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Back to the Future

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					                      Back to the Future

I just had dinner with my friends K and MJ, who reported on the
progress of the house that they are building in southwest Virginia. They
plan to retire there when the time is right.

A big part of K and MJ’s plan is getting back to a more simple and
satisfying existence. They are looking forward to having animals on
their land. (K votes for a goat and a donkey, perhaps a border collie. MJ
wants dogs, cats and perhaps a pony for the grandchildren.) Their house
is being designed to incorporate natural light and energy-efficiency
features, and K and MJ are looking forward to buying produce at the
area farmers’ cooperative.

Another friend, JD, has been thinking about starting a new business:
helping homeowners to plant and maintain organic produce, including
vegetables, herbs and fruits, on their land. I’m enthusiastic about JD’s
idea. It is a moneysaver in troubled economic times, counters soil
erosion and stormwater runoff by installing vegetation, and offers a
better quality of food on the table.

I think that my friends are part of a substantial cultural shift. People are
longing for simplicity and richer connections to the earth, to family,
and to community. As financial institutions and business transactions
unravel and as governments struggle to halt the chaos, a return to home,
hearth and garden seems more sane, satisfying and secure than braving
the uncertainties of the broader world.

Heightened interest in community and family is also affecting the urban
planning and development fields. In the U.S., the Congress for the New
Urbanism (CNU) advocates the incorporation of agriculture into urban
community settings. Says architect Andres Duany, one of the fathers of
new urbanism, “Agriculture is the new golf.” An organic farm has been
incorporated into New Town at St. Charles, a planned community just
outside St. Louis. And one of my clients, Philip Williams– a committed
environmentalist and developer, has incorporated his family-owned
greenbelt and a tree farm into plans for his Montgomery Farm
community outside Dallas.

The Urban Land Institute will conduct a panel on self-sustaining
communities at its May 12-13, 2009 green development conference in
Los Angeles, addressing how communities might create their own power
and water supplies and grow their own food. In the UK, Prince
Charles’s Poundbury is a human-scale, mixed use community that
honors environmental responsibility and traditional architecture, and
creates a self-sustaining economy by integrating places of work and

As we search for comfort in chaos, the self-sustaining home and the
urban village are old ideas made new again.

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Description: As we search for comfort in chaos, the self-sustaining home and the urban village are old ideas made new again.