Yesterday, March 18, 2016, I found myself walking over the limestone and concrete path towards the new village. It was the the official opening of the world’s first open source village in Playa del Carmen (Quintana Roo, Mexico). Phase one started with 12 homes and 34 apartments opening. We were not able to make the expected total of 88 homes that were (97%) sold but we got a long way in with only 12 months passing since the land was bought.
It surprises me how fast it all went. Only 21 months ago, I started writing about how I wanted to work on something more inspiring and within 5-6 months of that, the first people offered participation in these projects. Now, I’m walking here in nature, and by car only 5 minutes from Xcaret and 12 minutes from Playa del Carmen’s Center, and I own a home in the beautiful open source village. Man, what a journey. I would not have guessed that I would be living mortgage free between Cancun and Tulum, where my neighbors are friends, and food is not an issue anymore, and I spend most of my time sharing the learnings of our journey to the open source community on the wiki’s, blogs, video presentations, and some conferences.
It all began with the idea of 100 hectares that were divided in 9 districts, seven of those were assigned to different people with different visions in life, and one will be shortly developed as the “City Center”. The concept was to bring in people from ages 50 to 90 in this environment, and let them pick a home within the 8 districts where prices varied between 40,000 and 120,000 USD. A closed environment like Puerto Aventuras showed respect for nature as they once started out with in Sac-Be (both close to Playa del Carmen (Mexico). The difference was that here in our “village”, we grow our food and make a real effort in building a community. I convinced the owners to open our district up to families with children; that way it would be easier for me to identify myself with their needs, while respecting the service oriented approach they wanted. So we now have 30+ families from all over the world in our village, that seems to be the most advanced in development. The other 7 districts are are, on average, at 15% development at this moment. Most of these districts offer a more free development of houses, while we picked very accessible but standardized homes. Let me share how we filled (or planned to use) “our” 9 hectares.
Open Source Housing
When I moved in in August 2015, as one of the first team members in this project, we have always made a real effort in growing a community. The documentation team, the first collegues of the permaculture group, in addition to the architects, construction team and the volunteers, all wanted to contribute to the first open sources houses we built. The idea of MicroHouse 4 XM that the Open Source Ecology (OSE) project had as as a template did not work out for us, since we had budget constrains, and we wanted to build at a higher speed in a building process that t the local workforce were more familiar with. While I love Marcin Jakubowski’s work on the Global Village Construction Set, it turned out more realistic to use existing local produced brick, with a mix of limestone and cement, since the local workforce could build faster and it was less expensive.
We decided to use cal. Its uses were discovered independently the world over. It is found in food and building materials throughout Mesoamerica, but the Maya are credited for refining the production technique around 900 B.C. This is remarkable in the sense that, to produce cal, the limestone must be heated to temperatures greater than 900° Celsius (1652° Fahrenheit). An important use of cal among the Maya was to make concrete. Simply put, cal is mixed with water and an aggregate such as sand or gravel. When exposed to air, the slaked lime in the mixture reabsorbs carbon dioxide from the air to become hard, durable, calcium carbonate again. In effect, it turns back into limestone. This is the basis for all Mayan construction, in which stone rubble work was cemented together using this material, and then coated with stucco – the same cal mixture using a much finer aggregate.
The benefits of cal as a building material in the tropics are many. It is extremely long lasting (think of the pyramids!), and it has the ability to breathe. Homes built with lime mortars and stucco create a comfortable interior atmosphere; these “hygroscopic” materials stabilize the relative humidity by absorbing and releasing moisture. Further more, cal materials have self-healing capabilities: fine cracks often develop in plaster surfaces, but with cal stucco and paint. Normal water absorption can dissolve the lime; as the water evaporates, this “reconstituted” lime is deposited in the cracks and begins to seal them. And unlike harder cements or vinyl paints, cal materials do not result in trapped moisture, which is known as one of the major causes of building decay in the humid tropics. Finally, we used cal to mix with natural, earthen pigments, creating a durable and tactile paint that we used to mix with three base colors to give the village a uniform look.
We have given back the templates to the OSE and our learnings of passive cooling systems and working in high temperature and high humidity (94%) environments like the tropical zone we live in in Quintana Roo (Mexico). Part of the documentation team is to bring our files and videos of the construction online, and we got a lot online. But we still lack some documentation on the building phases. We would like to share our learning in how we reduced the use or airco systems by 95% using passive cooling with airflow control and solar chimneys. During my first months I already noticed I would not need the airco at all… how cool is that?
Duplicable Open Source Village Center
The new village center we developed based on the One Community Global project turned out to be a great start to the project. When we all arrived, that was the first building, and with 12 rooms for the families, lots of space food cooking, and simple tents indoor, we got most of the construction team and volunteers in the same space. It was a little tense at times with around 140 people, but we are proud of building this first ever Duplicatable Village Center (Open Source) and we hope the documentation of our process helped the acceptance of shared construction insights and drawings. Look below how it turned out below.
The open source village center was modified significantly since some of the systems in place in the original template did not make any sense for our climate, and others were missing. But we uploaded the new templates for this community center that turned out to be a revenue generating start of the project as Open Community Global predicted. We wanted to proof that open source models like this open source village would not automatically mean we are done using money and that we would all turn into hippies. Since we strive for self sufficiency in our village, we should not forget that we are connected to the world and we have lots to give, and we need to exchange with larger national and international companies, that usually don’t accept our honey, goat milk, or vegetables in exchange for a CNC router or airplane ticket (but if you do… email me, here).
Infrastructure, Food and Transportation
We started in march 2015 with the main road, electricity and fiber lines to our village center. The idea was to have to have the documentation team up and running ASAP so when the construction started, we would be there. For this purpose the founding team got us sixteen low environmental impact containers, customized and shipped from China. And with local expertise, we had our core team of 4 families (11 people) on site, and 16 driving in every day, up and running within 8 days for less than 30,000 USD. The brains of the operation were now on site with power and fiber, so we could start the village center construction.
With the start of the team, we immediately invited five companies to open their plant nursery in our location. We offered rent free five-year plots of 500 square meter to each, but having around 10 experts close, we not only had access to additional permaculture expertise, but we also had access to a steady supply of plants and soil (we did not start with our composting company until month eighth of the project) Since we moved in to the finished homes, the mobile homes were setup 2 kilometers further, for the start of another district. We expect the module center to be used for the next eight years in variation development of the project. It’s small but on the other hand, it is a super interesting experiment to live and work with your team on site for this wonderful project.
Home Module Extensions
Now that the first houses in the basic format are done, we can already see that owners want to buy modules that we offer:
- Solar grid-connected roof modules
- Water purification systems for the black-gray water systems that are installed on/in each home.
- Complete home open source furniture set (see examples) made by our own EcoLab team 4000 USD (2 beds, 2 full sizes closets, dining table with 6 chairs (see templates here and here), office desk (see OpenDesk models), 6 person living room set with coffee table (see example) and 6 custom-made wooden lights.
All extensions are purchased from suppliers, and with on-site teams, we install and maintain all modules. All learning in solar, passive cooling, and water filtering systems you can find on our website in the various open source templates. Documentation is a bit behind but we are at 70% of documentation in video and wikis on the modules and we hope to soon share the exact configuration of our EcoLab, where we have several CNC routers and 3D printers setup as a little FabLab, which is always helping us getting the missing pieces of the puzzles ad-hoc to us and their showroom or furniture and lighting. Even open source construction tools can be visited by appointment (they also offer school tours and are open for volunteers and internships).
Getting Around & Food
The infrastructure is simple, we have one main cement and limestone ring around the village where we have a one-way road to drive around the village (patience is a virtue). This was done to have slow moving traffic, and little noise, around the village. Next to all the roads, you will find green decorative separations with rocks and plants, and then you will also find the bike and walking roads. The rings are connected to the parking lots, where each home has two parking spaces, and a pedestrian walkway (that are wheelchair accessible), and a bike-lane that leads to the groups of homes. Cars can’t park directly in front of the home. One single exit to the outer circle from each of the 5 housing circles promotes the safety of each member of the village, and at the same time, allows members to meet each other more often, and actually get to know each other, since you bump into each other quite often. Each home is never more than 100 meters (one block) away from the car park.
The decision to only plant edible plants in the village already created an abundance of food for all members, that we feel we have food and shelter covered. It really changes peoples’ attitude towards sharing. In the year that we have been introducing new members to the community, they would always allow respectful use of all edible plants that were planted outside the food production zones. It’s just so much fun to see neighbours going for a walk with their basket in hand to collect the herbs for that night’s dinner. Since the urge to save things at home disappeared, people really only take what they need and have little fridges.
Every home has around 300 meters of growing space in/on/around the home, so in theory, everyone could have enough produce and vegetables for their own family. The permaculture team now has grown from the initial three people to 36 people, that formed their own coop (templates and legal advice for Mexican coop creation we have on request – will be uploaded soon). These 36 members work full time and already produce enough for the entire village, as well supply enough for a full stand at the farmers market, where we barter and sell the goods.
We started with templates for permaculture from the platform “Highest Good Food” but quickly adapted their setup to deal with the nifty guests (coaties) at night, that robbed a lot of food. Now that the team has figured this out, we have actually been actively collecting food from Playa’s and Paamul’s restaurants and struck a deal with the local government of Solidaridad, and most transportation companies, to offer a free dump of organic material. They have already been processing tons and tons of organic waste and hope, that within 1-2 years, we have enough soil to add an additional two hectares of fertile soil for agriculture. We now (after 12 months) produce enough to complete a variate nutritious and decent calorie dense diet for 75% for 100 adults. We still buy corn, rice, and wheat, since those are not a great fit right now for our terrain (we need better soil). In practice we sell 30% of the food or barter, since our members still love to go shopping in the supermarkets for their familiar treats and snacks.
The village has one outer ring, with a road, walkway and a bike path. On the outside of that ring, we have all food production zones (vegetable beds, food and fruit forests, three chicken zones, with 100 free range chicken each, zones for goats and fish) that are managed by the 36 in the permaculture co-op H&P “Huerto a tu Puerta” and athe team of five composting co-op Cero, who also have lots of space.
On the inside of the outer ring road, you find ,divided in five housing circles (two are ready), one village center (ready), and six enjoyment zones (one ready). The housing zones are Mayan directions:
- Xin Chan
- Hok’ K’in
- Mal Puy 1 & 2
- Ka’h K’in
Each zone has a different setup in housing or apartments. We have 88 homes and apartments scheduled and have the fortune to be sold 97%.
Xin Chan (100% ready)
12 homes in the following groups: 1 (3 bedrooms), 1 (2 bedrooms), 2 (3 bedrooms), 3 (2 bedrooms), 5 (3 bedrooms) with each group having a private salt water or natural pool. Prices ranged from 80K-120K USD.
Hok’ K’in (foundations done)
8 homes (two groups of 4 two bedroom homes with one a salt water pool and the other with a family friendly green garden). Price-range 75K USD (one left)
Mal Puy 1 (not started – 100% sold)
13 homes (3 groups of 3 two bedroom homes with private pool at 75K USD) and 1 group of 4 homes (2 bedroom at 70K USD).
Mal Puy 2 (not started – two left)
21 two bedroom homes with shared community inner gardens at 65K USD.
Ka’h K’in (100% done and sold)
34 two bedroom apartments with community garden facing private balcony and garden access and small back patio (55K USD)
The idea of accessible housing was made possible due to standardized non-custom materials and production of doors, windows, mosquito nets, and kitchens on site. The houses were kept basic with polished concrete, three color sets, local wood with a lifetime of 6-8 years. In addition, all members buy in to the land-coop, that manages all the land rights, and they get stock in that co-op. With current title cost at 8000 USD, and the problems we expected with monthly collection of service fees, this seems to make most economic or organizational sense. Stock can be sold and the house can be sold in any way that the land and house could be sold. But the organization is strict with monthly payments to keep the nine districts and the city center safe, clean, and organized. This allows all buyers to start with the 40K USD up-front payment that is required for each home, and in addition, the monthly payment of 800 USD towards the interest free mortgage offered by the construction company.
The enjoyment zones are six zones offering a variety of activities, steps away from the village center where the school, restaurants, EcoLab, furniture showroom, and local restaurants and shops will be. The six zones are situated around the village center and are designed to be a peaceful buffer between the village center and housing circles that each have their walk and bike paths to get to the center. The enjoyment zones are:
Zone 1: Productivity
The EcoLab production and courses are located here. tThis is almost the largest zone of the six, with the total size of all the five others combined. The computer lab will be developed there with offices for people to work and meet. The co-working spaces, as well as the research and documentation studio, hopefully opens in the next 6-8 months, and it will be a zone where you will find the latest technologies in production and research service. All nine districts incorporates the insights from all members that either work there as volunteers, guides, or paid founders of their companies. Production of our furniture, assembly of our housing modules, as well as the solar and black-water systems, are designed, constructed, and improved there.
Zone 2: Culture
This zone will be dedicated to the Arts & Music. We hope the plans of a public multilingual library that is ran by volunteers will be raising the funds that they need to get started. Workshops in Art and Music will hopefully not take long before they start.
Zone 3: Health
The on-site medical post is located here, and the MD is located here, 8 hours a day. It has been a month and he already is booked solid with people from our village Puerto Aventuras, Paamul, and Playa del Carmen. The different open and closed spaces are used for sports and relaxation. We hope to have a basketball and tennis court, but that depends on the fundraising between the new members of the co-ops that are setting those up.
Zone 4: Permaculture Demo Zone
This zone is setup to show in small the learnings of the permaculture group to visitors and members. Since food zones are not made accessible to members, this zone demonstrates all the learnings we have to share with the world. This is also the location where the teams give workshops and where the nursery is located. It is a wonderful place for the young and old to learn.
Zone 5: Education
Our village will soon offer the foundations of three new schools that will each have the capacity to host up to 300 childre. With a relative proximity of the schools to the houses, and with shared facilities, like the swimming poo, and the basketball and tennis courts, the schools will find themselves relatively close to all other zones, yet separate enough to not be to noisy for theother other living environments.
Zone 6: Botanical Gardens and Energy
Need time to clear the mind? We expect the botanical garden to be ready early 2017, and this zone is 100% funded by the members contribution, and organized by the volunteers. tThis garden will be beautiful, with reconstructions of Mayan buildings found on the site, romantic benches from Valladolid, and beautiful flowers and aromatic healing plants. We have a big field of grass, and our cenote is located here. We are not connected to any religious organization, but if you are looking to find a space to reconnect to nature and yourself, or maybe meditate or do some outdoor yoga or a picnic, then this is your zone.
The outer ring has all the movement of cars, but members don’t need to own a car to move around the place. The 9 districts are connected to our own public transport system, and the bus drives from the educational zone 12x a day, with busses’ routes that allows you to get anywhere you need to go. This is the schedule that start at each whole hour starting at 6am (06:00), with the last bus going at at 5pm (17:00). The bus fees are based on monthly membership and are at a fixed rate of 75 USD per person, a month (children under 12 – half price).
The bus stops are:
- Start Educational Parking Zone
- Stop 1: Highway
- Stop 2: Paamul Beach (Beach Club)
- Stop 3: Xcaret / Instituto Tepeyac Campus Xcaret
- Stop 4: Playa del Carmen – Centro Maya
- Stop 5: Playa del Carmen – ADO Benito Juarez and 5th Avenue
- Stop 6: Playa del Carmen – Avenida 10 – Calle 34
- Stop 7: Playa del Carmen – Avenida Colosio and Avenida 10
- Stop 8: Playa del Carmen – Ak Lu’um International School
- Stop 9: Playa del Carmen – Centro Maya
- Stop 10: Back at the Educational Parking Zone
Am I Day Dreaming?
Now the disclaimer…. I might be dreaming of this place where 100 hectares were bought only 12 minutes from Playa del Carmen, where houses were build with energy saving in mind, where food was produced, and where all that we have learned was shared. But I have been dreaming out loud, and people have already come up to me and they have shared part of their dream with me. And really, they are the people that together, could make this happen, If you are part of of this group of dreamers, please follow my dreams by signing up for the newsletter below. I hope to share soon that some parts of this dream that I dreamed of January 2015 have actually happened, and that you can become a part of it.
Yes this is a completely fictional village, no houses have beensold, but when I dream, I like to dream so real, that when I reread it …. well I realize that it’s not all that far from reality. Is it? Are you inviting me to join, then I’ll invite you to join. Together, we can share and build that dream for ourselves.