The environment is playing an emormous part in what we are doing with our lives, whether we know it or not. More and more are we all becoming aware that every decision we make is having an impact on a world that is much larger than the little world we live in. There are some decisions that we are unable to make because the options simply aren't available to us, live in a more environmental home, reduce or eliminate car usage, reduce waste production, in essence, lessen our impact on the environment in every way possible. What is proposed here is a new model on how to live, where to live, what to do to make it so that a new choice is available to anyone who wants to lessen their impact on the environment and live a better life.
The idea being presented here is a model of a village where everything that a community needs is within walking distance, where there is a transit system that connects the village with ease and comfort into an existing public transit system of a large city, and whose design incorporates as much as possible to lessen the environmental impact. The village will contain all of the commercial and residential elements necessary, as well as some amount of available office space to make it so that a certain portion of the residents of the village are employable in the village itself.
Ideally this village is located on an existing train line into the city where a new station could be built which is far from the center of the city. As an example in the Montreal area, on the train that goes to Hudson somewhere between Vaudreuil and Hudson. If the population around a train line is already too high, or if there is no such space, any large plot of land would do which is within an hour of the center of the city. In some super sprawling cities like Toronto in Canada, or like many American cities, this village would need to be located somewhere in the middle of an existing subarban zone. This presents a much larger challenge since city planners may be against anything other than the norm. In an outer subarb which is either rural, or bordering on rural land, city planners may welcome such a development as it is environmentally friendly, and it will bring a higher level of municipal taxes for a much lower amount of required services.
If the location is not on a train line, it should be reasonably close to a major highway. This way the transport service will be more efficient at getting people from the village into the city
Any number of different layouts are possible, but what I envision includes the basic design of a cohousing community but multiplied five or six times. Imagine a row of townhouses facing north, and a second row facing south where the two rows of townhouses face each other, and the space in between is an enclosed walkway. Now think of this whole construction as a single spoke, and imagine six such spokes emanating from a central area which is open and contains the commercial, community and office space area. Each spoke would have a subset of the community services, for things like a daycare for the kids who live in that spoke, a games room and lounge and maybe a few other things.
Imagine a compass where the cardinal directions are where the spokes are, there would be one at each of North, East and West, and as well, one on each of South-West, North-West and North East, this leaves South and South-East open to provide an access route for deliveries and commercial vehicle access to the center. Each spoke could be about 70' wide and 180' long, the central passage would be 10' wide leaving a 30' depth for the homes that are on either side. Dividing the 180' length into eight parts would make for homes that are either 20' wide or 25' wide. The pair of home-spaces that are closest to the center will be apartments for rent, two apartments on the left and two on the right, each of them either a 3.5 or 4.5 room apartment. The remaining seven home-spaces on either side will be a selection of two, three or four bedroom homes. One spoke will then represent 18 homes, 6 spokes then represents 108 homes, of which 24 are rental properties.
The center of this wheel contains all of the buildings needed for a commercial, community and office area. Access between the residential areas and the center should be easy by foot or for the elderly by a cart.
Components of the village as a whole will help in making this a village of the 21st century. A fairly sophisticated high speed network will be wired throughout the village so that a super high speed intranet will be made available. It is using this intranet that many village functions could take place, for example, registering for the transit service, learning about the candidates for the board of governors, placing an order for delivery from the restaurant, registering for any classes or events that are provided at the community center, reserving the theatre and so on.
There will be a variety of sizes of homes, one, two, three and four bedrooms home. For the purposes of economy of scale, each model of each size of home will be roughly identical to each other one. This will save on design and implmentation so that more money can be placed on quality components and quality construction. If every two bedroom home is mostly identical, this will make it so that more money can be spent on bulk purchasing the components like flooring, ceramic tiles, proper kitchen cabinets and so on. One of the biggest complaints about town-house living is the fact that neighbour's sounds can be heard through the wall. Since this is one of the biggest complaints, an effort will be made to ensure that any wall that is shared between two units is soundproofed to quite a high level.
Each unit will have a balcony on the outside that faces the outside of the spoke, and a balcony on the inside that faces the enclosed pedestrian walkway. Each unit will also have plenty of floor space, these townhouses will not be designed with the intent of providing cramped quarters, but to provide just a small reduction in space to what residents would typically find in their own suburbian home. In order to make it so that the distance that a person has to travel to get to the center from the furthest unit is still manageable, any loss in floorspace will be horizontally, so units will not be overly wide, but they will have an extra level high. One of the only methods to increase density without dramatically decrease size is to have taller units, so by giving each unit an extra level but a somewhat narrower shape, this will make it so that each spoke will not need to be terribly long in order to fit enough people to make this village viable.
Even though the concept of this village is to dramatically reduce the number of cars we find on streets, we will still have to offer parking for those who insist on continuing to own their car. Since all pedestrians will be in the spoke or in the center (the center is car-free), it makes sense that for the safety of pedestrians that cars be limited to being on the outside of the spokes. In the open land between spokes at the outer perimeter of the circle, parking lots will be constructed, with an access door into the spoke where the spoke ends at the outside of the circle. Unless a better solution is found, this is what will need to be done to satisfy the need for residents to have automobiles.
Not all of the units in this village will be owned by residents, some of the units will be reserved for rental income. This rental income will help pay for the capital involved in building that unit, but will also be a revenue producer for the community as a whole.
Since there are so many people living in this village, a number of commercial services will need to be provided in the center. The purpose here is to make it convenient for people to walk to do their shopping and not have to rely on using their cars except for the exceptional trip that couldn't be provided in the community. Groceries, convenience store (all hours) including a video shop, hair salon and barber, a fast food and a proper restaurant, a small movie theater and at least a few other places that I can't currently think of will make up what is available in the village commercial area. For the grocery store it is a matter of talking to all of the major local chains and finding out which one will provide the service that we will need. We don't want the large scale store or the large box store, we just need a small size but one that is still stocked very well. We will want the deliveries as usual and the know-how of operating a grocery store by professionals, though it will be local people to the village who will be employed. For all of the commercial endeavours in the village, villagers will be encouraged to work before the job is advertised outside of the village. In this way we are supporting the community by keeping members employed.
For places like the convenience store/video shop or the fast food and regular restaurants, openings for these types of businesses will be advertised where whoever wants to open and manage the business is strongly encouraged to move into the community.
Since most of these businesses will require frequent delivery, and in the case of the grocery store, large truck deliveries, one side of the circle will be slightly more open then all of the others to allow for the construction of a vehicle passage to the center. This passage could also be used by moving companies such that they could back up to the center of the circle, and using electric heavy duty carts (property of the village), all of the stuff that is to be moved to one of the units in the spoke can be wheeled to that unit from the center. With respect to mail deliveries (by Canada Post and any other delivery company), there would be a postal area for these companies to deliver to, where all of the residents would come to pick up their mail, and where during business hours there would be someone present who could sign for anything that was being delivered (provided there was some sort of security method setup).
Since this large village is also a large community, there will need to be shared spaces for the community to use. Outdoors between two spokes will be the park for young children where there is also a place for parents to sit while watching their kids play. Between two other spokes the outdoor park for kids where supervision isn't required, but where parents are of course welcome to play with their kids. Between two other spokes another outdoor area for large family gatherings that anyone in the village could use, picnic tables, campfire circle, trees for a shaded area, open for an open area. Between two other spokes an exercise area, again all outdoor, including a pool, tennis court, volleyball area and so on.
At the city center there will also be a number of community services available. Depending on the total size of this community and the average number of children there usually are, there may be an elementary school present so that children up until they are 11 years old can go to school right in their village. Since it takes the government to open up a public school, this would be a private one, funded mostly by the parents, but also in a measure by the entire village. There would also be a community gym (that can hold a legal sized basketball court), an exercise room and other common facilities.
Some amount of office space will be made available once anyone in the village needs it. The idea here is that the best way to reduce the dependency on a car is to make it so that someone can walk to work. Since many jobs are office-type jobs, one way to populate the village would be to find out if any small company would want to move their offices to the village and invite all of those employees to live in the village. In this way the company that uses the office space would be generating revenue that they pay in rent, and that rent would go back to the village's coffers for support of the community. Since the cost of this building would be high if there were no tenants to put into it from the outset, the land would be left open for the construction until the time comes when a company takes our offer of a place to work. When this happens, some sort of modular concept of construction will be used so that a second company, if the first one is not large enough, could also come into the community.
A lot of effort will be made in the construction of this office building such that the environmental impact of its construction and operation is limited. Proper insulation levels, power sourcing, windows, everything that would make the building energy efficient and lower pollution levels would be done.
Since a large proportion of the employable people living in this village will be working outside of it, some method will be needed to transport those people to wherever they work. A small fleet would be involved which is used to transport people from the village to a major transport hub, and to transport them back again. The fleet would include a car for carrying one to four passengers, a pair of mini-vans, to carry up to eight people, and finally a pair of mini-buses to carry up to 25 passengers. The needs of all commuters will be studied, and then a pattern of trips will be established. For example, in the morning, three people need to leave at 6:00, six people at 6:30, eight people at 7:00, 22 people at 7:30, 25 people at 8:00, 8 people at 8:30, 7 people at 9:00, two people at 9:30. This means one car trip at 6:00 and at 9:30, a van trip at 6:30, 7:00, 8:30 and 9:00, and a bus trip at 7:30 and 8:00. An equivalent schedule would be established to return those people at home at night. The numbers and types of vehicle would of course only be established once there is the need for it. Where these transit vehicles go would also be up to the commuters. If the bulk of them need to go to one hub, but three others have their workplace relatively close to that hub, the bulk of the riders would be dropped off at the hub while the other three could be taken right to the door of their workplace.
Like the community school, the commuters would be paying a portion of the operating costs of the transit system, but the whole community would also be paying a part.
Somehow the funding would be needed to acquire the large plot of land that this development would be produced on, in addition to all of the construction costs of the homes, the community, the commercial area, the parking, the parks and everything else involved. Some amount of the funding would be generated by getting the promise to purchase from potential residents signed in the same way that currently people buy homes that are still under construction. The commercial activities like the grocery store and restaurants could be paid for by those businesses, but some downpayment will need to be generated before a bank would finance the rest. The community areas could be developed only after a portion of the residents have moved in and could be financed by village fees that are collected. One idea that would help pay for everything would be to find ways to make the cost of construction low, to make it so that ownership costs are not terribly high. If ownership isn't too high, residents could afford to pay a higher village fee.
No matter which way this is looked at, there are expenses that will have to be met, and a challenge to come up with the money. I don't think this whole plan is impossible, however.
For some specific duration or term there will be a governing board that makes decisions on how the money is to spent that is accumulated from all of the different sources of revenue. The board will be made up of residents (requirement) and the positions will be for a term that is something like two or four years. The reason for having the responsibility to be that long is to allow for any one leader or president to have the time to implement a plan or a method of running the business end of the village. One of the roles of the first administration would be to draft a constitution document of which it will be absolutely necessary that one responsibility of the village is to never run a defecit budget.
Elections, much like we see them today, will take place when the term comes time to renew, and every villager will be responsible for voting. A public debate between leaders would take place sometime before the election day where leaders could debate in front of all of the villagers present to discuss the issue at the time.
The responsibilities of this board will be to manage what needs to be managed. It will involve the hiring of staff for all of the different things that the community offers, this includes the day care workers, the elementary school teachers, the maintenance staff, the lifeguards and anyone else that is needed for the running of this village. The board will also make decisions about how the rest of the budget is to be spent. Presuming all of the salaries and capital payments have been made, if there is any surplus in the budget, they can decide on how that money is to be spent.
Some arrangement may be made to provide a benefit to anyone who takes on these responsible positions. In order to conserve costs, it would likely not be a salaried position, but some small amount for an expense account may be allowed, or perhaps some amount of the village fees would be suspended while they are serving. This again is something that the board will need to decide as part of the constitution.
One point to consider is if this idea is so successful that there is demand for more housing in this development, how can we increase the homes that are available without requiring the use of more cars? One idea would be to have a satellite to this village which is also in a circular fashion, but which has less commercial in the center of the circle, more shared or community space. Make it so that the commercial center of the original village is the primary one, while only a subset of the commercial services are available in the satellite village, but make it so that there is a really easy way to get from one to the other. Perhaps create an enclosed pair of sliding passageways that gets you from one center to the other, or something like the design of a high speed chair lift but used at surface level - make a high speed train system while it is on the track, but make it disconnect from the track once it is at either of the two centers. If this method of moving people could work, more than one satellite village could be developed which surrounds the original central village.
In a more urban setting, why not recreate this entire village concept in a much more vertical fashion? Make it so that there are six towers surrounding a commercial hub. There is less of a sense of a community by removing the pedestrian walkways that is in the flat concept described above, but the primary concern of this development is the reduction on the environment and the reduction of the use of cars, so this type of construct would fill both of those needs.
One thing that would need to be considered no matter where this is built is building the infrastructure to support this higher than normal population density. Of course every home will be outfitted with methods of conserving water, reducing waste and reducing electricity consumption, but still there will need to be a study to ensure that there is sufficient water available for this amount of population, and a sufficient waste management system for all of the biological waste that the village produces. If this is far enough away from a city center, this may involve building the required waste management system, but if this is the case, the most modern and least environmentally abusive system would be used.
As with all of my ideas there would be some amount of the power generated by local renewable resources so that the community is not 100% reliant upon outside electricty generation. This means having solar panels on the roofs of all of the buildings, perhaps having a large windmill on a part of the large property where there might be sufficient wind, and a number of clean and well maintained battery warehouses to store all of the power being generated for when the generation exceeds the usage, or for when the usage exceeds the generation.