One of the biggest and most dramatic societal trends in recent decades has been the population migration away from towns and rural environments to large urban centers. The United Nations Population Fund calls it the “largest wave of urban growth in history,” and predicts that 5 billion of us will be city dwellers by 2030.
This population shift has exacerbated a few problems, including the economic and resource drain from non-urban areas and increased environmental stress on urban areas.
But we’re also seeing the beginning of a trend that could help counteract these problems—the creation of “tech-enabled” real estate. This goes beyond making existing cities smart (or the fad for utopian communities in the 1800s); these environments are built as self-sustaining urban villages, powered by tech.
The Danish pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale included an example of this concept. Created by Danish design firm EFFEKT, it is called ReGen Villages (as in “regenerative”). The village is made up of housing with attached greenhouses where inhabitants can grow their own food. Every waste product is used to fuel something else, and a smart grid is used to manage energy. According to EFFEKT’s website, the villages are based on five pillars:
Energy- positive homes. Doorstep high-yield organic food production. Mixed renewable energy and storage. Water and waste recycling. Empowerment of local communities. These are the five pillars of a new visionary concept for self-sustaining urban eco-communities. – ReGen Villages
ReGen Villages’ California-based development company, which commissioned the design, was founded by entrepreneur and Stanford University professor James Ehrlich, who told Co.Exist that the aim is to be the “Tesla of eco-villages” (i.e. developing “higher-end” concepts for developed economies before adapting the idea at large scale for different environments and developing economies).
The eco-village concept isn’t new, of course, but it has generally been limited to smaller-scale implementations (which often also come with some “intentional living” ideology—attractive for some, off-putting for others). The technology that places like ReGen will use is now more viable and easier to scale, making larger developments possible. ReGen is starting with 100 homes; the city of Leeds in the UK recently announced development plans for an eco-village of 500 homes at the cost of GBP125 million.
There are already similar developments, like the U.K’s first “eco-town,” NW Bicester. The town’s first 6,000 homes are being built now and are scheduled to be finished in 2018; the first residents will be moving in this year.
With more people working from home, a generation that tends to eschew car ownership, and the new village trend, the self-sustaining, tech-smart, purpose-based eco-village model could be the innovation that will change how we live.
Interested in being part of the new wave? The first ReGen village is scheduled to begin construction this summer in Almere, The Netherlands, 21 miles from Amsterdam, with later developments in several northern European countries to follow.
For more on how technology is changing the way many of us live, see The Internet Of Things That Matter: Integrating Smart Cities With Smart Agriculture.