On the southeastern coast of India is a town whose aerial profile mimics the graceful spiral of a galaxy, and whose inhabitants strive to live in balance with nature and each other. Auroville, the “city of dawn,” was created in 1968 to be a physical embodiment of the principles of unity and harmony. It began as an idea of two spiritual leaders, Sri Aurobindo and a woman known as “the Mother,” and has grown to be a model city for harmonious and environmentally sustainable living.
The residents of Auroville see their town as a city for the future, an example of how communities can change their destructive ways and begin to live sustainably. One of Auroville's most successful projects has been reforestation. Hundreds of years ago forests covered the area, but when the first Auroville residents arrived, they were faced with a parched and barren landscape. Deforestation, floods, and winds had made the land unsuitable for farming. Beginning small, the residents dug wells, then began to water and plant the area. They put in nitrogen-fixing hedges, built up the soil using biomass to make compost and mulch. To contain the monsoon rains that washed away topsoil, the residents constructed comprehensive earth-banks, known as bunds, along with small check dams. These water-collecting technologies held water until it was needed in the dry season for irrigation and allowed the water to percolate down to the water table, replenishing underground aquifers.
The concerted efforts of the residents have paid off and today over 2 million forest trees, hedge trees, fruit, and fuel wood trees have been planted in Auroville. The trees have restored the land for productive agriculture by preventing soil erosion and returning necessary nutrients into the earth. Residents have also begun to use plants in recycling their wastewater. In order to meet the city's water needs without overexploiting underground water sources, they have developed horizontal planted filters through which their wastewater is recycled for reuse. Fifteen hundred people, drawn from all over the world, now live and prosper on land that once provided meager subsistence at best.
Rachel Milanez is an intern at YES!
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