Village Of The Darn Lucky?

Is Going Back To Small Communities The Way Forward?

The Welsh village of Bethesda, in common with most Welsh villages and towns, has a river running through it. So nothing unusual there, apart from the fact that local households have clubbed together to buy electricity from the hydro-electric plant powered by their stream, thereby assuring themselves of very cheap energy.

Ideas propagate. Like little seeds of knowledge, once someone has a notion, you can bet that someone else will look at its concept and its current use, and have a vision of shoe-horning it in elsewhere. Eco-friendly energy generation has been with us for some time, and both windfarms and solar energy stations are springing up with abandon, but so far they just contribute to the total energy in the National Grid, so it’s encouraging to see a local community – like Bethesda – benefitting directly from power generated in their area.

If you now take that concept and expand it, you end up with eco-villages; autonomous powerhouses with plenty to go around, while having only low impact on the surrounding environment, and it’s a concept that has captured the imagination of many. What are essentially up to date hippy communes are becoming an increasing popular notion with those who believe that our future lies in so called digital sharing communities, where residents will share their accommodation and workspace as well as produce and farm their own food, and manufacture goods for use and sale.

Communal living is an ideal that has been around since the Bloomsbury Set took over Gordon Square in London, and made cohabiting for a common purpose fashionable. When the American military abandoned Patrick Henry Village near Heidelberg, the German Government were unsure of what to do with the collection of building and attendant facilities. Then, Professor Carlo Ratti head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sensible Cities lab, convinced them to build an experimental town that would become an experiment in future living.

The project was started with the question “what would a community based on digital sharing look like”, and Patrick Henry Village seems to be the answer. Able to accommodate 4000 people in its half a square mile area, the population will be by invite only, however it will be open to all comers rather than particular sections of the community. This will ensure that a community has a good spread of skills for both running the group and creating products to sell and sustain the society. Major gains are expected to be made from recycling products as well as using technology such as 3D printing to create new products. This becomes a possible blueprint for other sustainable communities, and may even be a plan for an increasing and expanding number of like-minded societies worldwide.

So are they just the preserve of students, hipsters and entrepreneurs, or are they likely to become a lifestyle choice for all of humanity? Certainly projects like this start small and attract certain demographics, but if the community works as it is supposed to, then there is nothing to say that they – or close variations of them – can’t become the blueprint for future housing communities. Technology is undeniably changing the way we work, and interact with each other, so there is no reason that projects like this cannot become a new and sustainable means of living.

The one downside is the sheer number of humans on the planet, and the fact that it is an ever increasing number. We are living in ever bigger cities and in doing so, moving away from the ideal of the sustainable village, but that in itself may force us to adopt new modes of living and if we do, communities such as Bethesda and Patrick Henry Village will be good starting points.

Taken from the January issue of Geek Parenting, out now!

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