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Book Review: How to Build a Village
Malu Fink, 11 Oct 07
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How to Build a Village, by New Zealand author Claude Lewenz, delivers on its promising title. This toolbox is packed with innovative, welcome, and simple solutions to some of the decade's biggest questions.

How to Build a Village is a handbook, a toolbox, and an opener to a larger conversation about how better to be in the world. Have 50 years of suburbs delivered on their promise? The book offers solutions to the problems facing modern suburbs through the design and construction of a different type of living arrangement; a Village founded on improving quality of life.

The Village differs from the suburban model of sprawling neighborhoods that necessitate a car to get to work and other amenities to describe human-scaled development, scaled at a friendly size for a human. Streets, buildings and the village grid are tailored to give those who live, work and play in and around them a feeling of intimacy, naturalness and safety. People remain the focus of the Village: they are its main resource and have priority. Emphasis is given to the construction of numerous plazas where people are able to gather, patterned on those in old Europe with cafe tables and local shops.

Significantly, if the Village is human-scaled then then it naturally becomes car-free. Streets designed for pedestrians are narrower; they follow the curve of the land and lead to places of interest. The focus becomes the journey as well as the destination. With no shortage of attention given to the problems generated by reliance on cars and the ever increasing need for parking lots, eliminating the need for a car is a boldly simple solution. Lewenz even cites the mega-mall as a car free model -- but with a mega-mall you typically still need a car to get there.

The book places great importance on the variety of citizens a Village needs, describing fourteen broad categories that are more inclusive than could be thought. The modern Village is for all: I found four categories applicable to myself, demonstrating the symbiosis that would develop between us. The approach in this section is innovative and delightfully personal, explaining how you are necessary for the Village and how the Village can enrich your life. It's a heady and powerful approach; this draws you into the world of the Village and refuses to let go until you acknowledge that your contribution to the Village is important.

Readers are constantly reminded of the necessity for dialogue, and the Village's need for many skills, some of which may not be discussed in the book or have not yet been developed (for example, a call for an open source e-banking package that supports all Village commercial transactions, tracks the number of turns money takes before leaving the local economy and provides this feedback to buyers). In these cases, readers are encouraged to apply to and continue the discussion.

The book is overwhelmingly positive, for every problem discussed it has the solution or believes that it rests in a reader. At the same time, it is not a fanciful dream (although dreams are essential), but a practical guide. Take the discussion of the "four hour chair," a tutorial for people who have used tools but never made furniture. The creation of this chair becomes a metaphor for the creation of a Village: both show "how untrained people can rapidly master vernacular processes." In other words, every person has the skills to build a village, they've just not done it before. All you need is a helping hand, and How to Build a Village is just that.

Image credit: flickr/michelle

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Thanks for the review, Malu and World Changing.

The book became necessary because the idea of declaring suburbs obsolete, and then offering a replacement is not something one can reduce to a sixty second sound bite. Our goal however is to do more than sell books. Yes, please buy a copy, but then read it, give it to others to read, and form a circle of people (a Village Circle) who want to live in one of the Villages.

If a thousand people come together, have the funds to buy their own home and/or workplace, and say they want to live in a Village, that becomes powerful. People will listen, especially enablers... the elected and appointed officials who must approve, the sustainable investors and developers who will see opportunity to do well by doing good, the sustainable professionals who dream of getting such opportunities.

The book sets out the parameters, so you end up getting what you want. It sets out ideas, but more importantly, it sets out a process where collectively very different people can negotiate a scale model that then becomes the master plan to build the Village.

We have set up as the place for people to make the connection. It's all in the early stages now, but if it catches people's imagination, it could grow rapidly.

Again thanks.

Claude Lewenz
the author

Posted by: Claude Lewenz on 13 Oct 07



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