Excerpted from an excellent speech/essay by Franz Nahrada:
“The insights of ecology helped us to conceptualize human habitat as a catalizer for natures self- regereneration. If human and natural processes are looked at from a higher viewpoint of mutual regeneration, there is a vast new world of opportunities to create interplays between them. Ecosystems and biotopes are not given, unchangeable realities in which the human being has no place; they are by themselves dynamic equilibrums, open systems of self-optimisation through complex interplay of living elements. They can be object of careful studies, adaption, design, architecture; human life and habitat can be designed around the paradigm of the plant, optimally in tune with its immediate surrounding if it happens to be put at the right place and designed with a spirit of tensegrity, a word coined by Buckminster Fuller meaning the integration of flexibility and integrity.
The development of information and communication technology, on the other side, could enable naturally “embedded” small scale human settlements to offer virtually all of the services and amenities of cities while still allowing us to feel the rural quality of life and care for healing and human dimension.
It is important to understand that in this concepts those villages need NOT become new cities, in fact their most precious wealth is that they are distinct from cities. In villages we can often find an intact eco-system, an aesthetic landscape, and a healthy environment. At least in some cultures, villages are probably the closest approximation of harmony between nature and humans.
Is it possible to work with these environments and bootstrap them without destroying their character? This is the very core question of the GIVE (Globally Integrated Village Environment) project.
Villages, as mentioned before, have a somehow bad connotation today. They are often synonymous with the feeling of backwardedness, ignorance, and mental stuffyness. They are often identified with agriculture as exclusive occupation of their dwellers. Villages are rarely the originators of new ideas or a centers of innovation, in contrast, they often resist the establishment of new patterns and procedures. In the last centuries up to today, persisting migration from rural areas occurred because villages could not secure an income and decent life for their inhabitants. It seems that only the cities could offer to the human being the freedom to lead a life according to one’s demands and visions.
With the advent of modern telecommunication all these assessments do no longer hold true – there is at least a fundamental option for change:
Now it is possible to distribute information to nearly every corner of the world. Telephone, computer networks, and satellites enable us to embrace a new form of mobility. Suddenly, not humans have to move from one place to an other to perform different activities but the services themselves are offered globally. No longer must people drive every day to their office to work but they can do lots of different works from their kitchen desk or their home office.
Even in the remotest areas, people have a theoretical chance to find a relation with supporting and nourishing networks, getting even close to the centers of business and commerce – if broadband infrastructure exists. There were some attempts in the eighties and nineties to establish telecottages and similar institutions, and some of them are still doing quite well. But only today we are at the brink of satisfactory technology development and we also have the content base and availability. Things like Google or ebay would have been unthinkable utopias in the eighties. Having every document on the web indexed and retrieving it in a split second is more spectacular than anybody in these days would have thought of.
However, at the same moment new problems has appeared . The globalization of business triggers competition of an unseen scale. Thus, “rivaling with everybody everywhere” automatically implies that only the “best” (fastest, crudest) succeed and the rest fails. And cities are much better suited for this economic competition. This competition is requiring absurd amounts of energy while delivering lesser and lesser beneficial results. What once was a promising opportunity for everybodies economic development, to export goods and take part in global exchange, has nowadays become a nightmarish constraint which devoures the mind and the resources of whole nations. Global capital has become increasingly demanding on infrastructure, qualification and costs of production, so the financial resources for “unproductive” activities like health care, social work and services, art, but also and in particular the protection and maintainance of our cultural landscapes and historical heritage are in jeopardy.
The quite different events of 2005 in New Orleans and Paris have indeed demonstrated the rottenness and degree of neglectivenmess of the social and infrastructural fabric in those societies which are even supposed to be the winner countries of globalisation.
The effects of the unsustainable global patterns of production- consumption triggered by the competition-growth-speed imperative even threat the planetary climate system and still produce an enormous overpopulations of “paupers” in the less favored areas of our cities. A double crisis meets the ignorance of politicians who have no choice but ignore and belittle the results of what they are enacting.
Consequently, the less lucky have only one chance to survive: if they learn to use local resources to * actively disjoin * their workplace from global competition and rather build up local cycles of efficient mutual cooperation in a self-organized way. Here the economic imperative meets with the ecological one.
What further strengthens this perspective is the fact that there is not only a vast movement of likeminded locations and communities on the horizon, but also completely new tools like the internet and decentralized automation so – instead of being commodified and sold – knowledge can be universally shared and put into action and effect everywhere.
So while the official reading of things goes like “Capital cannot employ people any more”, one could say the associated work and intelligence of humans has no need for the command of capital nor the concentration of workforce in the factory any more! A potential network of decentralized human activities sharing the worlds resources and participating in shared ingenuity is already proving real, be it in Free Software or in Knowledge repositories like Wikipedia. It could expand to a new renaiscance of local food production and fabrication, based on exchange of knowledge and algotithms driving flexibly automated tools.
At the same time, also the political and social fabric of industrial age hierarchy is changing rapidly. Spontaneous self-organisation with serious and professional consequences has proven succesful in governance, development work, health care and other fields. Non- governmental organisations are filling the void that the decline of public activities has left.
So why should these Free Modes not work in all domains of human activities? Or at least: why should we not try to build an additional structure of living around them?
Global Villages are at the centerpoint of this sustainable alternative to subdueing all life to competitiveness, as they allow people in a location with available natural resources to make a living out of technologically supported sustainable cycles of matter and energy – and become more autonomous and independent. “Global Villages” are opposed to “globalized villages”!!
If they succeed in building up these cycles, if at the same time every actor in the village builds on the strengths of global informational cooperation and all those communities build on their accumulated power of knowledge production, they might end up providing similar services and comforts like large cities with less stress.
In our analysis, the possible decentralization of information offers a vital chance to solve a lot of problems linked to the high concentration of people in todays urban areas. On a smaller scale it is easier to cope with pollution, energy supply, the use of resources, and social interaction. The same is true for unemployment and alienation.
As it is true on one side that these changes might offer the chance for a more independent life, however, they also require from local communities to assume more self-responsibility.
In such a decentralized system, a relatively small number of specialized networks – perhaps structurally integrated multinational companies, in some instances states or international organizations – might provide and sustain the basic infrastructure, like transportation ways, communication lines, and basic services. The local actors , on the other side, will be much more responsible for the structure of their lives and their immediate organization, including social issues.
In the emerging social structure of global villages different social groups and people with different abilities and desires must therefore thrive to live in intentional symbiosis. While one group provides an income through telework and global services, others secure supply and satisfy local needs – and they are themselves connected to sources of global cooperation that allow them to perform better. In the context of a village, both groups should see and understand their immediate interdependence and mutual advantage. That is the base of its success!
The specific aim of the GIVE project is to draw look at the influence and the potential of new communication technologies to constitute new patternsof resilient and satisfactory human habitat. Such new models of human habitat – no matter if we call them “fractal city” or “televillage” or “ecocommunity” or something else – should be able to provide solutions to more human needs by local resources. Thus they help to do away with the burden that the separation of production and consumption has put on society.
The most important feature of such a living environment is the possibility to lower the pressure that marketisation has created on peoples life and refocus on sophisticated and consensual activities directed directly towards quality of life, health, wellbeing and development of human knowledge. On the other side, some participation in global economic processes is also necessary to create monetary income for the community and individuals. Such schemes could be telework, tourism, healing, specialties etc. They would be means to an end, not the ultimate purpose of such communities.
In this context, both social and spatial architecture of society need to undergo drastic changes to benefit rather than suffer from the effects of new technologies. The GIVE project is studying the interdependencies of various building blocks of this new human habitat. This new habitat can be described as a “pedestrian-oriented, clustered and diverse communal microcosm of limited size, usually embedded in a rural/natural environment.”