Dutch “tiny house” experiments in building sustainable, just communities (CfF session #23)

Connecting Communities of Practice to create Sustainable and Just Communities

The 23rd #CFFsession happened on 26th April 2023 and was co-hosted with the UrbanCommunity for Sustainable and Just Cities project (UrbanA), as one of their #CommunityConversation events. 13 people participated in the hour long session. The guest speaker was Mieke Elzenga from LiberTerra Geestmerambacht / Liberta Care Foundation, who is also a current co-president of ECOLISE. The event seeks to further connect 2 Communities of Practice: “UrbanCommunity for Sustainable and Just Cities” on LinkedIn, and ECOLISE’s “Communities for Future, European Day of Sustainable Communities Group” on Facebook.

Following a brief introduction, the group watched a short 13 minute video Mieke made of her tiny house project in Geestmerambacht in the Netherlands. This was followed by a lively half hour conversation.

Mieke talked about LiberTerra’s experiments in community building in the Geestmerambacht nature reserve in Koedijk and previous work supporting young refugees in The Netherlands and Dutch youngsters involved in criminality with time-out projects. A key takeaway from Mieke’s presentation is the power of asking the local council “What do you need?”

Mieke’s “LiberTerra tour”

CfF Session #23

Video of the full event. At 6,33 the group watched Mieke’s film from her home and community in Geestmerambacht.

After the group watched Mieke’s video, Mieke responded to the following 8 questions. The first 3 questions were from the event facilitator Duncan Crowley, who works with both ECOLISE and UrbanCommunity. Then 5 questions came from the audience.

  1. Duncan Crowley: What sort of vision do you have for the future of your area, at the different scales?
  2. Duncan Crowley: In UrbanA, we’re very much focused on sustainability, but also the socially just side of things. What have been some of the key learning that your project has found in regard to social justice and the integration of diverse groups in your work?
  3. Duncan Crowley: Much of the UrbanA project has focused on how to get the top level of municipalities, mayors and governments, at all the different scales, to listen to people below, on the ground and working in communities. In your project, you talk about the fact that you are able to just go to the municipality and ask them what do they need, and that led to the project getting formed. So can you just tell us a little bit more about that journey?
  4. R.C: I am really interested about the people that live in your homes. I’m wondering who the other residents are, how you found them, did you go together as a group. I’d love to know who lives there and how you organize that?
  5. N.S: I was wondering if you ran into any problems with the municipality, were there challenges when dealing with Dutch land use regulations.
  6. F.S: How do you go about setting up all the entrepreneurial offshoots that have come out of your project?
  7. C.H: We are based in Germany, currently thinking about building an Eco village on an area that’s currently not building land, and we’re trying to get the city to allow us to build tiny houses there. It’s 1.4 hectares, and we think it’s stupid that it’s just lying there empty, and not being used in the middle of a residential area. Would you say that it’s possible to convince the city or municipality to allow us to put it there? What tips can you give us?
  8. M.T: Could you talk about the the land ownership model that you’re using. Do you actually own the land, or are you leasing it, or something like that? Did you also mention something about deep democracy?

Background about LiberTerra and Mieke Elzenga

LiberTerra is a non-profit organization that focuses on community building and social integration. One of their most notable projects is their work in the Geestmerambacht nature reserve in Koedijk, where they have been experimenting with community-building techniques. They have also been working with young refugees in the Netherlands, as well as Dutch youth involved in criminal activities.

Mieke Elzenga has been a Social Entrepreneur since 1982 in the Netherlands and Czech Republic. She has worked in several organizations for Welfare and Healthcare in operation, staff, and management. She likes to create new services and products that supports people to be active in the regeneration of our planet and in personal development. With her organization Liberta Care Foundation (NL) she supported Dutch youngsters involved in criminality, with time-out projects. Later collaborating with young refugees in NL. She is the founder of LiberTerra; an integral concept of ‘eco-communities which supports authorities by issues like climate change and biobased building’. She is currently part of ECOLISE Council and one of its two co-presidents.

About the UrbanCommunity for Sustainable and Just Cities project

This is the 2nd stage of the UrbanA project, an academic project ECOLISE and some of its partners led from 2019 till 2021. There is an associated Community of Practice space on LinkedIn to assist people learn more about creating Sustainable and Just Cities. The list of earlier Community Converstations (2019-2021) is on the wiki / Knowledge Commons.

NOTE : A slightly modified version of this report was shared for the UrbanCommunity here.

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