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Vision – McMansions or eco-villages?

Posted in Visions by Ferne Edwards on April 5th, 2007

Most people live in either houses or flats and although house size has recently shrunk (see Schneiders & Lucas, "Home builders plump for leaner McMansions", The Age, 31/3/2007, p.7), the size of the average detached home in Victoria increased by 50 per cent in the last two decades, while the average household size declined from 2.9 people in 2006 to 2.5 in 2004. The "bigger house/ less householders" equation incurs greater consumption of materials for less people, contributing to greater environmental costs – let alone the trend towards greater social isolation in our cities.

David Holmgren, amongst others, has acknowledged this housing trend and believes that more people should live in each abode to achieve greater resource efficiencies. To better share resources, one solution is to simply take on a border. Otherwise, you could even consider such alternatives as urban eco-villages and co-housing. These options represent different housing designs with communal living space which provides improved resource use and greater (on-site) social support.

In Melbourne, WestWyck is an example of an urban eco-village. WestWyck occupies the building and grounds of the former Brunswick West Primary School in the inner suburbs. The site features clusters of five new town houses and seven warehouse-style apartments constructed from the remains of the school and grounds. This housing incorporates community and integrated systems that promote enhanced water and energy efficiency. By creating a shared housing community and grounds, WestWyck reduces their impact on the environment by harvesting roof water and housing an on-site waste treatment, a greywater treatment plant and a communal gas-boosted solar hot water system – among many other features!

The Melbourne Co-housing Network is a housing alternative network website, designed to bring together a critical mass of people interested in developing cohousing options in Melbourne. Although cohousing is traditionally recognised more for social rather than environmental benefit, the shared social space of cohousing environment can also improve resource efficiencies. According to the CoHousing Partners website:

“Cohousing is a form of collaborative housing that offers residents an old-fashioned sense of neighborhood. … Cohousing communities consist of private, fully-equipped dwellings and extensive common amenities including a common house and recreation areas. Residents are involved in the development of the community so that the community reflects their priority”.

In Melbourne, the Merri Co-housing and Eco-Village group was established in 2000 "to facilitate the development of cohousing in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne…". They hold regular Cohousing information sessions for people who’d like to get involved. For more information, contact info (at)

According to Caroline Lawrey from the Housing Industry Association (Schneiders & Lucas, "Home builders plump for leaner McMansions", The Age, 31/3/2007, p.7), the two expected housing trends are either "an increased prevalence in multi-units, townhouses and villas in the
outer suburbs, and smaller houses on smaller blocks of land" – no mention of ecovillages or cohousing….

What do you think the environmental repercussions of such trends would be? Would you prefer to live in a McMansion or an ecovillage? Sustainable Melbourne welcomes your comments.

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