The purpose of this paper is to aim at exploring the relationship between community building and the changes occurred in the context of a post-disaster self-built ecovillage (EcoVillaggio Autocostruito (EVA)), spontaneously born after the L’Aquila earthquake in 2009. The community eventually dissolved in 2014, following a series of changes in the organization, that resulted in an increasingly centralized decision-making process, and in individual and community relationships, that were fueled by conflicts and contrasts.
Through a self-ethnography method, the paper provides the insider perspective of the lead author who was a part of EVA since the beginning. Self-ethnography allowed developing a narrative of EVA across its life course.
Findings reveal that the community into EVA was initially pursuing community-building goals through self-construction, sustainability, mutuality and reciprocity relationships out of market. However, several events occurred and changed community goals, organization and decision making. Eventually, individual goals and vertical decision making emerged among the community members, leading to the death of EVA.
The paper just considered those main events that marked the collective and individual life of the lead author since the beginning until the end of the ecovillage. Others events, equally important, were not considered due to word length. In addition, self-ethnography is still considered by some authors as a subjective method.
The paper is one of the few exploring community experiences into post-disaster ecovillages. Moreover, there are no papers investigating post-disaster ecovillages through a self-ethnography approach. Therefore, the paper offers an innovative and original perspective on the under-investigated topic of post-disaster ecovillages and employs a promising research method in disaster studies.
Tomassi, I. and Forino, G. (2019), "The Ecovillage of Pescomaggiore (L’Aquila): Birth and death of a self-determined post-disaster community (2009-2014)", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 513-526. https://doi.org/10.1108/DPM-09-2018-0305Download as .RIS
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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited
On April 6, 2009, a 6.3 M earthquake occurred in L’Aquila and nearby areas. It caused 309 deaths, over 1500 injured and around 67,000 displaced people (Venturini and Verlinghieri, 2014). Few weeks after the earthquake, the Italian government decided to relocate the affected people into new earthquake-proof buildings called Complessi Anti-Sismici Sostenibili Ecocompatibili (CASE, earthquake-proof and eco-compatible complexes) (Alexander, 2010). Most of these new buildings lacked basic services or amenities (Venturini and Verlinghieri, 2014). The affected communities had no voice to negotiate the relocation and prioritize their needs; likewise, no participative mechanisms were enacted to promote a shared and place-based reconstruction (Calandra, 2012, 2018).
Pescomaggiore is one of the mountainous villages of L’Aquila that was affected by the earthquake. The Italian government decided to relocate most of the Pescolani (the inhabitants of Pescomaggiore) far from the village (Fois and Forino, 2014). Before the earthquake, Pescomaggiore was already facing depopulation and ageing population, and for this reason since 2007 the Committee for the Rebirth of Pescomaggiore (Comitato per la Rinascita di Pescomaggiore (CRP)) was trying to restore and recreate a sense of community. Toward this goal, the CRP fostered the participation of both Pescolani and people from L’Aquila by promoting social and environmental initiatives in Pescomaggiore (Tomassi, 2011; Fois and Forino, 2014).
After the earthquake most of the members of the CRP lost their houses. During the immediate emergency they met a group of young political activists in L’Aquila, who were also in housing need. As already seen in other post-disaster worldwide experiences (Scuddern and Colson, 1982), both these groups refused to forcibly leave their places and to be resettled into CASE under government control. They also shared a strong skepticism about the top-down emergency management by the Italian government, that created soil sealing and urban sprawl (Frisch, 2009), disrupted and radically changed the landscape (Clemente and Salvati, 2017) and exacerbated social and spatial inequalities (Calandra, 2012, 2018; Alexander, 2019). Therefore, these groups decided to opt for a self-recovery strategy (Twigg et al., 2017) and organized an autonomous self-governing tent camp, independent from the Italian government.
To satisfy their housing need in a sustainable way and to continue life in Pescomaggiore, these groups decided to self-build an ecovillage. This decision was also a highly symbolic and political act. It was a way to promote communitarian and environmental values inherent ecovillage practices after the disaster (Nelson, 2018) and to change individual and collective life through self-organization and community building (Twigg et al., 2017). People belonging to these two groups were aware of the loss of memory about previous earthquakes in the Abruzzo region, as well as of the abuse on land and environment by urban sprawl and regional planning (Romano and Zullo, 2014) and by a market-oriented and anti-ecological economic growth (Clark, 2013). Through the ecovillage, these people intended to restore the lost connections with the local environment. These reasons represented a first, common baseline for starting a self-organization experience, and marked the birth of the embryonic idea for the future community living within the ecovillage. Overall, this experience was conceived as a way to openly confront the post-disaster context in L’Aquila in its impacts on society, culture and human-environmental relations (Tomassi, 2011).
The ecovillage community was composed by 12 people aging 28–70 years, with diverse backgrounds (e.g. journalists, lawyers, farmers and students); more than half of them were from areas nearby to Pescomaggiore (Fois and Forino, 2014). This community gathered under the Misa association while the ecovillage was named EcoVillaggio Autocostruito (EVA, self-built ecovillage). It was decided to build EVA by using local materials such as straw and wood and adopting sustainable and earthquake-proof techniques (Bonoli et al., 2015; D’Alençon Castrillón and Rota, 2015). EVA would have supported local economy and promoted an environmentally sustainable lifestyle, e.g. by recycling and reusing materials and through “ecological communication” (Liss, 1992). EVA also intended to create strong relationships with the Pescolani to strengthen their attachment with Pescomaggiore (Fois and Forino, 2014). The community aimed at building itself and EVA through collective efforts and cooperative spirit, by transforming a group of people into a common entity. A participatory decision making was going to regulate everyday life into EVA, together with mutual and non-market-oriented obligations.
To interpret the EVA experience, the concepts of “anthropotechnical collective” and munera as discussed by the Dutch philosopher Peter Sloterdijk (2014, 2016) are crucial. According to him, human beings find their place on the Earth by opening space for new opportunities to be situated within an anthropotechnical collective, that is a cultural practice (anthropo) to be used as a shield (technical) to protect from the perils of life (Sloterdijk, 2014). EVA community was an example of anthropotechnical collective. Ecovillage values represented the cultural practice of the community, to be used as a way to protect from, and to confront with, a dangerous situation such as the post-disaster housing need. Munera is a Latin word that indicates reciprocity, while the derived Latin expression cum munus (with reciprocity) is the root of the word “community.” The housing need and community building transformed a group of people into an “integrated entity” through munera, where reciprocity, mutuality and non-commercial values were the baseline for the relationships within the community.
Sloterdijk (2014) also argues human beings establish a common way of life and define their collective identity through everyday practices that become functional for a community. Everyday practices into EVA allowed the community to define its collective by reaching an individual and collective equilibrium with the place (Pescomaggiore) and its memory (Sloterdijk, 2014). Everyday practice into EVA represented an attempt to establish an alternative living and become part of a higher form of being (Spoelstra, 2016). These practices are self-formative and transitory, highly vary through time and space and are influenced by multiple and complex factors (environmental, cultural and psychological), both individual and collective. These practices therefore represent a collective attempt to overcome the individualistic and consumer lifestyle of neoliberal times.
Along the years, however, these practices moved toward directions diverging from those initially accepted by the community. The initial idea of EVA as a place for common living was replaced by the idea of using EVA for green and slow tourism purposes. While the community expected changes and considered them as part of community building, however some changes were so deep that five years after the EVA’s birth, EVA and its community did not exist anymore. At the time of writing (March 2019), EVA is an empty space and the land is abandoned. Just one of the former ecovillagers lives close to EVA, in a temporary shelter provided by the Italian government.
This paper aims at investigating the reasons why things have changed so deeply and unexpectedly. To do this, the paper uses a self-ethnography method to develop and present a narrative of the main events occurred into EVA leading to such changes. Discussions and conclusion will reflect upon the EVA experience, with insights for future research in communities and ecovillage in post-disaster contexts (Figure 1).
Post-disaster ecovillages: an underexplored topic
Ecovillages are those communities forming spontaneously by sharing an ideal, a philosophy of life, a spiritual or political path (Gilman and Gilman, 1991). The Global Ecovillages Network defines an ecovillage as “an intentional, traditional or urban community that is consciously designed through locally owned participatory processes in all four dimensions of sustainability (social, culture, ecology and economy) to regenerate social and natural environments”. An ecovillage community has ecological goals and a social structure consisting of individuals who choose interdependence based on strong ethical or political motivation and not for imposed social bonds (Guidotti, 2017). The ecovillage idea joins selected characteristics of traditional villages as connected place-based communities and highly localized economies, with strong environmentally concerned practices to cope with and adapt to the limits of the planet (Nelson, 2018).
Literature on post-disaster ecovillages is very limited. Svensson (2002) explored the potential of ecovillages as suitable planning strategies for communities aiming at recovering from disasters. Abe et al. (2012) and Abe and Shaw (2015) then explored an eco-housing project promoted by the United Nations Environment Programme and UN-HABITAT in Lagoswatta (Sri Lanka) after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. In its conceptualization and practice the ecovillage in Lagoswatta highly differs from EVA. The ecovillage in Lagoswatta was promoted by international organizations with a specific eco-housing purpose to ensure environmental sustainability (Abe et al., 2012; Abe and Shaw, 2015). It was also planned and built by a partnership of international and local NGOs with Sri Lankan institutions (Abe et al., 2012). Additionally, the local government selected its inhabitants, while a local NGO choose its name and site (Abe et al., 2012). Conversely, EVA was born as a reaction to the intervention by the Italian government, and as a place able to give back to the community a sense of place and identity through community life (Fois and Forino, 2014). EVA also had a larger perspective of community building; it involved hundreds of volunteers, supporters and friends from outside Pescomaggiore and was able to create an international network of solidarity and support (Fois and Forino, 2014). EVA was also organized around three key factors in resettlement projects (Coburn et al., 1984) that are: the physical environment of the new settlement; the relationship with the old village; and the capacity of the community to develop itself. Therefore, EVA has specific characteristics that cannot be found in literature on post-disaster ecovillages. This makes EVA as a relevant case study to advance knowledge on (post)disaster ecovillages.
Primary data were built upon a self-ethnography of EVA as experienced by the lead author. Self-ethnography is an increasingly popular qualitative methodology into disaster studies (Cohen, 2012). Initially, self-ethnography was merely an ethnographic methodology applied to the culture of researcher in a reflexive way (Hayano, 1979). Then, this methodology evolved and started to challenge, resist or extend the boundaries of conventional ethnographic writing practices (Bochner and Ellis, 2016). In this way, self-ethnography became a critical response to concern about silent authorship. It urges the need for researcher reflexivity, and for a political and personal form of representation that is humanizing, aesthetic and emotional (Bochner and Ellis, 2016). Self-ethnography acknowledges and accommodates subjectivity, emotionality and the researcher’s influence on research and can also be a therapeutic medium for the researcher to reveal the investigated topic (Cohen, 2012). Some scholars see self-ethnography as a subjective method, that is limited to the comprehension and understanding of the researcher who decides to take responsibility for narrating something personal that cannot be told as objective (Butler, 2005). However, others argue that self-ethnography is a reliable, valid and generalizable research method (Cohen, 2012).
The paper presents a self-ethnography based on the experience of the lead author. At the time of data collection (2009–2014), the lead author was not a “researcher” who was intentionally adopting self-ethnography as a research method. Rather, she was a terremotata, one of the citizens of L’Aquila that was affected by the earthquake and forced to leave her house and look for a housing solution. After the earthquake, she was deeply engaged into activities by Misa, taking part of the creation of EVA from its birth until the death of the community. She was, afterwards, one of those disaster scholars who decided to analyze a post-disaster context by starting from the subjective experience as survivors from that disaster (Benadusi, 2015).
The result of this self-ethnography is a chronological narrative “from birth to death” of EVA, based on the in vivo presence into disaster (Revet and Langumier, 2013) of the lead author, and on her personal notes about main events taking place into EVA between 2009 and 2014. This narrative is also supported by a text recently published by the lead author providing a personal and emotional account of the EVA experience (Tomassi, 2019) and by archive of emails exchanged between ecovillagers during the EVA experience. With this narrative, the paper makes an attempt to reveal the context in which EVA was created, and to open to questions and doubts about that experience. For the sake of synthesis and due to word limit, only the events that the lead author considered as key for EVA will be reported. Obviously, other “minor” events and experiences also contributed to the birth and death of EVA, together with hundreds of people who over these years joined EVA for a long time or just for 1 h. Below, a chronology of the changes occurred to EVA is presented, divided in five phases crossing the five years of the life of EVA (2009–2014).
Phase 1: the construction of EVA
August 2009: first steps toward a common life into EVA
In August 2009, the EVA experience began. With the support of an architecture studio, specialized in self-construction and community building, the community opted for self-building new houses with straw. This was the most suitable solution based on financial constraints, time limits and available local materials (Tomassi et al., 2011; Marcoré and Tomassi, 2014). This solution allowed matching the technical aspects of EVA with the local material culture such as the traditional wheat and straw production. On August 17, 2009, the works officially started with the support of dozens of volunteers who converged in Pescomaggiore to help (Fois and Forino, 2014). At that time, there was no regulation in Italy for self-construction buildings. However, for any future administrative and bureaucratic procedure EVA should have complied with, it was necessary to find a “legal” solution. Therefore, the community submitted a development application for private temporary shelters to the Municipality of L’Aquila, later issued through the Municipal Resolution No. 58/2009. Since the end of August 2009, EVA also had a website reporting information and update about EVA, where also potential donors could make donations and ecovillagers could share their stories and reflections.
This is how Tomassi (2019) described the choice of creating EVA: “[T]his choice was not only linked to the earthquake: many of us were already in a precarious situation […] [D]eciding the path of solidarity, of sharing the efforts towards a life that was worth living, was the way we found ourselves, without government and governors, without civil protection or saviours.”
Need for pragmatism
Given the amount of work needed to make EVA the place for the community to live in, pragmatism was necessary. The community did not have enough skills to live into an ecovillage and to do it into the rural and mountainous area of Pescomaggiore, where traditional agriculture was practiced across centuries. To gain these skills, the community asked for suggestions to the Pescolani. Common doing and mutual help build the new community of ecovillagers who acquires knowledge, autonomy and cohesion by effort. Through everyday interactions, Pescolani shared all their local knowledge with the ecovillagers. Step-by-step, ecovillagers gained skills about agricultural practices, soil management, and interpreting changes in weather conditions. In this way, the community was “forced” to farm, to use construction tools, as well as to put hands on straw and bulbs to be planted. In this way, the EVA community established tight relations with the Pescolani and knew better the local landscape. Day-by-day, the community discovered new life paths and was proud of building itself in Pescomaggiore. This made the community as feeling more rooted into Pescomaggiore, like “real” Pescolani (Plates 1 and 2).
September–November 2009: self-institutionalization and establishment of a complex governance system
On September 7, 2009, the association Misa was founded as a bureaucratic step to ensure a “formal” status to the ecovillagers and to provide insurance for all volunteers helping to build EVA. Therefore, Misa was a significant milestone. It was the first step toward the self-institutionalization (Bacqué, 2005) of activities within EVA that were decided and performed until then in an informal and unstructured way. This self-institutionalization implied the creation of basic governance mechanisms, e.g. the election of a president and a treasurer. It also implied the development of a business plan on the basis of traditional specialized labor division, according to individual skills and competences. Initially, the community thought Misa would have been just a formal step, but little by little it became a substantial aspect that regulated almost all aspects of life within EVA and inhibited most of the existing informal and mutual support. Indeed, responsibilities covered by Misa and the CRP began to partially overlap. Essentially, Misa became a tool to put into practice the statutory purposes of the CRP, and the CRP President was part of Misa too. This formalization of working practices and common activities also introduced to a gradual centralization and verticalization of the decision-making process that had been so far mostly horizontal and shared.
On October 16th, the CRP President released and shared online a document called Atto Unilaterale (Unilateral Act), without consulting the ecovillagers. This Act stated that the donators (donors) of more than 250 Euros to the CRP would have been included into the Tavola Pescolana, a board of which members were allowed to participate into the decision making of EVA together with ecovillagers. The Act had no statutory value but contributed to create tortuous governance mechanisms into EVA. With this Act, ecovillagers should have taken into account for the opinions by donors (who did not live into EVA) into their decisions. Just one out of 250 donors intervened one time into EVA’s decision making, but having external stakeholders with a potential voice into the decision of the community created tensions among ecovillagers.
On November 2, 2009, the CRP President released the document RiPesco ALMA (Abitare Lavoro Memoria Ambiente) (ALMA Inhabit Work Memory Environment), designing a vision for EVA on the basis of a socio-economic analysis of Pescomaggiore. The document proposed an “ethical” and “green” action to combat depopulation in Pescomaggiore. Accordingly, the beauty of the landscape, the high quality of crops and food and the traditional craftmanship in combination with the creativity and vitality of the Pescolani revealed a potential of Pescomaggiore as a tourist attraction. EVA would have been part of such vision, thanks to its facilities to be used for tourism purposes (e.g. food and hospitality). However, as also occurred in other occasions, the document was not discussed with the ecovillagers and represented one of the major points around which conflicts would arise within the community.
We can summarize Phase 1 through the words of Tomassi (2019), as it follows: “The sense of EVA had been so far the engine to endure all the difficulties. This sense was given by our collective work, by being able to decide autonomously on our own destiny, on how to live with whom and where, by the sense of the denied places […] by all things that would have been impeded in a voluntary submission to the government’s regime of extraordinary control.”
Phase 2: ecovillagers settle into EVA
Further conflicts arising within the EVA community
On February 19, 2010, while construction works were in progress, the President of CRP drafted a contract about the use of EVA houses, to be signed by ecovillagers. This contract mentioned ecovillagers as beneficiari (beneficiaries) of EVA. By using this term, the contract represented a first more substantial attempt to exclude ecovillagers from decision making about EVA. Rather than considering the ecovillagers as part of the material and immaterial heritage of EVA community, the contract designated ecovillagers as people merely involved into the construction and maintenance of EVA, with the right to use it. Following remonstrances by the ecovillagers, on the February 23, a Commitment Act slightly amended the contract. The status of ecovillagers moved from beneficiaries to primi beneficiari (first beneficiaries).
On February 27th, the first house (54 m²) was completed. Meanwhile, the collaboration between the CRP and the architectural studio which helped the EVA community in its initial stages ended due to significant communication issues and inconsistencies between the initial plan and its realization. Later that year, Misa released a document on behalf of the CRP, again with no consultation of the EVA community. According to this document, the everyday activities into EVA should follow the statutory purposes by Misa, including research in green building, agriculture and protection of material and immaterial heritage of Pescomaggiore. This demonstrated how complex the relation and overlaps existing between CRP and Misa into EVA were since the beginning. In September 2010, ecovillagers started to move into EVA. The President of the CRP moved into a completed house, and in December other two couples of ecovillagers, including the lead author and her partner moved into another house.
Phase 3: collective life: traditional agriculture and local knowledge
Strengthening bonds with the material and immaterial heritage of Pescomaggiore
Living in a rural area affected by an earthquake meant for EVA inhabitants to develop strong roots with the place and rebuild a community identity. Agriculture became therefore the center of the everyday life into EVA. Agricultural work produced most of the food into EVA. Traditional local crops such as saffron, solina wheat and turquoise potato were planted. Projects were also established with the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park to protect and restore local crops. In relation to agricultural practice, in 2011 the lead author and another ecovillager started a research on the oral memory of collective work in Pescomaggiore. Through this research, ecovillagers gained further knowledge about traditional agriculture practice in Pescomaggiore, particularly in relation to crop characteristics and seasons, local climate and carrying capacity. In addition, the research represented an input to reactivate the old-fashioned and abandoned common oven in the center of Pescomaggiore. Ecovillagers organized together with the Pescolani the reactivation of the oven to produce homemade bread with local flour and to tighten social and human relationships. Several purchasing groups also supported EVA by purchasing saffron and saffron bulbs. Relationships between ecovillagers and the Pescolani were slowly consolidating together with a renewed attachment for Pescomaggiore and its landscape (Plates 3 and 4).
Mounting discontent among ecovillagers
In March 2011, the CRP released a first draft of the regulations ecovillagers should follow about the use of EVA. On August 25th, the CRP updated this draft by proposing a loan contract to the ecovillagers, who should pay a monthly non-interest-bearing deposit based on the square meters of the occupied house, until the full completion of EVA. Once the houses were completed, the deposit would be returned. This condition seems to be acceptable for ecovillagers but it will never be respected from the CPR. One year after, on August 13, 2012, a severe fire destroyed the shed (the only building not in wood and straw) where construction and agricultural equipment and machinery were stored. The fire also reached the roof of the control unit space for the solar thermal system, as well as the roof of the CRP President’s house. While no damages were reported in the latter, the fire caused thousands of Euros of damages for EVA. Nevertheless, the fire was important for ecovillagers as it proved that straw and wooden buildings were highly fire-proof. Ecovillagers suspected that the accident had been accidentally caused by the CRP President, but this assumption could not be proven. However, all the ecovillagers paid for the damage, with further mounting discontent among them. What occurred in Phase 3 can be described again through the words of Tomassi (2019) as it follows:
We felt that there could be no greater difficulty than living that unreal situation of destruction. In a somewhat ideological and cultural distrust, we had set ourselves in the position of expecting that government institutions would incarnate an external and hostile “enemy” that would endanger the patch of reconstituted land we were building. […]. We were wrong on two points: first, from the “external” institutions we would have received mostly indifference for the first three years and then, a formal recognition. Second, it was from the inside that manipulation, deception and retaliation had to be expected.
Phase 4: further steps toward the self-institutionalization into EVA
Misa and a polarized decision-making process
On February 16, 2013, the new Misa board was elected with a narrow majority. It included the CRP President, his best friend and his partner. However, all these three members were not experiencing the everyday life of EVA anymore. The CRP President and his partner had left EVA in April 2012 to live in Pescomaggiore, into a temporary housing unit provided by the Italian government. Notwithstanding this, they still had the right to use their previous house into EVA. Meanwhile, the CRP President’s best friend lived in Pescara, a coastal city far from Pescomaggiore and not affected by the earthquake. The election of the new Misa board further imposed a technocratic labor organization on EVA. Instead of fostering discussion and confrontation among ecovillagers, the Misa board organized everyday activities within EVA mainly via e-mail, through online documents to be appropriately filled and formatted, and deadlines to be met. In addition, the Misa board did no attempts to openly discuss one of the most urgent topics for the ecovillagers, that was, ensuring a long-term housing solution for all of them.
Overall, the election of the new Misa board compromised definitively EVA’s decision-making process, reducing further any real participation from the ecovillagers. On May 12, 2013, after an exhausting and conflictual meeting chaired by a free-lance facilitator, the ecovillagers decided to organize a series of internal meetings to discuss strategies for re-establishing a common and shared decision-making process within EVA. However, these planned meetings never took place because of the sabotage of the members of the Misa board.
The end of formal emergency in L’Aquila
On September 1, 2012, the state of emergency that was declared after the earthquake formally finished in L’Aquila. Normal bureaucracy and regulations, including those related to urban planning, were re-established. EVA should have therefore been aligned with urban planning regulations by the City Council of L’Aquila. Toward this goal, a meeting took place on July 18, 2013 where the CRP President explained to the ecovillagers all the procedures to be followed. This meeting was also important for other reasons. For the first time, the budgeting of EVA (even though partial) was also openly presented. Additionally, it was stated that construction activities into EVA ended on August 13, 2012 (day of the fire); however, such statement neglected all the ongoing or scheduled work (e.g. the completion of the last house, or work into the agricultural fields). Meanwhile, it was decided unilaterally that only the CRP President could access the CRP’s bank account. On July 24th, the CRP President released a further document, again with no consultation of other ecovillagers. The document was called “12 shared points” and introduced some changes to the status of ecovillagers in respect of the EVA houses. This document defined EVA as a bene comune (common good) of Pescomaggiore, to be regulated by the CRP. The ecovillagers would have been just fruitori (users). The distinction between first beneficiaries and users lies in the fact that while beneficiaries are people who are recognized to enjoy a good or a right, while the users are those who merely use a good, in this case occupying a place in the house. This is how Tomassi (2019) described the consequences of self-institutionalization:
A new management had established itself, with all those beautiful English words that they like so much to please the powerful. […] [T]his took away the legitimacy of the assembly, chaotic but in which all the people in transit could also speak, precisely because it was believed that their point of view had a value. […] We found ourselves in the absurd situation of once again demanding “participation” as if we were addressing the government institutions we had deserted by self-building our homes and our future. Where until the day before we were protagonists, now we were only “usurpers of a common good”.[…].
Phase 5: the death of EVA and the ideology of the earthquake as an opportunity
On July 31, 2013, the CRP President noticed ecovillagers to accept his new conditions or alternatively to leave EVA. On August 4th, the CRP President sent to the inhabitants of Pescomaggiore and to the members of the CRP an Information Note summarizing the activities conducted within EVA. This Information Note underlined the commitment by the CRP in all the activities conducted in EVA, while minimized the role played by ecovillagers both in EVA and Pescomaggiore. The Information Note changed (again) the status of ecovillagers from users to occupanti temporanei (temporary occupants) and invited them to a meeting to be held on August 7th.
In the early days of August 2013, the Misa board published the technical document “Rough estimate for the closure of the building site and urban planning regulations.” It stated that the survival of EVA would depend on the alignment with the planning regulations by the City Council of L’Aquila. To do so, the ecovillagers must pay further money for retrofitting EVA houses and associated costs. However, even after covering these further costs, the ecovillagers would still be left without any guarantee about their future housing situation. For the ecovillagers, this sounded like an unacceptable ultimatum which generated further mistrust and frustration.
On August 7th, the scheduled meeting was held in the square of Pescomaggiore. It was a public meeting, and also several Pescolani took part. The meeting focused on the housing situation in EVA, but suddenly turned into a sort of indictment for ecovillagers. The CRP publicly accused ecovillagers of not accepting the conditions proposed by the CRP about the decision-making process within EVA and the use of the houses. On August 20th, the CRP released another document named “Eviction for the release of housing units.” It stated that ecovillagers were not entitled to stay into EVA houses anymore. Since then, the CRP threatened two times the interruption of power and water supply. The CRP President stated that he wanted to compensate ecovillagers for leaving the house, without specifying the amount. The compensation hypothesis however was never discussed with the ecovillagers, and alternative options were also not evaluated.
On September 28th, the CRP President released another document named “Novation transaction act.” The document defined the ecovillagers as occupanti sine titulo (no entitled to live in EVA) and proposed a monthly fee of 354 Euros per person to the ecovillagers to complete construction works into EVA and to align to City Council’s planning regulation. Misa would have been in charge of drawing a proposal for the future use of EVA. Such proposal was supposed to be “participative”, but once again it was meant to be prepared with no contribution by the ecovillagers.
On October 2, 2013, the Misa President sent an e-mail asking for an assembly to repeal Misa. This e-mail represented, once again, an attempt by the Misa board to discredit the ecovillagers. Indeed, in this e-mail the Misa board accused the ecovillagers of exacerbating conflicts into EVA through “various and significant irregularities” in managing the Misa’s bank accounts. On October 21, 2013, the Misa President convened a meeting to define a new participatory strategy of EVA. However, this strategy was meant to set the future use of EVA as a market opportunity. EVA was not conceived anymore as an ecovillage based on community building and decision making, but as a leisure space for tourists, to be managed by both Misa and CRP.
In November 2013, the ecovillagers organized a meeting with their lawyers to discuss with a surveyor the question of the land ownership, together with the CRP President, his lawyer and the Misa President. The meeting ended up in a further threat of expulsion from EVA for the ecovillagers. Four ecovillagers realized that a solution would never be found, and on April 6, 2014, after the commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, left EVA definitively. De facto, this marked the death of the EVA experience, as Tomassi (2019) reported:
In the spring we had a good feast of life, on April 6th, and then we left to emigrate to France, where I still am now. I had found a house, a large extended family, a future where even today to imagine one seems impossible and I was forced to leave.
Discussion and conclusions
Through a self-ethnography, the paper presented and discussed in a narrative form the main events occurring from the birth to the death of EVA, an ecovillage built in Pescomaggiore, near L’Aquila, after the April 2009 earthquake. The paper showed that EVA was an attempt to establish common self-building practices and promote self-sustainable agriculture to cope with housing need and material everyday constraints. The practice of self-building as performed into EVA had a strong relational potential, including self-empowerment, in-depth participation into the reconstruction project, and a limited dependence from money that gave more value to manual work and investment of personal time for community purpose. During the process of self-construction, the whole EVA became the result of the community’s own work, intelligence, commitment, as well as ethical and environmental values à la Sloterdijk (2014, 2016).
Since its first phases, conflicts emerged into EVA among ecovillagers, CRP and Misa around what to do, how to do it and what sort of future EVA should expect. The idea and values behind community building within EVA were indeed progressively challenged by requests of some of its members to comply with bureaucracy and engaging with managerial organization forms, leading toward a final vertical self-institutionalization of an autonomous and spontaneous initiative such as EVA. Issues also emerged into decision making with an ambiguous role played by some ecovillagers toward the others. Little by little, personal interests overtook the communal ones. Bureaucracy was employed as a mean to inhibit community practice and to replace little by little community goals with individual ones. Subtly, community relationships were used as an opportunity to make personal profits from some aspects of the life in EVA. Therefore, the EVA experience demonstrates that sharing needs and common efforts are necessary but not sufficient conditions for building a post-disaster community. In this way, claiming that EVA represented a window of opportunity to create a resilient community after the disaster (Fois and Forino, 2014) is questionable. Indeed, EVA experience seems to represent an opportunity for few people to use the disaster for personal purposes.
Ideally, to avoid this situation, before starting the EVA construction ecovillagers should have spent more time to commonly decide roles and organization within EVA, to openly talk about ownership rights, as well as to stat since the beginning a discussion about a shared vision of EVA and in the medium and long term. Meanwhile, when it was realized that a complex governance system was going to be established into EVA, ecovillagers should have found ways to resist such governance and dismantle attempts of prioritizing individual goals over the collective ones by building more trustful relations with each other. This does not mean that ecovillagers did not try to create trustful occasions for discussion, to promote collective actions or to consult experts such as lawyers and technicians for a better understanding and clarification of bureaucracy constraints. However, ecovillagers prioritized housing need at that time, leaving slightly behind issues that at that time were not considered as crucial but at the end they became fundamental for the survival of EVA. Nevertheless, these are reflections in retrospect that cannot trivialize contextual issues into the individual and collective life into EVA.
In conclusion, the paper opens new space for future investigations on ecovillages in post-disaster areas. In particular, it offers to scholars a background for analyzing the evolution and dynamics occurring into ecovillages and more in general into communities which are spontaneously and autonomously born in a post-disaster context.
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Misa was a young woman who centuries ago was killed in Pescomaggiore under the accusation of witchcraft. The association was named Misa to recall a local symbol of self-determination and free thought.
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The Authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers and Dr Viola Sarnelli for their kind comments to the paper.