Radical Ruralities

Radical Ruralities – living labs for a better world

Ten years after the fall of Leeman Brothers that started a period of global economic crisis, economy is picking up again. A rise in investments, new projects and land acquisitions marks a new era of growth. What lessons do we take with us from 10 years of a low-budget, do-it-yourself, maker movement mind-set? How well established is the fresh political and social commitment, not only by professionals, but also by lay-people as part of a participatory public realm? Are we about to abandon these post-crisis collaborative working methods and regard it as a temporary hiccup; or can we yet attain valuable insights from them, which may help designers, urban planners and (landscape) architects to continue learning and benefiting? While driven by an unmistakable need for a freshly activist and cross-disciplinary design culture that established rapidly, can this optimistic position of design as a catalyst maintain, despite a renewed, economically more prosperous, reality?

To find answers to this questions we have looked into post-2008 Utopian communities in Europe, where people are trying to find new ways of making society and democracy, moving towards a more balanced relationship with natural resources, closer inter-human relationships, and alternative exchange systems (of goods and money). In this project we have selected nine communities in Europe. Their stories are not only about searching for a more sustainable lifestyle, they also narrate of local traditions, of independence of the powers that be, of unveiling the alternative, of radical landscape and agricultural innovations, of a new aesthetics, of experiment, and of re-inhabiting empty villages.

These communities, due to their varied sizes, use of a mixture of technologies and ecologies, diverse social engineering and often intimate commitment through craftsmanship and material engagement, yet have to offer lessons to suit a European exchange of ideas as well as a specific Dutch future practice within a new environmental law (‘Omgevingswet’) that will allow more and possibly larger everyday Utopias.

We selected nine projects from over 2000 communities in Europe, because of their relevance and innovative approach on a scale beyond their own community. Analysis of their set-up (why, how, what) contributes to the debate on self-governance, climate, energy and food issues, urbanization, rurality and vacant villages, as well as to factors of success and failure. Thus we aim to provide a toolkit for designers to achieve technological (mind), spiritual (heart) and societal innovation (heart). Why are they successful? Which aspects can be influenced, repeated, ergo designed?

The final selection can be ordered by size:

Small: Next-level inclusion, building(s), farm and/or land, less than 10 hectares / Medium: Socio-ecological constructs (heritage, nature, tourism, re-population): estate/, between 11 and 100 hectares / Large: Post-capitalist colonies (agriculture, urban planning, global networks): region/global, over 100 hectares.

As well as by their thematic (aesthetic) expressions:

Post-Occupy (Mind – Theoretical, conceptual, political, activist, networks, alternative currencies, inclusive, anti-capitalist / The New Commons (Heart) Psychological, spiritual, social, a sense of self, the tribe, democracy, collectivity / Maker Movement (Hands) Pragmatic, practical, circularity, do-it-yourself, low-tech, re-use oriented, technology, arts&crafts.

This researched has been made possible by the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna, which granted the Milena Jesenska Fellowship to Indira van ‘t Klooster. Follow-up research will be done in collaboration with Paul Roncken, landscape architect and researcher at Wageningen University.