Detailed Story

Updated: Thursday, 14 May 2009

Lynedoch EcoVillage Development

The Lynedoch EcoVillage is the first ecologically designed socially mixed intentional community in South Africa. It is located in Stellenbosch, a University town 30 minutes drive inland from Cape Town. What used to be a huge ugly corrugated iron shed built for white Stellenbosch student raves, has been renovated to accommodate the Lynedoch Primary School (up to Grade 9) for 475 children from farm worker families, a large all-purpose hall, and the offices and classrooms of the Sustainability Institute. There is also a Montessori-based pre-school which, like the primary school, is attended mainly by the children from families who live on the surrounding farms. Although Lynedoch Primary is a government school, the pre-school is a non-government community school. In addition, a R4 million infrastructure programme was completed in June 2004 that provides the ecologically designed infrastructure (water, roads, sanitation, electricity and telecommunications) for Phase 1 of the housing development.

Vision and Goals

The development of the Lynedoch EcoVillage is managed by a non-profit company called the Lynedoch Development Company (LDC).  The Board comprises a mixed group of local community leaders and professionals

Set up in 2000, this Board was energized by the possibility of building an inclusive living and learning community that would demonstrate in practice what it means to live in sustainable ways. This Board, however, was never able to raise the resources required to cover the full costs of the innovation and social facilitation processes that were needed to close the gap between vision and implementation. This is a gap that often results in visionary and/or innovative projects remaining stillborn. This gap was filled by the Sustainability Institute (a non-profit Trust based at Lynedoch)4, which worked in partnership (from 2002) with the School of Public Management and Planning (SOPMP) at the University of Stellenbosch. The Sustainability Institute effectively acts as the animator of the design innovation, institutionalization and community building processes. This NGO-University alliance was able to mobilize intellectual capital, research networks and a sense of vision-in-practice that made the project credible in the eyes of the providers of senior debt (the Development Bank), local bankers (Nedbank), local authorities, and most importantly of all the buyers of the properties.

Inspired by this commitment, three goals were formulated in 2000 to guide the various aspects of the planning and implementation of the project. The original goals that were set were that the Lynedoch EcoVillage: it must be a mixed community organized around a child-centred learning precinct; should strive to be a working example of a liveable ecologically designed urban system; will be a financially and economically viable community that will not require external funding to sustain itself.

Above all else, the Board of the LDC were determined that the Lynedoch EcoVillage must provide a safe space where South Africans from all backgrounds can live in peace with each other and in harmony with nature. It must also, they believed, be a place where people from all over the world can come and share in the life of the community while they learn, think, and create works of art and knowledge that will contribute to the making of a better world. It must, in other words, be a place where all life is celebrated and beauty in all its forms treasured for this and future generations.

The key features of the Lynedoch EcoVillage are as follows:

  • a primary school for 475 children drawn mainly from the families of local farmworkers (completed December 2001);
  • a pre-school for 40 children (completed in February 2002);
  • a large multi-purpose hall (completed in December 2001);
  • offices and classrooms for the Sustainability Institute (completed in December 2001);
  • conversion of the old Drie Gewels Hotel and existing residential house into 25 residences that will provide accommodation for participants in the programmes of the Sustainability Institute, as well as a conference venue for general use;
  • 45 new residential sites in Phase 1, with 15 earmarked for purchase at a price of R20 000 by people who qualify for a government housing subsidy, with the remainder sold at a commercial rate ranging from R90 000 to R275 000 per erf, and that this has been done by means of an urban design layout that does not spatially separate the subsidy erven from the commercially priced erven;
  • commercial space for offices or small manufacturers and crafters;
  • a village green and landscaped areas laid out in accordance with permaculture principles;
  • a limited traffic and secure environment for children and pedestrians.

The nature and extent of Phase 2 of the development will be determined during an extended negotiation process between the LDC and the Lynedoch Home Owners Association (LHOA) which is also a Section 21 Company. It is compulsory for every property owner to be a member of the LHOA. This means that after the sites were transferred to the property owners in July 2004, the LHOA had 35 members plus the LDC. These LHOA members will now become involved in the participatory planning process that will determine the nature and extent of Phase 2.

History and Background

The initial land purchase (which took place in 1999) for R3 million bought a 6 hectare property with the following structures (US$1 = 6 South African Rand) : the old historic country hotel in dilapidated condition and barely functional - 717 square metres; three family-sized residential houses in varying degrees of disrepair; a large domineering dance hall-cum-restaurant (referred to as the Main Building) - 4023 square meters; a small brick shed (currently used as a crèche) - 50 square meters; approximately thirty prefabricated units of about ten square metres each that previously served as guest rooms and needed to be demolished immediately.

Funding for the development was secured from international and local development aid funders, plus commercial debt from local private and state-owned banks.

Phase 1: the Housing Development

Phase 1 consists of 45 approved erven. Of these, a 1488 m2 erf on which the renovated Guest House is located was not sold because this structure will be retained as an income generating asset for the benefit of the community. Except for two subsidy sites that were held in reserve in case of budget over-runs, the remainder of the sites were all sold with no costs incurred for marketing, and no estate agents used. Due to the fact that some buyers bought double stands, the end result will be 19 units on commercially priced sites (of which 2 already exist), 15 units on subsidy sites, the Guest House, plus an existing house on a 979 m2  that will be purchased by the Sustainability Institute as an extension of the Guest House facility (providing 7 additional rooms). If the 4 erven with existing buildings are excluded, the average size of the plots is 177 square metres in a range that spans 90 square metres (1 erf), the majority are in the 120 to 160 square metre range, with a few large sites of between 200 and 300 square metres.

All buyers purchased erven in accordance with Deeds of Sale that defined the purchaser as the party responsible for building the house after transfer. In terms of the the Deed of Sale, not only did the purchasers automatically become members of the LHOA, they also made a commitment to build in accordance with the Architectural Guidelines that form an integral part of the Constitution of the LHOA.

Phase 1 was funded with a R3 million loan from the state-owned Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA). This was provided at a 10.4% fixed interest rate repayable over five years, with all interest and capital repayment deferred for the first 12 months. The final unaudited financial results for Phase 1 of the development (as at June 2004) were as follows:

Total revenue from sales:                                        R5 575 000
Land cost:                                                              R1 628 459
Cost of Phase 1 infrastructure (incl professional fees)  R2 353 091
Interest                                                                 R   527 9046
Retirement of short-term debt                                  R   840 000
Result                                                                   R   225 547
Value of retained asset (Hotel)                                 R1 200 000
Value of remainder of the land                                 R6 000 0007

As is normal in most multi-phase developments, the first phase is less profitable than the second phase because the second can benefit from getting connected to the main infrastructure created in the first phase.

As already mentioned, technical and institutional arrangements and procedures for this development were structured to meet the three strategic aims of sustainable development, namely ecological, social and economic sustainability. Besides a general value-commitment to ecological sustainability, the LEVD has always proceeded on the assumption that ecological design must make financial sense and that this was particularly important for the low-income households. A twenty year perspective was adopted and the following general assumptions were made from the start:8 the cost of potable water, bulk sewerage treatment, grid energy, and solid waste removal will rise faster than the average rate of inflation. If suburban sprawl driven by large erven remains the norm, unsustainable low density settlements will be the result which, in turn, will cause the destruction of agricultural land, increase infrastructure and transport costs, and force up land prices in a way that will have an exclusionary effect on the urban poor.

Based on this scenario, it made sense to focus on reducing water consumption in each house by 40%, treating all waste water (black and grey water streams) on site and re-using the treated water, reducing household energy consumption by 60%, eliminating the need for solid waste removal from the site, raising densities by shrinking the average size of erven in a way that does not discriminate between rich and poor, and maximizing the economic benefits of a socially mixed development.

Ecological Sustainability

The following system has been constructed:

Water and stormwater:

Dual water supply: Potable water to be supplied direct to each unit from main municipal water line with one meter for the whole development (including a free water allocation equal to 6000 litres multiplied by the number connected to the system); Recycled water supply to each household to be used for toilet flushing (which will reduce potable water consumption by at least 40% per house) and irrigation (which will reduce potable water consumption in richer households by up to 60%); Two water meters per household, one for potable water and the other for recycled water, with readings taken by the LHOA to generate one invoice per household with two line items – fee for potable water used that the LHOA must then pay on to the municipality, and a fee for recycled water that goes towards the operation and maintenance of the on-site water recycling system (described in greater detail below).
Water saving devices: taps, shower heads as well as dual flush toilet systems;
Stormwater run-off: water from ground and roof areas will be conveyed in open channels and pipes into a dam located at the bottom of the site;
Rainwater harvesting: optional for each household, although strongly encouraged;
Savings: low-income households will save 90% of their normal monthly water bill and middle-income households around 70%.

For a detailed analysis of the water and sanitation system, click here.

Household effluent:

Grey and black effluent from households passes through septic tanks (one per two or three erven) where the main solids are deposited, proceeds on to a Vertically Integrated Constructed Wetland at the bottom of the site where treatment is aerobic on top of the Wetland (which is where the effluent enters) and anaerobic at the bottom as the effluent sinks down, after which it goes into a dam, from where it gets pumped into storage tanks at the top of the site for onward transmission into the households for toilet flushing and irrigation;
Biolytix system: the grey and black effluent from the Guest House and Main Building is channelled directly into a Biolytic Filter which is an engineered micro-ecology consisting of a peat filter inoculated with earth worms which effectively deals with the solids in an aerobic environment which results in treated water that has retained the primary nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) for re-use as a natural organic fertilizer for developing a nursery or irrigating orchards;
Bulk capacity: by treating all black and grey water on site, the Lynedoch EcoVillage will never need to face the burden of capital costs for bulk sanitation or operating costs for such a service (normally indirectly via rates).
Biogas: three buyers have collaborated to build a biogas digester to replace the septic tank – the methane gas produced will fire the kitchen stoves.


Grid: electricity reticulated for each house from the grid;
Solar water heaters for each house thus saving 60% of normal energy costs;
Gas stoves:  no electric stoves will be permitted;
North-South orientation to ensure effective space heating and cooling, together with roof overhands, proper insulation, thermal and geo-thermal mass systems;
Low energy lighting is required, namely Compact Fluorescents Lights (CFLs) or Low Energy Diodes (LEDs) – this translates into 11 KWs for CFLs or 2 KWs for LEDs;
Street lights will be LEDs powered by solar panels, i.e. once off capital cost;
Savings on electrical cabling infrastructure by removing electrical geysers and stoves;
Mixed system for on-site energy generation for feeding back into the grid using solar, wind, and hydro systems, plus possibly a hydrogen storage system coupled to a fuel cell that could be used for peak lopping and/or ensuring a steady feed into the grid. This could be financed using the new Tradeable Renewable Energy Credit (TREC) system.


Municipal refuse collection will be entirely managed by HOA;all members required to separate their refuse into five separate containers (paper, cans, glass, plastic and organic waste); HOA responsible for collection of separated refuse and selling to recyclers – this will be a small business operated by an entrepreneur; composting depot will be used to process organic waste for use in the community gardens. It should be possible to ensure that 95% of the solid waste is either sold to recyclers or retained on site for productive re-use which means that at most 5% will reach the landfill site.
Roads: internal roads are gravel wearing course surface; no kerbs are provided to complement the natural character of the development and reduce costs.


Five pre-designed housing types have been worked out which will range from single residential dwellings to semi-detached houses and terrace housing. Purchasers will be able to generate their own designs in accordance with the Architectural Guidelines. A significant number of the subsidy buyers cannot afford a contractor which means at least ten of the subsidy houses will be self-built by the residents, while a number of the non-subsidy buyers would also like to build their own homes. Main building material will be an Adobe brick (clay and straw) or a compressed cement-soil brick (5% cement content). A community-based sustainably managed forest harvesting project in Mozambique has agreed to supply hardwoods for the manufacture of windows and door frames in order to prevent the use the Meranti which is the most widely used hard wood in the Western Cape but which is imported from unsustainable forests in Indonesia and Brazil – however, aluminium has already been used in the development because although it has a high embodied energy content, it is maintenance free, insulates well, does not need to be painted and is very durable. All finishes to be motivated in accordance with the Architectural Guidelines, i.e. paints, wood treatments, fixtures, etc. Application of permaculture principles to the connection between the natural landscape and the buildings.

Social Sustainability

There are two aspects to the social sustainability of the Lynedoch EcoVillage Development. The first relates to governance and the second to the complexities of ensuring a proper social mix.


The Lynedoch Development Company has acted as the developer. This means that it applied for the development rights, raised the funding, and managed the infrastructure construction and community building aspects of the development.

When the local authorities approved the development, this approval was granted on condition that a “Home Owners Association” is established to take primary responsibility for service delivery. As already mentioned the Lynedoch Home Owners Association (LHOA) was constituted as a Section 21 Company with a detailed Memorandum of Association, Articles of Association and several Appendices, one of which is the Code of Conduct that governs daily living in the Village. All property owners, including the Lynedoch Development Company, are members of the LHOA. The most important document is the Code of Conduct which defines the way the community would like to live on a daily basis.

Achieving the social mix

Over the course of nearly a year of participatory planning with the prospective subsidy buyers, it became clear that they would all in one way or another face the following problem: refusal of banks to grant them loans. Faced with these challenges, it initially appeared as if the social mix objective would be compromised. However, cutting a very long story short, the participatory planning process has resulted in an innotive sale system whereby the buyers have possession and occupation rights, but ownership is achieved after the house has been paid. In addition to this enabling legal and financial arrangement, the subsidy sites were not grouped together in one place. Instead, both the subsidy and non-subsidy buyers were invited to choose their plots..

Notwithstanding any of the above, it is clear that the most vital aspect of the social sustainability of the Lynedoch Development is the centrality of children in both the spatial structure of the development process, and in the social dynamic that characterizes daily life.

Economic Sustainability for Urban Development

The most destructive consequence of apartheid is that richer communities can survive within enclosed local economies that do not need the poor, but the reverse is not true.  There are, quite simply, insufficient resources within poor communities for poor households to be able to survive within these communities without commuting out into the rich communities to work, beg or steal. The Lynedoch Development has overcome this problem in various ways.

Firstly, unlike poor households who buy land in marginal poverty-stricken areas, the assets that the buyers of subsidy sites in Lynedoch are worth a lot of money. A R20 000 plot in a marginal ghetto probably has a market value of less than R20 000 and there are many cases of families getting their serviced plots and reselling almost immediately for sub-market rates. In the Lynedoch Development, a plot bought for R20 000 is worth at least R100 000 on the open market.

The challenge, of course, is to make sure that the intended beneficiaries remain the beneficiaries. The Constitution of the LHOA imposes on all home owners severe restrictions on resale by making it compulsory that any seller of any property must first offer the property to the LHOA and only then offer it to a third party at a price that is not lower than the price proposed to the LHOA. This, plus a provision that allows the LHOA to approve or disapprove of a potential buyer, will allow the LHOA to ensure that the membership of the community remains committed to the vision and values of the EcoVillage. It is via this mechanism that it is possible to make sure that the sale of a subsidy site is treated in one of two ways. Either it is sold to someone else who has qualified for a housing subsidy and can take over the financial obligations from the seller, or the buyer is prepared to pay a commercial market rate that will generate considerable profits for the seller. In the latter case, the Constitution of the LHOA will require that an amount of at least R20 000 (plus inflation) is contributed to the LHOA out of this transaction for the LHOA to use for re-investment in social housing stock. In this way the total stock of social housing does not get eroded, and the sellers can realize a profit on their investment if they want to sell and move elsewhere.

The LDC has worked closely with the Sustainability Institute to assist with the establishment of a Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) at Lynedoch. This is essentially a non-profit community bank that provides non-secured loans to poor people based on their savings record.

Finally, it needs to be noted that the Lynedoch EcoVillage Development is connected to a land reform project led by farmers from historically disadvantage backgrounds. This project aims to supply food directly to the Lynedoch EcoVillage members, thus by-passing the intermediaries in the food chain, namely the packhouse operators who normally buy from the farmers at ridiculously low prices, and the supermarkets who require such perfectly defined product that wastage levels are extremely and unnecessarily high and this is purely because the supermarkets have failed to educate their consumers into understanding that nature’s products cannot always be perfect.

Implications of the Lynedoch Case for Urban Policy and Strategy

In summary form, there are three key lessons to be learnt from the Lynedoch case that contradict common widely held assumptions about urban development in South Africa:

  • ecologically designed urban systems and built forms can save households money and they can reduce the operating costs of municipal infrastructures (in particular the infrastructures required to deliver water, sanitation, solid waste removal and energy);
  • it is possible to develop child-centered socially mixed communities, and in particular this can best be done if Municipalities impose via zoning conditions a requirement that all proposed property developments must provide equally for low- and middle/higher-income households;
  • if spatial integration of low- and high-income households takes place, it becomes possible to create all sorts of markets that incorporate rather than exclude the urban poor – in particular housing markets that promote rather than disrupt community building, financial markets that build relational capital and therefore reinvestment rather than suck resources out of poor areas, and food markets that increase household nutrition levels at lower costs to the end user and higher returns for the farmer.