View from a Village
The following is a piece of speculative fiction, based upon my existing work and research into how we might live in the future. All of the technologies listed are in existence, or under construction, and are not beyond the bounds of possibility. It is a draft, a provocation, an ongoing discussion.
But I’d love to hear your thoughts and from those, who wish to work to make such spaces a reality.
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Is utopia possible?
I’m still not sure, but on leaving Prototopia — a Dynamic Village, I believe it might be. Not a utopia as much as a polytopia — a space of parallel emergent dreams in a state of meaningful friction — a productive tension from which new ideas and ways to live emerge.
I still don’t know how much I will take from this space, how much I can apply to my life. But I know that much of which I held to be true, is not. That humans are better than I’ve been led to believe.
Survival of the best adapted. Not raw in tooth and claw, but a product of our environments.
This old misanthrope now has some hope.
But where to begin to explain the changes that have taken place.
How to translate?…
This is why such spaces were built in the first place. To push the bounds of human experience and learning beyond our cultural conditioning. Show don’t tell.
Like Burning Man, Dynamic Villages are spaces outside of dominant cultural norms. Spaces that challenge the dominant narratives of who and how we are. I will attempt to tell you, but you’ll have to feel it to believe it. You can visit and participate. You can invite Seed villages to your town — although they’re in demand. Where once cities tried to outbid one another in a race to the bottom to attract industry, now they pitch to attract Dynamic Village Seed Cultures or grow their own from scratch.
There are even Dynamic Villages on the road — the Circus of Seeds — bringing technology, ideas and humanity to dying towns, villages and cities — so the new can grow from the ruins of the old.
The movement originated as a response to the Housing Crisis. Co-Living emerged as a solution - although a cynic might say that the Poor and Students have been Co-Living for years without feeling the need to name it. Like co-working and the sharing movements that went before it Co-Living was a combination of necessity and desire. For all the lofty ideals touted, the precarity underlying such movements needs to be recognized. When it isn’t, then people quickly become exploited — especially when they protect their insecure existence behind a mask of Trendy Rhetoric.
Co-living quickly became another form of self-exploitation, people renting boxes rather than apartments whilst chasing the dream of becoming a slave to an investor. Many would burn themselves out as they followed the dream, while the wealthy extracted the energy of the young. Spouting some dream vision of a better existence, while expanding the old models of exploitation.
Dreams appropriated by capitalism. Language and culture hijacked.
The Dynamic Village was a response to this, a search for some stability, a chance to buy out of the system. To get back some sense of ownership and the power that comes from access to land. To escape the Master/Slave paradigm. To instead both serve and be served, and recognise the needs and benefits of both. To create and consume. To have needs met and provide for others.
The Dynamic Village flipped the dream. It provided another path. Providing a space where you could evolve your dream home. Many residents originally harbored some fantasy of a house in the woods or by the beach, away from it all — this offered a space to do that bit by bit. But after living in Dynamic Villages many realised that home was a place you feel you belong. Not walls, a roof, windows, and isolation. Home was a feeling.
The first spaces were gap fillers — using unused spaces, saving developers and residents money, then moving onto another space when the time came. Later they invested in their own land, establishing co-operative land trusts to provide them with security. These spaces could no longer be bought, but they could be accessed by those willing to contribute. Money was no longer the premium driver in gaining access. They started their own programs of entrepreneurship — providing space for those who were working to benefit Humanity.
It proved to be an attractive proposition for many a young creative. They just wanted to build, to create, to throw themselves at the problems they felt they could address. More attractive than investment — which offered money, but without authentic security — instead offering them a tribe, support, space to thrive and grow. The outputs from these spaces increased the collective wealth manyfold. While they own little, the co-op can now access boats, halls, mansions, fleets of vehicles. Many are now acquiring farms and factories, or creating symbiotic contracts with other co-operatives.
When I first arrived at a Dynamic Village I had no idea it was there. Hiding in the facade of an old factory building. Others can be found in old multi-story carparks, out of town malls, gutted out old buildings, leaving just the exterior walls, floors, roofs and supports. I hear there are even some floating villages and a Sky Village in the works — Bucky’s dream is alive and well. Maybe one day we will live on Cloud 9.
On the door is a sign. It outlines the principles of the space.
All are welcome, except those who don’t welcome all.
In entering the space, you recognise the rights of all humans, regardless of identity — be it race, gender, religion, class, sexual orientation, or other to the same treatment you would expect for yourself. We encourage diversity and self expression. This is a space where you can be you.
Nothing in the space is permanent, nor should it be. What you create should be adaptable, mobile, and designed with change in mind.
Show what you need
Communicate what you need, it makes it easier to get it. Don’t manipulate - be upfront and forthright. Needing something is OK, we all have needs — It ain’t no thing.
Listen to the needs of others, and the space, when you see a chance to help needs get met — do it.
Don’t give what’s not needed
An unwanted gift can be toxic, whether it’s your attention, advice, your help, a deed, food, a drink. Don’t assume you know what people need — ask first.
Trust yourself, Trust each other, expect the best
Assist the flow
Everything is useful, help it get to where it can be of use.
On entry I’m greeted by a map, and what appears to the untrained eye as anarchy. A world of color and shape. Every “home” unique an expression of the desires and needs of it’s inhabitants. Some share a common framework, others are unique — the most popular are adopted and duplicated. An evolving housing ecosystem, where ideas compete, breed and evolve.
The map helps to better understand the social norms and spacial forms — which are ever changing. There are clusters around shared lifestyle needs. Some are family units, others are entirely private spaces. I’ve been informed by the community that these are generally newcomers and private guests. Sometimes a family will close for a while — as emotional needs shift. Cultural conditioning takes time to break, so rather than forcing structures upon people, the village provides opportunities for people to share as much or as little as they wish. As the needs and desires of the residents change, the space changes with them.
In the centre of the space a garden grows and children play. The superannuated assist the new parents with childcare, each grateful for the opportunities afforded them by the other. Residents share in the garden harvest and order staples together, for more personal needs they order as individuals or within their cluster. Some clusters are entirely open, others open by condition — you are welcome if you respect the values of the inhabitants, private spaces are invitation only. Boundaries and clarity of boundary conditions are essential to the success of this thriving micro society. These conditions are communicated with symbolism, objects, and visual codes — cultural literacy is essential.
With the common space each resident has both a right and responsibility. The right to decide how it should be used, but also the responsibility to ensure maximum benefit for the other inhabitants. There is still tension, however wherever possible residents prototype the space, or play games to simulate proposals. The impermanence of everything makes any new structure easier to accept. Spaces to play, spaces to work, spaces to chill emerge and die as the week progresses.
The room I stayed in was built on the room x room system. It is built to change.
Prior to my arrival I was able to choose the dimensions of my room according to budget, how many walls, windows and doors, and what other plugin functions I wished for. When residents travel, they send their profile ahead, so a suitable space awaits them on arrival. Alternatively they can take it with them. I opted for vertical garden panel, a sun simulator alarm panel, and whiteboard exterior panel, alongside insulated walls, windows and doors. Of all the technologies, i found the whiteboard most valuable — I was able to communicate my passions with the neighbors and quickly connected with members of the community I wouldn’t have thought to talk to.
I’ve never slept in a small box before. But on consideration it has it’s benefits, enough space to be private, and acoustically insulated — better than my apartment where I can hear neighbors through the walls.
What surprised me most was the air quality. Fresh yet warm air flows through the room. The dynamic insulation system brings fresh air through the walls and the ceiling, capturing the heat leaving the room as it does so. 60% of our household energy consumption is heating. Such innovations, mean that the space is able to maintain a high level of comfort at decreased cost. A better quality of life with lower overheads, and lower environmental impact.
This circular principle of resource use is applied only every level of the room x room system, and within the Dynamic Village as a whole. The shower and kitchen also loop the water, cleaning it whilst you shower and conserving heat at the same time.
This circular system is most confronting when considering the toilet. This I must profess took some getting used to. There are no plumbed toilets in the building — as why mix water with fertiliser? Whilst I can see the logic, it’s amazing how hard it is to embrace the habits of others, when we are so conditioned to behave in a certain way.
The principle of assisting the flow is really manifest in the design of the toilet — which requires you to squat. The deposit then drops into a chamber. Urine is separated, but this design requires you to sit even if you just need number 1. For an old man set in my ways, I must admit this was difficult to accept — somehow having associated my ability to piss standing up with some form of authority. However in reality, my aim has never been any good — especially in the early morning — so why not try something new.
Upon standing activated biochar drops into the chamber, and the contents are moved to the drying chamber — the fumes of which are thankfully extracted. After drying the deposit moves to a fermentation chamber and later a vermiculture chamber — that’s right I had worms eating my poop!
After 9 months, my waste will have become rich terra pretta compost, and used in the garden. I have to admit, this knowledge left me a little nauseous at first, till I had a better understanding of the process and also had some of the compost wafted under my nose.
This process of waste recovery seems insane. But then when you consider that we take perfectly good drinking water and mix it with poop, chemicals and whatever else. Then we pipe it miles from our homes until it can be separated, sterilised (again with chemicals) and returned to us. It’s our legacy that’s insane.
Many may wonder how people are able to share their kitchens harmoniously. One trick maybe that many have removed the need for washing up almost entirely. Edible plates and bowls are produced on site. A type of pancake mix is poured into a waffle iron type mold. Batch production happens once a month, with different spices added into the mix according to preference. Many kitchens have a hot box that retains food at above 65 degrees. In this box will be a range of perpetual soups and porridges which can be added to and taken from daily. The soups are stirred by small metal forms heated by induction, their cavities creating propulsion though the liquid stirring it as they move. Food is available on demand, and much energy is saved by avoiding heating and cooling food (and decreasing it’s quality in the process).
Cooking is something many still enjoy (and enjoy more with the daily drudge removed). With fresh crops growing in the kitchen and garden, fridges have been replaced by small cool boxes sitting under the hot boxes — their heat pumped up to the hot box above.
Once a month the Village holds a potluck exchange. Pickles, Jams, Preserves and fresh meals are exchanged, making each kitchen well stocked and deliciously furnished. Most use the communal kitchens — preferring to make more food, less often, and share each others company at evening meals. Like owning a restaurant where you cook once a month, and dine free the rest.
These potlucks and other events and activities are what really hold this Village together. Emotional connections, trust, community bonds. There will always be tension, conflicts of needs and desires, but a foundation of authentic communication, understanding and community helps these to be addressed in a constructive manner.
Trust is the foundation upon which the Dynamic Village functions. But what happens when Trust is eroded or damaged?
The Dynamic Village is not a space without laws or rules. However it is desirable to keep laws and structures of enforcement to a minimum as they undermine trust. So Trust is the guiding rule. When Trust erodes, laws or structures are implemented temporarily to allow the rebuilding of trust and ensuring social cohesion in the interim. However each structure has it’s own death built in. Upon the terms of redemption being met, the rule is destroyed. The reason for this is to prevent Bureaucratic Blight, to ensure that change is built into the social contract. Note these rules are a form of penalty, they are rarely applied to the collective as a whole. Some rules are only applied to parts of the space.
Speaking to some of the residents, there have been problems in the past. Infiltrators who’s agenda is to deliberately undermine the trust the community holds, children, or those who’ve never been able to trust themselves. There are even those who just love structure and boundaries, for whom a boundless space is too much. For them structures emerge as a response, and work is needed to get to the emotional and intellectual roots. It is recognized here that people are a product of their experiences and their environment.
Different spaces have evolved different responses to this. For the Dynamic Village I stayed in they have an initiation, a ritual that builds a strong connection and bond with the other inhabitants. I’ve heard of agent provocateurs turning, reduced to tears by the experience. The villages have taken elements of religious and spiritual practices to create such initiations, they are by no means taken lightly and serve also to create a bond between the different religious groups in the space.
Of all I experienced it’s the Trust rather than the technology that really blows me away, I’ve experienced not just another way to physically live, but another way to emotionally be. Different generations, diverse groups and opinions. Their shared focus a mutual foundation that meets their needs.
On reflection to say I have Hope is an understatement, I have a Longing. I Long to return.
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Note: for more about the future of living you might want to check out this great post by others who are also exploring this space.