Atamai Village – Are We There Yet?

Transition Towns and Atamai – Common Goal, Different Approach

The Transition Towns movement is about adapting existing communities to the impending challenges of climate change and energy descent, and the resulting economic and social disruption these challenges are already beginning to create in various parts of the world.   One of the challenges for the Transition Towns movement is whether changes to existing communities can occur in time.

As these global drivers of change continue to accelerate, it will become increasingly difficult to adapt, as options are reduced by the very problems to which we are trying to adapt.

Atamai Village has been taking a somewhat different approach to these same global challenges by building a resilient new community to meet these same risks.
Ambitious, yet relatively small scale, Atamai is a local, permaculture designed village settlement located close to Nelson on the top of the South Island of New Zealand. We are responding to the same global issues of concern as Transition Towns.   

While the Atamai Village approach to the global drivers of change may be different to that taken by the Transition Towns movement,  our goals are the same – providing communities resilient enough to live well, sustainably. We believe both movements will learn from and support each other.  In fact a number of Atamai villagers have been very involved in our local and other Transition Towns initiatives.  This also reflects our recognition of the importance of engaging in the broader social context to village life.

Where We’ve Come From

Started in 2006, Atamai is one of a few projects with sufficient scope and depth, and is well enough progressed, to provide a timely and viable response before global events deteriorate to the point where options to act are seriously restrained.

Where We're Going

When complete, Atamai Village will be a settlement of 50-60 households providing a home for about 200 permanent residents and visitors. The village aims to be a model for resilience in a location that provides water, energy and food security from village controlled resources. Atamai is one of the few eco village projects with an appropriate land and resource base to provide for its residents' basic needs, even after energy descent has run its course. It also aims to provide a comprehensive, living demonstration of an attractive lifestyle that reflects the aims of the Transition movement. Part of the planning activities focuses on the village economy, providing opportunities for villagers to gain livelihoods within the village and broader community.

Energy and Technology

Like Transitions Towns, energy descent is a fundamental premise of village life at Atamai. This recognises that contemporary Western societys' energy consumption will need to be reduced dramatically. The aim is, to balance comfort and material wealth with the limited ambient resource flows that can be obtained from the village owned surrounds.

Although designed with state-of-the-art sustainable technology, all basic infrastructure services are designed and implemented with the simplest technologies possible – technologies that need only depend on local resources and maintenance to continue providing essential services. High energy and high technology based systems are strictly planned as discretionary elements. In practice this means that for all vital technology applications (for example building block making or agriculture), three generations of technology or toolsets and associated knowledge sets will be maintained - one set of simple hand tools, one of mechanised but not engine powered tools, and one set of motor powered implements.

Particular attention in the design layout of the village is also keeping energy descent in mind in terms of providing for a car –free environment that is walkable or cycleable.

Phases We're Going Through

Developing the village is progressing in three phases. Staging development allows prudent financial management and a gradual introduction of the concepts to local government bodies as an asset to the wider region. In many instances, existing regulations and legal structures are not conducive to the design requirements for a resilient ecologically sound and social vibrant settlement. Phased introduction enables easier adaptive management of the zoning and regulatory aspects of the settlement. Equally important is that it helps the village community grow gently and naturally into the setting rather than trying to provide an artificial turnkey instant village.

The approval for the first two phases of the development are now in place. They provide resource consent from our local council for more than 40 freehold titles and a legal mechanism for the creation and management of a shared commons. The first phase is substantially complete in terms of earthworks and infrastructure with nearly all of the sections being snapped up by interested parties from New Zealand and abroad.

The concept of the village core (Phase 3), is modelled on a traditional European village square, complete with community facilities and commercial enterprises.

Development of Phase 3 is expected to commence in the summer of 2013.

Seven households are currently on site in existing, rental and new housing with three more are due to arrive within a few months. Building is progressing as families settle and permits get issued.

People Make Villages

The social aspects of the village, its economy and ownership structure are being based on proven traditions with long histories of permanence and contented living. Atamai is an open village with no ideological or religious entry criteria, other than a commitment to living sustainably and in harmony with others and the environment. The village is developing as a place where creative energies towards a functional future can be expressed. A place where culture, art and healthy lifestyles can thrive and rich social lives develop in a setting of great natural beauty.

We have experienced a steadily growing flow of enquiries from interested parties over the last year. The last few months in particular have seen many visitors arriving to find out if Atamai Village can provide a safe, sane and meaningful way of life for them in the face of increasing future uncertainties.

Food First

Due to the importance of food security to resilience , work on agricultural output, tree crops, nursery work and permaculture has been a priority from the beginning and is on-going. In 2007 Atamai became one of the first commercial applications sites for bio-char (Terra Preta). It is also a forerunner in organic food production and permaculture design implementation on a village scale.

Lessons Learned

Recent arrivals of new people and associated skills have allowed development activities to be scaled up and project management to be successfully handed over to a broader based team.

Jurgen Heissner, the founding member of Atamai Village, will be posting a number of articles over the next few weeks on the Atamai blog, describing progress as it occurs and reflecting on the continued challenges of building a village during a time of increasingly observable collapse:

  • Why build a village as a response to what is happening?
  • What has changed since the project started?
  • What were the biggest challenges to the village project and which ones are expected in the future ?
  • Atamai's ‘Lessons Learned' experience should be of interest to small transition communities and eco village projects facing he same challenges.


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