My take on it all

Vertical Villages – Reinventing post-pandemic urban living

By guest contributor C. S. Hunter

COVID 19 has provided many of us with a chance to reconsider and re-evaluate our lives, and wonder what the future will bring.

With shopping moving steadily online and so many people working from home, there are fears that the city centres will become ghost towns and those businesses that remain will eventually go broke. But we have choices, and they’re not all bad.

Many people have an idealized image of living in, or retiring to, a happy little village somewhere in the country. But with our ever increasing population, this is far from practical. However, it’s not all “downhill from here.”

Imagine that instead of empty cities, we have residential cities, and the new version of a village is your apartment building, a Vertical Village. What if just about everything you needed was within walking distance? Centralised living makes many things easier and cheaper to organize, including services like power, water, waste transport and distribution.

These days vertical farming and vertical forests are reality and what if there was one every few city blocks? What if your building had forests and agriculture built in, like Bosco Verticale in Milan, or the Vertical Forest in Nanjing?  You could get fresh produce easily, not only while out walking your dog or riding your bike, but maybe just by strolling out to your nearest skypark garden, going to your hydroponic “fridge” or visiting the communal one near the laundry in the basement. It would be the equivalent of inner city markets, but fresher because produce didn’t need to be transported over a long distance and would minimise wastage. Your greens would also keep all the micronutrients lost in transport and storage and wouldn’t require plastic packaging. As a result, you too would be healthier. And if you didn’t need trucks in the city, the air would be cleaner. And every day, your vertical forest home would be quietly improving air quality

The supply of many other products could be similarly handled. For instance, as technologies like cultivated meat progress, the local butcher might have a bioreactor in the back room, rather than shipping in products from abattoirs. Daisy might not have to die for you to eat meat. Other food or hardware supplies might be 3D printed. Deliveries could be sent out via the delivery bot, or by drone. The ones that still needed to come from afar could be delivered to one large facility on the outskirts of town and distributed via public transport like light rail or via on call autonomous electric vehicles. This would result in freeing up a lot of space in the form of shops, garages and parking lots which could be repurposed for numerous uses including parks and coffee shops.

Extra space would also allow for expansion of the Sharing network. Think about the things you currently store in your garage or house. The electric tools you might only use on average once a month. The fold up bed that you keep in case the family visits. The present Aunty Julie gave you, that you hate, but need to bring out when she visits. The formal wear that you keep “just in case”, but which may not fit or be outdated by the time you actually require it.

What if some or all of these were available via goods libraries in your Vertical Village? Pay a small fee and borrow the item for a week or two when you need it, with the storage and upkeep looked after by someone else. You could donate Aunty Julie’s present and borrow other things as you needed them. These are systems that currently operate in Australia and many Scandinavian countries.

We could introduce Maker Stations, which you could visit locally and either learn how to fix your bike, restore your furniture or revamp your clothes or if no tuition was required, simply turn up and work alongside friends, much like the model of shared workspaces. These initiatives would again reduce the need to transport goods to the city and help reduce traffic pollution, improve air quality and most of all, build up a sense of community.

Much like small country towns, new “cottage industries” could spring up, with everyone spending time at home. Maybe the lady upstairs who makes a mean apple pie could generate enough business locally to make an income. Maybe the guy in the next apartment block could fix your computer. Maybe you could learn Spanish, just for the hell of it, on a Saturday morning by just walking a block or two. In the event of another pandemic you could more easily cocoon yourself in your own little vertical village.

With reduced traffic flow, more online shopping and decreased storage needs, streets, shops and parking stations could also be repurposed to become parks, coffee shops and the like. COVID 19 has changed lives already with people realizing that if they work from home, they can sleep in and see more of their families. What if just about everything you needed was close by? What if “the new normal” became spending more time with the people you care about, your family, friends and local community, rather than spending all day with people your boss chose? Would this really be such a bad world, or could your apartment block become your own happy little vertical village?

All of these things are either possible or already happening and the rate of change is increasing exponentially. COVID 19 has irrevocably changed the world for both good and bad, but above all elsehas given us a chance to pause and reset. Let’s plan for the future we want, not be a victim of circumstances. Let’s act instead of just talking about it. Let’s change our world for the better.

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