Why Humanity Should Look to Its Roots as We Revillage Our Towns and Cities
The movement to revillage our modern world seeks to combat mental illness, housing and climate disasters.
The Revillaging Movement
Our current ways of living are life-threatening. Our increasingly individualized society is contributing to epidemic levels of lonelinessand isolation, depressionand anxiety, and other mental health crises. There is a serious need for people to reconnect with community—and also with the planet, as there is perhaps an inextricable link between our anxiety and depression epidemics, and the existential threat of climate change (which has very real physical, mental and emotional impacts). Faced with this dire need for something to change, there is a growing movement of communities and individuals looking to the way humans have lived since ancient times: communally.
The “revillaging” movement looks back in time at the structures and cultural dynamics of humanity’s villager ancestors, as models for reconstructing urban spaces and the way people relate within them. So explains Mark Lakeman, an urban architect, permaculture pioneer and national leader in the development of sustainable communities and public spaces. He founded the intentional, activist community called the Planet Repair Institute, out of which came City Repair, a nonprofit that supports the creation of permanent community art and gathering spaces throughout the city—and is responsible for mini-parks and hundreds of mandalas and other murals that cover up the asphalt in many of Portland’s street intersections.
A key tenet of revillaging is to make sure all of the needs of a given resident can be met within a walkable distance, by redesigning the grid to operate at a “human scale.” The compartmentalization of work, school, home and other activities is one of the major problems of the urban grid layout, Lakeman says, as it prevents people from living at a “human scale.” And the challenges inherent in living this way are magnified in the face of the current climate disaster.
“This is one of the things that we realized early in City Repair: every neighborhood is filled with... the full spectrum of the entirety of the skills and talents, to power the entire society—at the local level,” he says. “And the emissions related to transportation are slashed almost entirely by letting people activate their talents where they live, with other people.”
Lakeman says the grid street pattern, which was generally adopted throughout America after the passage of the Northwest Land Ordinance of 1785, created a culture that places commodification and the private parceling out of land above community gathering, keeping neighbors separate from each other.
Beth Berry, a writer and online educator known for the parenting blog Revolution from Home, has been working with the concept of revillaging from the perspective of parenting. After her 2019 article in Motherly on the absence of the village and its impacts on moms in particular went viral, she has doubled down on the concept, offering a recurring online course and private coaching sessions aimed at helping people revillage their own lives.
In the U.S., most major cities are strapped for space, and parks and public squares are lacking, as a 2015 City Park Facts database shows. Many cities continue to slash their budgets for parks and recreational spaces, and cities with high urban densities, such as New York and Chicago, have 4.6 acres per 1,000 residents, as an article in the Conversation details.
Homeless Communities at the Revillaging Forefront
The concept of “village” has a particular life in homeless communities throughout the U.S. When Andrew Heben, an urban planner, professional tiny house builder and author of the book Tent City Urbanism, visited homeless encampments across the U.S. as a project for his master’s thesis between 2009 and 2011, the media’s portrayal of homeless encampments was one of dismal spaces rampant with drug abuse and crime. But what he actually encountered were uniquely supportive, democratic, often intricately organized and relatively nonviolent communities.
Heben co-founded SquareOne Villages in Eugene, Oregon, which has been a national model for low-income, tiny home villages since 2012. The organization works to establish both temporary, transitional villages for people who have been houseless, as well as permanent, affordable housing villages. Their permanent villages are set up in an alternative homeownership model that is a hybrid between a community land trust, where the organization owns the land, and limited equity co-ops that allow residents to co-own shares of the village and gain equity over time. The idea is to ensure living in these villages remains affordable for low-income people in perpetuity.
SquareOne also sets itself up as a model, with a toolkit for anyone interested in forming an affordable tiny house community.