Community life for all in Munksøgård

Munksøgård is one of Denmark’s largest communities, with over 160 adults and a ton of children. The community was found more than twenty years ago on the grounds of an old farm. Over time five blocks of houses with each their own communal building have been build and an ecological shop in the old farm forms the heart of the entire village. The community offers both social rental apartments for different life phases and privately owned houses, the community is open to people of many different social backgrounds and life stages. Principles of ecological building can be found in the building materials chosen and sustainability was assured by installing their own small district heating network and waste water treatment system and having many shared facilities. Munksøgård is a beautiful example of how people can live together in a traditional village-like setting. Where neighbours know one another, support each other and share facilities, while having a small ecological footprint. I met up with single mom Fie, who has lived in the community for six and a half years and really couldn’t wish herself a better place to live with her children.

A map of Munksogard community showing the five different blocks. On the left there is the youth block with rental apartments, then a block of privately owned houses, the family block with rental houses, another block with privately owned houses and lastly on the right the senior block, also with rental houses. Every block has its own communal building in which meals are shared three times a week. In the centre of the community lies the original farm, now transformed into a community shop.

Different ownership structures and target groups

Fie lives in the oldest block of the community, which is called the Youth block. It is a block of about twenty rental apartments that are owned by the municipality. As the block is meant for young people, to subscribe for a house here you have to be under 31. Fie says that this has made this the liveliest bloc of the community as with a lot of single people and young families there is always much going on. For her one year old son it is a paradise, as he has a ton of children his age living in the commune and he can go outside almost unattended. For Fie it is a relief that neighbours can easily look after some of her children when she is in need. There are two other blocks with rental homes owned by the municipality in the community, one specifically for families, and one for seniors; applicants for this block have to be over 55. However, remarks Fie, the inhabitants are substantially older now because almost none of the original inhabitants of 20 years ago have left. They love living here so much. The two remaining blocks are privately owned houses, also centred around a communal garden and a communal building in which they also share communal diners just like the other three blocks. Per blocks they hold meetings and decide on the maintenance, but there are also overarching meetings where the entire community decides on their collective facilities. According to Fie, the mix of owned and rental houses and the diversity of life phases really makes Munksøgård a very nice place to live.

A peek into the youth block of Munksogard with their communal building on the right.
Looking from Fie’s kitchen into the communal youth block, with their communal building on the right. Planning all apartments around a central communal gardens enables all inhabitants see what activities are going on and greet their many neighbors.

Benefits of communal life
Fie has to pay a little higher rent then she would have in a standard apartment, but she says it is definitely worth it for all the things you get in return here in the community. In the communal building of their block they have a shared diner three times a week and there is a lot of space for vegetable gardens on the communal ground. She also remarks that the ecological shop in the old farm is the place that really brings everyone from the community together. People meet here while getting there groceries and catch up on small talk. Especially in the summer she says its the place to be, since the store sells locally made, ecological ice-cream on their terrace. One of her other favourite places is the “give and take” shop where everyone brings clothes, shoes, furniture and other things they don’t need anymore, for other people to take. Being a single mom of three, Fie says it is really been a blessing to find all she needs there for free and bring back what she doesn’t need any longer. Other than this, I can see the benefits of having a big playground in the community, many shared bike sheds and even many shared sheds for drying laundry. Sharing this many facilities is not only practical, it also brings a lot of life to the community because people meet each other often. The community also has a shared car plan, with both electric and non-electric cars which can be rented by members of the community. Recently also people from outside the community join in on the car program.

The community shop in the old farm building. They sell regional organic produce and in summer time mostly their popular organic icecream.
A peek inide the shop, the manager recently installed these containers to reduce packaging waste. Community members can bring their own small jars to fill up.


Moving into the community
There is a long waiting list to live in Munksøgård since it is such a big success. Fie explains that it is nowadays actually only possible to get a rental home in the community via the youth block. When there is a room opening in the family or senior blocks, people from within Munksøgård get a priority to move there. And there is almost never a time when no one wants that, she laughs. When there is a room opening in the rental blocks, the entire block has a say in who they pick. Recently they have said no to some aspiring members in the youth block, because they really didn’t seem like a good addition to the community vibe. In the two privately owned blocks, the community does not have a say on who moves in as it is simply the house owner who sells his home on to the next family. But so far, Fie says that the community does attract likeminded people so this is not a big problem.

A look over into one of the two blocks with privately owned houses from the old farm plot.
A closer look into the block.
The communal buiding of the block, using shells as roofing as well as solar boilers. The walls are clay plastered.

Sustainability
The community is heated by one collective pellet wood stove which is maintained by a working group of community members. The heat is distributed to the houses by a small underground grid. The waste water of the entire community is treated on site with a sand filter so they are not connected to the municipal sewage. They even separate the pee and poop to make high quality fertilizer. They had however some issues with this system in the first seven years, and even some legal problems, but now it seems to be working. In Munksøgård they also collect rainwater and have a separate grey water system installed for flushing their toilets and doing laundry. For electricity, they have quite a lot of solar panels, but not enough to meet the entire villages demand, so they also buy in from the grid. Some houses have solar boilers on the roof for hot tap water in summertime. In terms of food they are not self sufficient, which Fie thinks is a shame. There are some small vegetable plots, quite a lot of chicken roaming around, and the ecological community shop buys in from local farmers. The building materials are also chosen with an ecological mind-set: there is clay plastering, a lot of wood, shells on some roofs and sustainable insulation. Also, the sizes of the houses are build for specific phases in peoples live, so they do not have redundant square meters. All waste is separated and collected at a central point of the community where it is picked up by the municipality. Fie says here children actually love to be part of the waste-workgroup and dive into the trash to separate it out.

A look at the wood chip incinerators which heats the entire community through a small heat grid.

There are no cars in the village which is a big relief both to worried parents as well as for the eyes. The blocks look green, welcoming and full of activity. At the entrance of the community there is a carpark where people can leave their cars. In between the blocks there is now plenty of space for children to play, chickens to roam and vegetables to grow. Fie explains to me that her children are almost never playing inside or behind the television, something she is very, very happy about. They go outside to play in the green spaces with their friends. What makes living in Munksøgård even nicer for Fie is that the train station of the local town is only ten minutes walking from her home. Connecting here with a twenty minute ride to Copenhagen. This way, they community members get to live a village live while still feeling connected to the city.

One of the electrical cars of the shared car program.
One of the many shared bike sheds in the community
There is even space for communal drying racks, protected from the rain.

The sun is shining and we are saying goodbye on the carpark. Fie’s son is falling asleep in her arms and she emphasizes once again how blessed she feels to be able to live here. She says she doesn’t know another community in Denmark where the village feeling is realized so successfully. She attributes it mostly to the design of the housing blocks around communal gardens, the mix in people living there, the communal buildings and the central shop. From my one hour visit in the sun I can do nothing but agree, the community feels alive. Munksøgård might not be completely self sufficient or sustainable, it is a very nice example for inclusive and communal life, close to town. The feeling it creates is that of a traditional village, where neighbours know each other, support one another and share facilities. I hope many more people will get the opportunity to have their children grow up in a place like this.

A look at the old farm in the centre of the community

Read more about Munksøgård here: http://www.munksoegaard.dk/index.html

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