PHILOSOPHY | The Good Life

Posted on 19/07/2009

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I was recently referred to a website titled the Village Forum, which represents the people who will live in Villages and who work to create Villages. The site claims that villages are the most supportive form of habitat comprised of a face-to-face community of about 500. But for a local economy to thrive, a community of five to 10,000 people is needed. So build a VillageTown, with 10-20 village clusters, where everything is within a ten minute walk and everyone works within. This simple idea solves a host of today’s problems and provides a higher quality of life for all ages and stages of life.

The site also highlights that we create communities so that we can lead what Aristotle described as ‘the good life’, being:

  • Conviviality – the enjoyment of other people’s company – good food and drink, conversation, entertainment – the café, pub, sportsfield, theatre
  • Citizenship – the privilege of belonging, participating and governing human affairs – the forum, the meeting hall
  • Artistic and Intellectual Growth – dialogue, creativity, exploration, learning – school, library, lab, artist guild hall, museum
  • Spiritual development and fulfilment – the personal, shared journey – the cathedral, church, temple, cemetery, natural places.

While Aristotle argued that the good life, with its inherent values of virtue, was only available to or granted at birth to certain people, a more contemporary mode of thinking will prescribe that a good life is something we construct socially, culturally and subjectively. Even though I’ve read this before, I had forgotten about these simple needs or ideals and their relevance for interdisciplinary design. Given that the Placing project is partly concerned with the question of ‘how are we to live?’, this seems to present some specific possibilities for contemporary lives of sustainability and creativity. Various ideals of ‘the village’ are evoked repeatedly in currently planning and design discourse – eco-village, urban village etc. They all carry particular connotations of sociability and sustainability.

There are two Australian projects listed on the Village Forum in Australia in which Villages Towns are proposed for Melbourne and Sydney, drawing on the research of Claude Lewenz, whose book, How to Build a Village, is reviewed in Worldchanging.com. Lewenz responded to the WorldChanging review with the following comment:

The book became necessary because the idea of declaring suburbs obsolete, and then offering a replacement is not something one can
reduce to a sixty second sound bite … If a thousand people come together, have the funds to buy their own home and/or workplace, and say they want to live in a Village, that becomes powerful. People will listen, especially enablers… the elected and appointed officials who must approve, the sustainable investors and developers who will see opportunity to do well by doing good, the sustainable professionals who dream of getting such opportunities.

Ultimately, these projects are proposing different models of planning, design and development. They are actual projects with short development
timeframes and seemingly brought to fruition through community mobilisation and networking. Earlier this week I spoke with John Mongard, a Brisbane based landscape architect, who developed the masterplan for the Currumbin Eco-Village and has, over his 20 or so year practice, been attentive to ideas of ecology and sustainability in his work. His experience in designing the eco-village spanned about 10 years while he and the project developer waited for the planning process to ‘catch up’ despite the strong community support for the project. I commend Lewenz’s optimism and one hopes that those moves towards more sustainable settlements will move quickly through the system. (NB: I will be writing about John Mongard’s work in greater detail soon.)

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