More on what a VillageTown is
We coined the word VillageTown to describe a new, yet very old form of social habitat... a town made of villages.
By villages we mean separate, identifiable face-to-face communities of approximately 500 people, typically in about 200 homes. Villages have a central plaza that define the energy of the village, the central meeting place where people work, shop, socialize and stroll. People live in the village. Most work there. Their young children go to school in the village, and the village provides a place for them in all stages of life. Villages tend to develop character based on the mix of personalities who live there. Each one has its own look, feel and flavor. In communities of 250 to 750 people know each other, and they tend to look after each other. The saying it takes the village to raise the child is not a cliché. When children grow up in an adult world, they learn the norms of that place. There tends to be less pressure on families in villages, especially safe ones, because the children are free to roam, and the parents know someone is keeping an interested eye, just as they are doing for other children in the village.
The problem with villages is economic. Unless they are within a strong agricultural economy where they serve as the social and trading hub, villages lack the critical mass to support business. Aristotle wrote about this in his book on Politics: When several villages are united in a single, complete community large enough to be nearly or quite self-supporting, the city state comes into existence..." Today we call this a local economy and it is simple to understand. With 500 people a community can probably support a general store. But with 5,000 people a community can support a bookstore, a watch maker, a hardware store, and at 10,000 people a community will have a thriving local economy because the critical mass of customers exist for the businesses to do well. While the 500 person village may offer the best self-supporting social atmosphere, one needs ten to twenty times that size for the local economy to be nearly or quite self-supporting.
The solution can be found in many cities where within the large metropolis one finds villages, side-by-side, each with a very different character. In America the industrial cities developed such villages based on nationality. The manufacturing and shipping city of Baltimore, Maryland USA had a German town, a Polish sector, an Italian District and so on. Jane Jacobs' identified villages throughout the city of New York, some based on work, others on residence. The barrios of Madrid provide an older model of the town made up of villages. In geographical terms, a VillageTown is a town made of villages.
In its first generation of existence however, it is different than the traditional model because it happens all at once. Everything will be new at the beginning, and everyone will have the same experience of newness at the same time. In this way, it is more similar to the pioneering experience of the New World. Whether we look to the Jamestown Plantation of colonial Virginia settled on its second boat in 1608 or the planned settlement of Christchurch New Zealand some 250 years later.
In design terms, a VillageTown benefits by the introduction of what Christopher Alexander calls A Pattern Language: a way of looking at the elements of urban and place design from the macrocosmic to the micro, to use what works and to avoid what does not. The 20th century provides us with many examples of what does not work, and a VillageTown begins with a framework for design that goes far beyond what the usual developer considers part of its job. It includes certain non-negotiables, such as no cars within the village walls, and it seeks certainty and completion in design that is the antithesis of suburban sprawl. While a VillageTown is a new, all-at-once development, it defines itself as an instant historic district. Historic is probably the wrong word, since history only comes with time. However, the central characteristic of the historic district is the rule that it's exterior face cannot be changed. Unlike many communities where tear-down and reconstruction seems to be an almost permanent situation... at all times some building is wrapped in scaffolding, with the sound, dust and traffic of demolition or construction, in historic districts it is exceptionally difficult to change the exterior face, height or positioning of a building. In a VillageTown we seek this for a very different reason.
The need for VillageTowns is immediate, we project the demand will be very large once people understand what they are about. However, the usual planning process to build on such a scale can be arduous as regulations are written to anticipate and prevent all sorts of transgressions that happen when pecuniary interest clashes with the common or public interest. To regulate this local governments must draft rules that allow the private owner certain rights while protecting the public's legitimate interests. The problem is the grey area in the rules. When one has a historic district there are no grey areas. What you see is what you get. There need be no regulations about view shafts, because these are set at the beginning, after which they cannot be altered. The buildings need to be designed with flexible interiors that can adapt to changing times, but the exterior heights, wall placement and structural aspects are fixed and locked.
A VillageTown is a town made of villages, and it is designed for a very different purpose than the typical suburban master plan for zones of detached houses, shopping malls, office and industrial parks all connected wide boulevards and roads.