In 2008, more people were living in cities than in rural areas.
By 2030, its expected that cities will hold nearly 5 billion citizens (two-thirds of the world’s projected population). From a climate change point of view, many argue that mass urbanization helps reduce per capita footprints. That said, let’s not right off rural living just yet.
In addition to growing food for urban masses, village populations have proven to be more resilient and adaptable than cities. They don’t need to be carbon intensive or social and cultural wastelands (as stereotypes would indicate).
The new city: A collection of villages
Economist Paul Romer <link to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Romer > is just one of many who argue that a new generation of cities – like Hong Kong – can help cope with population growth and reduce poverty. Imagine “charter cities” built on non-arable land and with voluntary migration. “We could dramatically reduce the human footprint on earth if we built more cities that people could move to,” says Romer.
This being said, a few key points are overlooked about the importance of maintaining villages:
- Villages have the potential to generate their own solar, wind, and geothermal energy. They can become self-sufficient quite easily and potentially feed the surplus back into the grid.
- Villages can survive in a crisis: They can provide their own food and are often close to farms and other major food producers. Village water supplies are distributed in wells, streams, or rain catchments.
- Villages are socially cohesive. In the face of challenges, like climate change, these tight-knit communities can mobilize quickly and effectively.
- Villages trust each other. They work together and favour home-grown initiatives and solutions. They’re proactive and like to share ideas and experiences.
- Villages are close to nature.
Living in a natural landscape gives villagers a unique sense of the cycle of life. This awareness and understanding helps to garner respect for the ecosystems essential for our survival.
Cities are brittle. They have coped with all kinds of crises and upheavals. But with climate change at the forefront, it’s a prudent time to mitigate risk and look at other social models. Villages offer a resilient alternative to the vulnerable concentrations of cities.
Villages, of course, are not without weakness.
- Villages tend to be weak in economic viability.
They offer little in the way of job opportunities – beyond farm work, crafts, trades, and tourism. Global telecommunication could provide solutions. Access to internet and mobile phones could enable remote work and telecommuting. Shared community offices could combat issues of isolation and provide opportunities to share equipment and facilities.
- Villages can be culturally stagnant.
They often lack museums, galleries, theatres, and other arts and entertainment that attract younger, educated populations. If villages work together, like countries without borders, they could pool resources to support travelling exhibitions and events.
- Villages tend to have bigger carbon footprints.
By simply imposing low carbon building standards, electric vehicle usage, and local renewal energy development initiatives, carbon footprints in villages can be significantly reduced. Car-shares and bicycles rental schemes could also make a dent.
In praise of the virtual cities – villages without borders.
Before we jump on the next city-building bandwagon, we need to reevaluate the benefit of villages. If we support and strengthen village networks, we can create Villages Without Borders and maintain the advantages of a modern world without sacrificing the resilience and natural connection that villages bring.
*based on: “Cities, Villages and Adaptation to Climate Change“; September 2, 2009