Survival Village Design

 Sometimes It Takes a Village

Humans evolved as tribal animals. Nowadays, atomized into nuclear, often broken, families and packed into cities, we try to deal with the increasingly dysfunctional consequences. Hidden and not so hidden persuaders work ceaselessly to convince us to want more, to consume more—not because it's good for us in the long-term, but because it's good for business in the short-term.

Breaking down society into individual and nuclear family households is indeed very good for business as every household will "need" the full panoply of consumer goods to stock it. The logical endpoint will be reached when every adult will be required to head their own household (the bigger the better), and there will be only single parent families. When not working, everyone will be entertained by advertising crafted to create more wants. Thus will consumption be maximized in the Growth Culture—and this endpoint, indeed, is near.

Just a couple of problems—1 quantity, 2 quality: growth cannot be sustained and the dense yet atomized social landscape is producing increasingly dysfunctional individuals. Your response: commit to reforming the society you now live in; or opt out now to start over while you can. The reform option requires overcoming immense inertia and resistance, then changing course; the start-over option requires bringing together those wanting to live sustainably, completely rethinking how to live, then conducting multiple experiments, and replicating successes.

The short definition of science is "guess then test." Our best course of action is to take into account all available insight, guess at what might work, conduct experiments in living, assess the results, and guess again. There is no one solution and no one with all the answers. The past holds clues, but we can't go back, back to being Pleistocene hunter/gathers or Neolithic farmers, we must boldly go and figure things out along the way.

The design challenge is twofold: To design sustainable agroeco-economic systems—the material facilities and land use that will keep on working over the long-haul, and then to design, or rather evolve, social systems that allow people to be maximally functional in their pursuit of happiness and functionality within agreed upon limits. The difference is analogous to that between hardware and software engineering, and when it comes to social engineering we are all both the programers and the programed.

There are many possible models of sustainability, from family farms to corporate agribusiness, but since we are also interested in survivability, little houses on the prairie are problematic, and sustainable agribusiness may be an oxymoron. Since our concern here is not the survival of corporate entities, we'll focus on human survival at the village level with the assumption that we'll need sustainable villages in order to have sustainable cities.

Village design necessarily starts with the nuts and bolts part, but underlying values are implicit and need to be explicated. For example, the now globe spanning Growth Culture, over the past few hundred years, has regarded Earth as, in David Suzuki's poignant words, "a planet for the taking." Those who didn't share this value didn't partake in the taking and got left behind. We who now see and foresee the consequences must question this value and consider others. If not a planet for the taking, then what?

The heretical idea we might want to consider in our land (and sea) use planning is the possibility of no use whatever for a significant portion of "our" planet. Perhaps we need to think about living as responsible members of a community of coevolving organisms—one among millions of species. Perhaps, by way of compensating for whatever portion of the planet we decide to take and for damage already done, we have an ethical responsibility to make the planet a better place for all life on Earth.


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