Atamai Village: An experiment in sustainable living

Where: Motueka, South Island, New Zealand

When: We spoke on the phone on 9th January. Atamai itself got started in 2006 after a group of people in Nelson began considering the changes needed in society to deal with peak oil, climate change, and resilience to environmental challenges.

Who: I spoke to Jack, one of the members of the community, a Canadian who moved over to NZ with his wife when they were in their 60s, who had the same idea as the founders of the Atamai village. They joined the project a year after it began. One of their sons has also moved here; their other two sons and grandchildren are still in Canada at present. There are currently 40 people in the community. Eventually (within the next 10 years) there will be 200.

What: Atamai is based upon a sustainable village model, comprising of common land and individual holdings, a village economy (i.e. where members of the community provide basic goods and services for each other), permaculture principles and a social structure based on consensus decision making.

Why: The initiative is about creating a resilient community which can cope with the challenges of energy descent/peak oil, climate change, economic collapse, food insecurity etc and to be connected to the land and those living around you.

Impacts/successes: They have already achieved food security within the community (excluding items like chocolate and coffee) with their farm. Much of the bureaucracy is behind them and they are just about to establish a partnership with an eco-builder to sell land and home packages as well as plots for people to build their own homes.

Future plans: Within the next 10 years, Atamai is expected to be home to 200 people, with properties to rent and buy. It will also have a Bio-Regional Institute for research and education which looks at all aspects of resilient communities. This will provide inspiration to others as well as contribute significantly to the establishment of future communities.

Further info:

Personal reflections: It is great to hear of the development of this community, as well as the honesty of some of their struggles and the opposition they have faced from just one or two people (despite widespread support in the surrounding area at large). They have had a number of exchanges with other ecovillages to share experiences and learn from each other. I really hope to be able to visit the community properly at some stage to see it for real!

Update – 22nd Feb 2015:

I managed to pay a visit to Atamai at last! I met with Patsy, the convenor (chairperson) of Atamai Village Council, and her partner Carla. It was good to see how the village is taking shape. It is in such a gorgeous setting! Here are a few more tidbits of info to add to the profile above:

– there are fortnightly meetings of the council, using a modified consensus decision making model (which means having a clear process for dealing with blockers should the need arise), cards for displaying in meetings, and the online tool Lumio

– there are a small set of covenants that people buying a plot must adhere to but there is no particular vetting process otherwise – it is a diverse community in terms of age, profession, beliefs etc. The guidelines include agreeing to an eco-friendly building code, using no chemicals on the land, and consensus decision making and conflict resolution for community-wide processes

– The village holds open days, and they run a winter solstice and summer festival each year. They are currently focused on providing more affordable homes as part of the village, and on attracting more young people to join the community

– Patsy has a few nuggets of advice for anyone involved in creating an eco-village: 1) to contact as many existing communities as possible (e.g. through the Fellowship for Intentional Communities and the Global Eco-Village Network) to ask what didn’t work, what lessons they have learnt and what the stumbling blocks were, 2) to identify what kind of culture they want to harness within the community, and 3) establishing what peoples’ roles are with transparency in decision-making


Visiting Atamai is a great way to see how concepts often only talked about are being put into action.

2 thoughts on “Atamai

  1. 10 years and only $10 million in debt to destroy a pristine hillside and stiff local folk. All of the principals are foreigners to boot. Sadly NZ can be a destination for hippies with money. Their presence is rarely a benefit to the communities they squat in. In this case they will cost the Nelson community quite dearly. $10 million is only the beginning.

    I wonder if the soap box the Santa Barbaras, the Heisseners and others stood on will be included in the liquidation. Their long noses cast quite a shadow on us common folk from the rarified atmosphere they presumed to preach to us from. “Resilient and sustainable,” huh? Just look at them now.

    These 1%ers (yes, the Santa Barbaras obscenely wealthy) could pay off the debts easily enough. They are choosing not to. As with most moneyed folk, they’ve insulated themselves through multiple layers of paperwork carefully crafted by solicitors so as to avoid any financial liability. The ironic part is that they’ve stiffed those solicitors as well. As for you tradesmen, laborers and hardwokers of Nelson that are being stiffed, all they can muster is to say they “feel bad.”

    All of this by the way as they continue to post cheerful updates to their Facebook page and offers to sell property. A sucker is born every minute, right?

    I,for one, think they should return to where they came from. Kiwis shouldn’t have to pay for their hobbies. However you want to frame this, the simple fact remains: common folks are having to pick up the tab for some rich idealogues’ adventurism.

    Shame, shame, shame.

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