Village towns

April 10, 2011

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.”

Tags: Buildings, Culture & Behavior, Urban Design