Friday, August 15, 2008

Danish Hospitality


So the past couple of weeks have been quite incredible in terms of furthering my thoughts about community. I began at the eco-village at Hjortshoej, which was very interesting as a larger scale community that had formed around eco-living, but without any particular prescribed ideology. Each family has a reasonable amount of autonomy, and people living there more or less contribute to a nice feeling of neighborliness. I was very warmly welcomed and embraced by several of the people there, and made some excellent new friendships that I’m looking forward to nurturing over time. Thanks to the connections made at Hjortshoej, I was able to find out about several near by communities including Friland and Hertha – Got to spend a couple of days at Friland helping build an affordable eco-house, and experiencing a very exciting model in terms of building projects and community formation models.

I stayed with a couple of families in Hjortshoej and felt very welcomed. The houses there were very interesting, well built and environmentally friendly. And their proximity made for an interesting neighborhood feeling, with no cars among the houses, lots of places for kids to play and areas for informal and formal gatherings, meals, etc. it was delightful to take part in the meals and the excellent café og ca – so many good cakes in Denmark. Also a nice coziness about how meals are handled – even simple informal meals become a social setting for relaxing and connecting.

Some of the specific activities I’ve been involved in while in Denmark – I went to Hjortshoej with the idea that I would be helping to build a common house. And spent a week and a half contributing to that effort. They have a very nice common house, but as an oval footprint with angled walls, it’s a somewhat complex building to make. Still they will have a lovely place once it’s complete. I was involved with framing a complex wall, threading pipes for plumbing, and helping with laying down floor tiles. It was lovely working and talking with the different people there. And I’m embarrassed that I missed their wrap up party, because I went to Friland for some days and was unable to line up timing with work and busses. I didn’t realize that they wanted to send me off with the party, and am sad that I missed it. Still I have a great warm feeling about my time there and the people I got to know.

I went to a local African dance festival for a night with Kim, which was great – funny to see African dancing in Northern Denmark. But a nice kind of cross cultural event. Also was taken around by Niels to see the various communities near by and discuss community in general. This was an excellent exposure to ideas and I’m full of gratitude. Lots of interesting things that I may be able to apply to my home land. Also went to a Viking festival and battle re-enactment. With yelling and horses. And an exhibit about ice men. So, the time was very full and interesting.

Viewing Hertha with Niels


Going to Friland, I caught the last few days of a workshop that was developed to help build a house for some new residents. I participated building and sealing the roof, which was fun. Felt good to really work my body and make things with my hands. Got me excited to build some things of my own in the not so distant future. Hope I can find a good situation to start making things and developing ideas.

So the workshop was interesting – there seemed to be a variety of work experiences and expectations from the participants. Some mixture of working and wanting holiday. Perhaps some disconnect around what the education component would actually be.

Tonny and Ulla's house at Friland - Built for Workshop

So I have many thoughts about my time here, to list some of the things I’ve been thinking about: Ownership models, relationship of community settlements to the broader government and surrounding communities, scale of settlements, distance between houses and functions of common facilities, the need for common projects, and what types of projects lend themselves to communities, ideas about forming experimental communities, and about the relationship of community and entrepreneurship. Lots of eye openers. Well, Denmark is a place that has had a fair amount of eye opening connected to community.

Some things I want to investigate further: Högskolan and the fellow who started them – these after school programs developed to focus on learning without grading. Steiner philosophy.

So, my lingering impression of my time at these communities at Denmark is one of hopefulness. It was quite inspiring to see real world examples of people living together in a way that was environmentally responsible as well as creative in terms of architecture. Both places were quite adventurous with their design work, and with their social program. Hjorshoej was good as a model that is not too far off from what I could imagine would be desirable to the suburban market in the US. And Friland was completely eye opening in terms of connecting social and environmental responsibility in a way that took not only environmental factors into local hands, but economic and political as well. Very promising in terms of thinking of a community I might like to start myself.

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