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Village towns

Vandana Shiva, an internationally recognized Indian activist and philosopher, explains that planning for the human being rather than the automobile can liberate space and create community within a city. In her opinion, a sustainable city should operate as a self-reliant and self-sufficient cluster of villages.

Yes, I see Vandana Shiva speaks about a Village City, but I’m sure what she really means is a city of VillageTowns. This is like a kinder egg [a chocolate egg containing a small toy]; you get the best of three kinds of life in one. You have the intimacy of a village, the magic of the city, and a real influence like in a small town. A Village Town can of course also be a single, self sustained country town.

The new Village Town Movement is meant as a human and sustainable alternative to suburbia, one of the most inhuman inventions of the 20th century. Some still consider the solution to be skyscrapers, like this example, where they add just one pattern and think that makes it human. No, human neighborhoods consist of a long range of interconnected patterns, to create a living pattern language. A Village Town offers a human scaled face-to-face neighborhood founded upon patterns of eternal values.

What I love most about Village Towns is the central role of the plaza, this ingenious heritage of Mediterranean villages and towns. The plaza is the heart of every village, like the heart is the source of life in the human body. Personally I’ve had the privilege to visit Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy, which is acknowledged to be the most beautiful plaza in the whole world! After this experience I’m convinced that living your life without a plaza in the core of your neighborhood, is like living a heartless life.

What I love second most about Village Towns is the network of learning. A village education is a mix from the best of home and public schooling, where the village is like your extended home. Here the students are integrated into village life; they are not segregated in educational monocultures, like in a public school. And they are not isolated from the greater world like in home schooling. I simply don’t think I could offer anything better for my daughter than a village school! Learn more: The Village as Campus: Primary and secondary education.

As a construction material they seem to have put their love in foam concrete, which is a material with many interesting properties (see also). It doesn’t give you a breathing wall. But it has a well-balanced ratio between thermal insulation and heat retention, like that demanded of the ninth principle of Building Biology. Unlike for ordinary concrete, you can add a plaster of lime or gypsum on a foam concrete wall. Lime plaster has, unlike concrete, an excellent moisture buffering capacity. A gypsum plaster has less moisture buffering capacity, but offers better acoustic properties. If you mix some gypsum in the lime plaster it’s easier to work with as well.

Unfortunately they don’t seem have the same enthusiasm for the compost toilet, but hopefully they’ll take this advice from Lester Brown.

While they have embraced the wisdom of A Pattern Language, I can’t find anything on their website about Alexander’s latest achievement, Generative Codes. This worries me some, because generative codes are the path to building welcoming, beautiful and sustainable neighborhoods.

Unlike most “eco-cities,” a Village Town is self sufficient from food grown organically in the green belt and on surrounding farms. This is most important in times to come!

Learn more about Village Towns at the Village Forum!

See the following five-minute talk where Claude Lewenz covers the core elements of a Village Town:

Further Reading:

[An earlier version of this article was] published at The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia on January 21, 2011


Author Øyvind Holmstad (Gjøvik, Oppland, Norway) writes:

"My life's project is to help the best I can to spread the new architectural theories developed by Christopher Alexander and his companions. Further I want to implement the principles of the German term "Baubiologie," and material ecology is one of my great interests. Third I want to make permaculture and permanent agriculture a natural part of all built environments."

Editorial Notes: A response from VillageTowns: We were delighted to read the review of our VillageTown work and would like to add some comments, but your comments section is closed. Øyvind Holmstad wrote "Unfortunately they don’t seem have the same enthusiasm for the compost toilet, but hopefully they’ll take this advice from Lester Brown." We did read the links provided, but note that Lester Brown writes: "Collected urine can be trucked to nearby farms". That means we need trucks which means the VillageTown need to buy trucks, fuel them and use roads to transport the urine in those trucks. And where do we store the urine until it is collected? Do we need to include urine storage tanks in each house? That adds a few hundred dollars and then means we need to send trucks around to empty them. How long do we leave the urine in the tank before collecting it? And how do we vent the tanks if people have roof gardens up where the vent pipes need to go? The same problem holds for the faeces. A composting toilet makes sense in a low-density community such as an eco-village especially where the compost is dumped outside in the veggie garden by the home occupant. But it becomes a numbers problem in a common locality large enough to support a complex local economy (4,000 homes) that is intended as a complete community, which includes people with phobias about handling their own effluent, no matter how nice it smells. As the other link provided by Holmstad notes, it remains a taboo subject. Presuming each home has 2 composting toilets and each one must be emptied every six months (as manufacturers recommend), that means 16,000 clean-outs each year. With 250 working days a year, that means 64 toilets cleaned out every day, vehicles to pick up the compost and haul it away for the farms. And, while it is clean compost, it still will contain the heavy metals and the non-biodegradable medications that humans consume and expel. The important thing to understand here, that there is no inherent opposition to composting toilets. Rather it is a question of engineering. We are not advocating the 19th century solution that the referenced Lester R. Brown criticises. We agree with his points. When dealing with 4,000 homes however, all paid for and built at the same time, there probably are smarter engineering solutions. The first point of agreement is that urine and faeces are not waste but surplus material. They have chemical and nutrient value, and it is an absurd waste to contaminate drinking water to shift them or to co-mingle them. Get them to the production centre in as pure a form as possible - as pure as they came out of the human body. To do this, first look at the Swedish separator toilets. Install two pipes, one for urine and the other for faeces. Use water or an equivalent medium to transport these surplus materials to the processing plant. At the plant, use appropriate technology to deal both with the medication issue (antibiotics, birth control and other medications expelled by the body) and the heavy metal issue that otherwise could concentrate these harmful or toxic chemicals in the food systems. Determine what nutrients are used for farm fertiliser (for example, feeding tilapia fish that are then ground up for fertiliser and mixed with food compost) and what may be used to brew alcohol that powers the farm tractors. Using biological systems, purify the transport water to a quality deemed safe to then return to the toilet so that it functions in a closed loop system much like the radiator in a modern car. Once charged, the system uses no new water, it just uses water as the transport system. Beyond the two toilet pipes, we imagine more water pipes coming out of each home. Pipes are a lot cheaper than trucks, and once installed can last for centuries and require no personnel or vehicles. Install a pipe that goes to the kitchen sink, and install something akin to the old-fashioned garbage disposal for food scraps. Pipe those ground-up scraps to the food compost processing plant where they are higher quality surplus materials for compost, fertiliser or brewing stock for fuel. Don't use drinking water to run the disposal unit, but have an automatic feeder pipe below the sink that uses grey water. Have another pipe that comes from the roof to collect clean storm water, direct this to a reservoir. Instead of washing machines in every home, provide local laundries for villagers that uses closed loop water systems. This is especially important in places like Australia which just came off a ten-year drought. In all of these ideas, do note that the decisions are not made in an ivory tower, or by the VillageTown Stewards as know-it-alls. Rather they are made when the funds have been raised and the project begins. They are made by scientists and engineers who are given a set of principles instructing them to find the best, smartest, most sustainable methods for solving age-old problems. The sad fact is that some of the best ideas out there get no funding because the system is too closed minded. The VillageTown approaches the industry with an open-mind, seeking the best solutions the market has to offer, and it does so with funds. On another subject, thanks for the heads-up on "Alexander’s latest achievement, Generative Codes." We'll make sure it gets in there. Actually, we hope that when we get funding that Christopher Alexander and some of his co-authors may consider becoming consultants to the first project. There are some outstanding experts and many are happy to help, if we have the funds to pay them. VillageTown Stewards

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