Karlstad adventures – urban oases

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Monday, May 25 – Before heading east towards Stockholm, we followed a tip from Gunnar, Mjolnatorpet’s resident architect.  He told us about a project he worked on in downtown Karlstad, designing a superinsulated apartment building in the Orrholmen neighborhood (more photos and text here, in Swedish).  We took the bus to the neighborhood parking garage  (not your average lot) and headed out to see what we could see.  The contrast i found there to an American neighborhood in a similar location was striking.

Downtown Karlstad - population 80,000

Downtown Karlstad - population 80,000

Orrholmen is located just south of the main downtown area of Karlstad.  It’s a peninsula jutting out into Lake Vanern, Sweden’s largest.  Home to several thousand people in a variety of different apartment buildings, it was immediately clear that Orrholmen was designed with much foresight for the needs of its residents.  The entire three-sided waterfront is a vast, beautiful park, free of houses and surprisingly natural for an urban setting.  All the buildings occupy the central part of the peninsula and are served by an undergrounf parking garage running most of the length of the peninsula.

Downtown Karlstad, looking the other way

Orrholmen, looking the other way

We weren’t able to tour the particular building Gunnar mentioned to us, but the layout of the entire community turned out to be much more interesting.

Bicycle Garage

Bicycle Garage

The garage features a huge amount of space reserved for bicycles, from safe rooms to parking spaces.  All this underground parking allows the entire peninsula to be carfree – the road effectively ends at the northern edge.  The difference this one change made in the character of the neighborhood was staggering – no need for wide roads, a sense of calm throughout, and kids running and playing without fear for their safety.

Topside of the garage, with air vent hidden in the background

Topside of the garage, with air vent hidden in the background

The picture above shows one of the air vents for the garage – they’re hidden very well by the greenery that surrounds them.

Add environmentally friendly building techniques to this attention to land use and you end up with an urban neighborhood sustaining a very high quality of life.

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June 25, 2009 at 08:33 Leave a comment

Less chewing, more greenhouses at Tuggelite

Saturday, May 23rd – Our host Jonas at Mjölnatorpet filled us in on another ecovillage just down the road, on the same bus line.  Since it’s the oldest ecovillage in the country (as old as me, founded in 1984), we decided we had to check it out.  Albert was kind enough to show us around the community and his house, where he’s lived since the village’s founding.

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One of the housing blocks in Tuggelite

As the first ecovilage in Sweden, Tuggelite attracted much attention at its founding 25 years ago.  Local governments from all over Sweden came to study the village and its organization.  We quickly noticed a major difference between Tuggelite’s layout and that of Mjölnatorpet (TOO-gah-LEE-tay and MYOL-na-tor-pet for the Swedishly challenged).  Tuggelite’s 5 housing buildings all face south, and each family’s house has its own greenhouse attached on the south side.  The interior walls of the greenhouse are made with a thick layer of concrete, used as a “thermal mass” – the heat of the sun becomes stored in the warm concrete, which cools more slowly than the air – the wall releases that heat into the night, reducing the need for heating at night.

Tuggelite's layout

Tuggelite's layout

Albert, our tour guide, was one of the driving forces behind the village’s founding.  In 1984, they were at the cutting edge of sustainability in Sweden – all the houses are equipped with triple-glazed windows, a technique that is now the standard in Sweden (we’re still working on getting double-glazed windows into old houses in America).  Many more of Tuggelite’s ideas have been taken up into the mainstream of Swedish policy.  They were the first place in the country to use wood pellets for heating – a  waste product of logging, the pellets are a highly efficient source of energy.  The entire village is hooked into a district heating system controlled from the common house.  The pellets are stored in a type of silo and their flow into the heater is regulated by computer.  Today this setup is found throughout Sweden, including at Mjölnatorpet.

Touring with Albert

Touring with Albert

Near the common house, we also found the garbage.  Tuggelite’s residents sort their garbage and recycling; the garbage goes to the municipal bio-gasifier, where the gas released from its decomposition is captured and used to run Karlstad’s bus fleet.  This was another innovation that Albert and the other founders worked to develop.

Common house with greenhouse

Common house with greenhouse and original 1984 solar panels

Wood Pellet Storage

Wood Pellet Storage

Inside the heating room

Inside the heating room

Tuggelite means something like “chew less” in Swedish.  The story goes that long ago, the adjacent land was owned by a wealthy, titled family, while the area around Tuggelite was left for the peasants.  The rich folk had ample food to sustain themselves and always had something to chew, while those at Tuggelite had less to chew.

Exercise on the lawn

Exercise on the lawn

Today, the name has taken on new meaning.  Residents at Tuggelite ecovillage are generally well-off, well-educated people that have a degree of freedom in where they choose to live.  For many, the choice to move in to Tuggelite was a conscious choice to chew up less of the Earth’s resources – rather than being a negative thing, chewing less can now bring its own rewards.  A strong sense of community, lower energy bills, living in a well-designed, efficient house are all commonly cited benefits of living here.

Each family has its own compost bin

Each family has its own compost bin

Grapes growing in Albert's greenhouse

Grapes growing in Albert's greenhouse

Tuggelite was our first glimpse at a fully established ecovillage.  While Hurdal is abuzz with new energy and countless projects, and Mjölnatorpet is settling down into its adolescence, Tuggelite’s fruit trees are grounded in 25 years’ worth of soil.  The average age of the residents is somewhere over 50 – the same phenomenon of extremely low turnover is occuring here – only 2 or 3 of the units have come up for sale in the past few years.  The energy of the place is very welcoming, and also subdued.  It’s immediately obvious that the residents have achieved what they wanted to and are enjoying the rewards of the place they’ve built together.

Rhubarb for our pie!

Rhubarb for our pie!

Before we ended our visit, we had to sample the local specialty crop.  Rhubarb plants the size of small trees covered the lawns, and Albert’s wife Margretha was kind enough to let us take some to make that pie you read about last time.

Radu's first rhubarb

Radu's first rhubarb

Hammock in the greenhouse - perfect after a long day of interviews

Hammock in the greenhouse - perfect after a long day of interviews

June 7, 2009 at 13:56 Leave a comment

Sweden: The great frontier

 

Mjolnatorpet Ecovillage

Thursday, May 21 – Radu, Etienne, and I (Micah) leave Hurdal and Norway behind in the morning.  We mentally prepared, turning our “ø”s into “ö”s and learning new birthday songs.  Through the kindness of friends, strangers, and paid bus drivers, we make it to the city of Karlstad, Sweden by the end of the day, covering a distance of about 250 kilometers.  We caught a bus out of town to Mjolnatorpet Ecovillage – our host Jonas was out with his family when we arrived, but he had left a key giving us access both to his house and the common house (the building above covered in solar panels), where we’d be staying.

Mjolnatorpet was founded in 1995, during a very slow economic period in Sweden.  The building firm went bankrupt before construction was finished but the residents worked their way through that hurdle, among many others.  We had a chance to talk with Gunnar, the architect of the village – he lives here, a few houses over from Jonas.  The creation of a strong social structure was his main goal in creating the layout of the village.  The common house stands in the center of a ring of houses, all of which face inwards on it.  There are no fences in sight, and much of the land is held in common between all of the 16 households.  

 

Stefan

Stefan is one of the youngest owners in Mjolnatorpet.  One common issue in ecovillages, we’re learning, is that there is very little turnover – people enjoy living in them so much, they rarely choose to leave.  While this is certainly not a bad thing, it does mean that the average age in an ecovillage tends to get older each year after the founding.  After 14 years in existence, Stefan and other residents estimated the average age at Mjolnatorpet to be somewhere over 40.  

Cleaning the gutters

Each of the house-buildings is home to two separate units.  This building choice was made both for energy efficiency (one less exterior wall) and for social (closer contact with neighbors) reasons, and it works very well at Mjolnatorpet.  Everyone is able to spend as much or as little time with their neighbors as they choose, but the very design of the place means you’ll see other people in the village whenever you go outside. 

Many people mentioned the benefits of the design, in that each house has a social and a private side.  The frontyards all face in towards each other and the common house, but the backyards are more secluded and offer a bit more privacy for those who want it.

 

Breakfast on the common lawn

Breakfast on the common lawn

Jonas and his family were very helpful to us, giving us loads of information, delicious food, and contacts throughout the ecovillage and the city of Karlstad.  We spent the nights with them during our visit and spent the days visiting the city, conducting interviews, and planning for the rest of the trip.

One of four wastewater ponds

One of four wastewater ponds

One of the biggest innovations here is the waste treatment system.  Rather than connecting to an overused municipal sewer, Mjolnatorpet treats their own waste.  All the toilets in the village were built to separate feces and urine, so that the urine could be composted and sold to farmers for use as fertilizer.  E.U. regulations don’t allow this, however, so now everything goes to the same place – the ponds.  Full of plant varieties that purify the water, the wastewater travels through a series of four ponds before being released into the stream – when it reaches that point, it’s clean enough to support a healthy ecosystem with fish and aquatic life.  

Rhubarb pie a la Francaise

Rhubarb pie a la Francaise

We spent four days at Mjolnatorpet, conducting interviews with many of the residents.  Jonas told us of another ecovillage in Karlstad, the oldest in Sweden.  We made a day trip there (look for it in the next entry) and came back with a healthy load of rhubarb, which Etienne performed his French magic upon – rhubarb meringue pie!  A delicious end to a very interesting visit.

Etienne marveling at his creation

Etienne marveling at his creation

June 4, 2009 at 16:58 Leave a comment

First stop: Hurdal

Home to 30 humans, 10 chickens, 6 sheep, 3 horses, and 1 traveling eco-team disguised as a trumpet-banjo-eggshaker band, Hurdal gave us a fantastic introduction to ecovillage life.  The first thing we all noticed were the kids.  

 

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Half of Hurdal’s 30 residents are under 12 years old, and they make their presence known throughout the village.  With so many children of a similar age, the adults share responsibility for them almost as a reflex – it was hard for us to figure out which kids belonged to which parents.  Many of the people we talked to mentioned this as one of their main reasons for moving to the ecovillage.

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Kristin was one of the 5 founders of Hurdal Ecovillage in 2004.  Today she’s the chief greeter and village relations guru.  After picking us up from the train station and driving us to Hurdal, she handed us over to Bjork, who showed us what we’d be helping with during our visit.

 

One Step's Project - Haul a log or two

One Step's Project - Haul a log or two

Being a very young ercovillage (in many senses of the word), Hurdal is home to a huge amount of energy and ongoing projects.  The central area looks much like a construction site, with planks, sand, bricks, and other raw materials waiting to live up to their potential.  Now that the word on Hurdal has spread, people often call Kristin and offer to donate supplies – that’s how they came by their trusty construction crane.  They have such a surplus that they hope to open a reconstruction store as part of the small business area of the village.

Looking out over Hurdal's land

Looking out over Hurdal's land

Our work involved moving some of these raw materials – a few hundred planks and 2 X 4s – up the hill from the lower village to the upper village building site, where a wooden tipi-ish structure is in the works.  When it’s finished, it will be home to Bjork’s barnehagen (kindergarten) classroom.  We worked with Bjork, Udo, and Christian to find the best way to move the wood up a steep incline and through the forest.  We decided to use the tractor to pull the boards up as far as possible, then transfer them to the village’s 1-horsepower ultimate work machine – his name is Svartan, and he’s a magnificent black stallion.  We hitched a carriage behind him and loaded him up with boards.

Our work horse

Our work horse

 

Svartan ready for work

Svartan ready for work

 A rough ride, but it seemed to be working – we decided Etienne should sit on top to keep the boards from rattling out on the last uphill push.  Unfortunately for us, and especially for Etienne, Svartan likes to gallop up steep spots, and nobody saw the stump just in front of the carriage wheel.  Etienne went flying (quite acrobatically) off the side and split his hand open on a rock.  It looked pretty gruesome, but the local doctor stitched him up in no time, and Etienne was back on the job the next day.

Vidar gave us an all-original private concert

Vidar gave us an all-original private concert

Besides sharp rocks, we also found many beautiful examples of how a strong community like that of Hurdal can make life more enjoyable, but the best one to mention is the meals shared in the common house.  Between 3 and 5 days a week, one person makes dinner for the 30-35 people at the village.  This duty rotates on a voluntary basis, and accounts of who’s ahead with cooking and who needs to catch up are kept in a ledger, so that everyone has a motivation to occasionally help out.  

How to roll lasagna for 35 people

Ina, who cooked lasagna for us on Thursday, told us she like the system because it takes the pressure off of her for many days each week.  She very much prefers to cook for 35 once every other week than to cook for 5 every night.  This kind of shared responsibility for everyday tasks isn’t just for summer camps – it’s what makes Hurdal a vibrant place to live.  It seemed that sharing responsibility freed up more time for creativity and personal projects. 

Hurdal was a great introduction for our trip, but we had to hit the road early Friday morning.  We got a ride with Carol, who comes to Hurdal to ride Svartan and the other horses.  She brought us to the highway to test our luck hitchhiking into Sweden towards our next stop: Karlstad.

May 25, 2009 at 20:14 2 comments

On the Move

With less than three weeks left until May 17th (the Norwegian National Day and One Step Beyond’s official kick-off date), it’s time for an update on what the team is doing.

Etienne’s holiday from work has begun – he’ll be docked on a boat south of Oslo, working on the final details for One Step

Radu has been working for some weeks as a WWOOFer at a farm very close to L’Aquila.  Since the earthquakes early this month, he has been helping his farm and community recover – read about it here.  He’ll be coming to Norway just before the big day.

Jeff has been offered a fantastic job with a non-profit in the U.S. and won’t be making the trek with us this summer.  Best of luck to you Jeff!

Kinia is finishing up in Poland, preparing to join the group in July.

Micah is on the move towards Norway.  From Washington to Michigan to New York, he is crawling eastward across the United States and will be in Norway in time for the celebrations!

Serdar is finishing up his PhD work and will join up with One Step afterwards.

Look for more from us very soon, as the summer gets underway!

April 30, 2009 at 18:27 Leave a comment

Taking it One Step Beyond

Do you wonder what you as an individual can do to make the world a better place? Do you wish you could live more sustainably within an unsustainable society? Here at One Step Beyond, we’re organizing a summerlong event to uncover and spread the word on people doing just that. From May to August, we’ll be traveling to ecovillages and cities throughout Scandinavia, living in communities and learning from residents. We’ll document our journey through pictures, articles, interviews, and a short documentary film – we hope to see you out there!

One Step Beyond includes members from around the world, many of whom will meet for the first time in May as the project gets started. Organized through the world-wide online network Couchsurfing.com, One Step is a powerhouse of passionate individuals striving to change the world by turning heads and changing minds. Check out the “Team” page for more on us.

A little about our other pages:  You’ll be able to follow along with the action from the field here on our main page. At the “What” page, you’ll find an in-depth look at our plan and what we hope to accomplish. To check out the back story, try “Why”. Once the project is underway, you’ll find our photos, film footage, and audio interviews in the Archives. Our itinerary and trip map are on the “Where” page. “How” will take you through our process for constructing the trip.  At “Support” you’ll be able to see the groups we’re working with and find links to other great projects and more information.  And for contact information and more on how to connect with One Step, visit “Connect.”

March 6, 2009 at 14:20 Leave a comment

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