Sustainable Self-sufficient Urban Living

PUBLISHED 28 NOV 2016   

One of the most pressing issues facing humankind is how to sustainably feed and house the growing global population, which is expected to grow to around 10-billion by 2050. These people will all require precious resources such as food and water, which are already stretched, and in some cases even threatened by climate change, development and pollution.

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The only way that the planet is going to be able to provide for the ever increasing number of people is if we come up with clever, sustainable solutions that meet these growing needs.

Self-sufficient off-grid communities that consist of energy-positive homes powered by renewable sources of energy, and which manage water wisely and waste effectively, producing organic food onsite, offer the perfect solution. These types of communities will not only reduce the burden placed on government agencies, but will ensure families living there can lead a thriving existence with minimal, if any, input from outside agencies.

A new real estate development startup, ReGen Villages, has a vision to develop self-sufficient eco-villages that meet all the above criteria. Their pilot project in Almere, Netherlands, is expected to be completed in 2018, after which they are looking at developing similar self-sufficient residential developments in countries across Europe including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany and Belgium, and ultimately plan to expand the concept globally.

Unlike conventional urban properties, ReGen villages are designed to be "regenerative" (hence the name), with resources being used in a closed loop system. This makes maximum use of resources and limits waste.

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"Regenerative means systems where the output of one system can actually be the input of another," ReGen's founder, James Ehrlich told Business Insider.

ReGen villages incorporate common permaculture concepts into the urban planning and design. For example, household food scraps are recycled by composting and used as a food source for flies, which are then fed to fish in an aquaponics system, which in turn provide nutrients for aquaponic plants growing in the system. These aquaponic gardens, together with traditional soil grown crops fertilized by livestock waste, produce a source of healthy organic food for residents of the village. Rainwater is collected and used to irrigate plants and feed into the aquaponics system, while electricity is supplied by solar panels. These are essentially urban micro-farming communities, where every bit of space is fully utilized for growing food, which is in stark contrast to a golf estate with its great expanse of turf that requires constant watering and fertilizing to maintain, yet gives nothing back. Depending on the local climate and the residents dietary habits, it is anticipated that a ReGen village could produce enough fresh food to meet between 50-100% of its residents food requirements. 

"It's this concept that the way you look at a subdivision is edible, so you walk through the path and there's berries and fruit trees and nuts and spices and all kinds of things to enjoy," Ehrlich says. "We don't do lawns, we don't do golf courses or tennis courts. That's a good place to grow food, so we're going to grow food there."

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While ReGen villages utilize many basic permaculture concepts, they are a bit more hi-tech, which may explain why Ehrlich refers to ReGen as the '"Tesla of eco-villages" that will enable eco-conscious people to live an eco-friendly urban lifestyle and go off-grid in style. The villages are equipped with sensors and computerized technology that will monitor energy consumption, farming efficiency and life-style patterns, sending that data to an online database that can be accessed by other villages so that they can all learn from one another and ultimately become even more efficient.

By integrating these technologies with basis permaculture principles, ReGen Villages can potentially provide a sustainable solution to some pressing challenges facing society, including: population growth; expanding urbanization; scarcity of natural resources, particular food and water security; while at the same time helping to reduce atmospheric emissions that contribute to climate change.

A RenGen Village not only offers environmental and economic benefits to its residents, but also social benefits, as families living in these communities are empowered to be self-sufficient within a shared communal ecosystem that allows them to reconnect with nature while living an urban lifestyle.