or two from Dyssekilde.

Enjoy the pics!

An aerial photo of the community, on a sign posted at the village entrance. The train line is on the North side, and the depot is at the northwest corner. The gift shop is on the south side.


Twins! The homes at Dyssekilde are organized into housing groups that each set their own standards for energy and construction practices.

South-facing solar devotion!  

Octagonal home, natural roof, south facing, and a nice manicured garden.

Hobbit hut? A beautiful earth berm. The north side of what I imagine is a dwelling structure.

The gift shop/cafe. 

Inside the gift shop. You can buy pretty much anything from dry lentils to souvenir slippers. It's pretty impressive inside. And, as the only space open to the unannounced public, the shop offered us a chance to talk to someone about their community.