The Urban Village: Sustainable Community Design for Urban Regeneration

The way we are living in the West, particularly in the United States, promotes maximum amount of fossil fuel consumption, ecological ruin, social disconnectedness and a lackluster existence divorced from the planet. The Urban Villager blog explores how changes in social and physical infrastructure can help stimulate an expansion of human consciousness, well being and, subsequently, true sustainability. I look at the benefits of natural construction, traditional settlement patterns and alternative energy harvesting techniques on my quest to achieve net-zero living. As I gain more understanding of the side-effects of industrialized lifestyles, I aim to lead a more natural way of living in terms of the environment that enfolds me, the food I eat and the community I belong to.

This vision draws from my research conducted in Thailand, during an internship on community building, natural building and self-empowerment as well as in India during an internship at the Auroville Bamboo Centre, where I designed an integrated land management plan to construct an eco-village, restore a dried-out lake and connect divergent communities. This initiative is also influenced by my experiences living in China, Colombia and the US where I’ve had the privilege to spend time with a diverse array of individuals.

More so than the work I have done, it is the people who make a community possible, it is the people whom need an alternative to the stressful paradigm of city life and it is the people I meet on my journeys that inspire me to continue learning, growing and working towards building a green city.

My MA Global Sustainability thesis (a portion of my Green City vision) consists of an analysis of my internship experience in India and Thailand along with a literature review investigating how we can design and build communities that are seamless extensions of nature that actively and progressively bolster economic, social, ecological and cultural development. This research project resulted in first-hand case studies on small and large-scale intentional communities in Southeast Asia as well as a set of general principles that are indispensable for sustainable settlements.

Having graduated from the Master’s program, I now wish to apply sustainable community principles to urban areas in order to restore and regenerate cities. Creating a Green City from the ground-up is a bold task in and of itself but the infinitely more complex challenge is retrofitting existing urban infrastructure with an interconnected web of decentralized, village-sized communities that are self-regulated, self-grown and unique constituents of the larger, public-transportation-connected city.

My current goal is to start small – with the structures that make up our cities: buildings. The built environment reveals our relationship with the land and also determines how we interact with each other in our man-made world. According to the USGBC, the average American spends 90% of their life indoors, so we cannot lose sight of beauty and health when designing our built environment. Building construction rooted in the objective of economic efficiency, alone, is destined to a short, unhappy life. This is why I aim to work in building projects that bridge the gap between humans and nature in a cost-efficient, yet progressive manner. A collection of small steps can create a world of difference for our built and social fabric.

[Photo courtesy of Planning Korea]

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