Optimist builds walkable villages in cities. People want them

From agile neighborhoods for veterans or the unhoused to pocket hoods for Portlanders, the dozens of co-housing villages designed by Mark Lakeman are nationally recognized and in-demand. “All my work, and all the permaculture, comes under an overall unifying heading. That is ReVillaging, you might say,” he explained, “With USA neighborhoods being mostly expressions of development driven goals, they are more products than villages, featuring the fewest community gathering places of all “1st world” countries.

For over 25 years, Lakeman has been creating urban places where community can grow. He took us for a tour of Portland where he’s helped build Dignity Village – the legal encampment for formerly homeless -, converted old apartments into Kailash Permaculture Village and designed the back-to-back co-housing villages Cully Grove and Cully Green. He gave us a tour of the two “very intentional, dense, urban retrofit villages”.

Both villages are built with fairly traditional architecture, but it’s the orientation that is novel. All the homes- complete with porches- are facing each other and there are no driveways or roads to ruin the atmosphere, but instead country lanes that wander through vegetation.

Lakeman believes in rules for creating a successful village, much of which is influenced by Kevin Lynch’s 1960 text “The Image of the City”. “The best villages in the world are characterized by a menu of consistent elements or patterns,” explains Lakeman. “The first would be that when you come to the perimeter of a village that there’d be a celebration of the passage through the boundary and so gateways are important”. He points out that gateways aren’t like gated communities, but meant to be welcoming. Perimeters are also important and he specifies that at Cully Green it’s an abundant, fruiting and self-watering landscape.

Once on the inside, great communities have a network of paths, but they’re not purely functional. “The paths themselves are meant to be like a journey… not just to get you from one place to another. You’re supposed to be enjoying yourself. And you’re constantly arriving at nodes of interest and activity.” All of these nodes of activity lead to a central commons “where everyone knows that they belong.” Cully Green has both a central lawn for community gatherings and barbecues, and also a large permaculture garden and orchards.

“We’ve become kind of lazy like we just consume a house as a product and then we liquidate it as an investment and we don’t root and realize that our continuity in a place would actually give us the wealth of having observed with that place over time. It’s so integral to our identity… to be actually a part of some social ritual with each other.”

Mark Blakeman, Communitecture https://www.communitecture.net/

On *faircompanies https://faircompanies.com/videos/optimist-builds-walkable-villages-in-cities-people-want-them/

16 Replies to “Optimist builds walkable villages in cities. People want them”

  1. unfortunately these won't work in a long term, economy is based on big cities this ain't 1500s any longer, sorry folks.

  2. Love this wish people in the northern Virginia area would do something like this.

  3. This model of living makes total sense. Thanks for the informative clip.


  5. I hope the native oak survives in the Cully Commons…it appears that there is earthen fill around the tree's drip line. It probably has a pretty good chance. Kevin Lynch: cool author. The project architecture has a nice pedestrian scale, not fancy or pretentious.

  6. Honestly, not a chance in hell I could live in a city run by liberal lunatics like Portland. This city has willingly made itself the asshole of America and I apologize for the language but I don't know of another way of describing it. Some of the aspects of this way of living described by this guy are appealing in a general sense but in the end, it's Portland and the left wing radical way of governing is anti common sense. I couldn't even get passed the 3 minute mark of the video and I just wanted to reach through the monitor screen. Painting a sunflower in the street makes it safer…. in Portland… rrrrrright..

  7. As a native Portland, Oregonian for 57 years, what’s so sad is this video. It talks about community and the impact it has; at the same time redlining and gentrification ripped apart black communities and neighborhoods which forced them to leave. North/Northeasr Portland was once filled with black/ brown hard working people and today filled with virtually all white people ignoring their own culpability.

  8. What a nice development! Of course it isn't perfect and there is still plenty of work to be done, but I believe it is a step into the right direction to correct the maldevelopments of American (or Western in general, let's be honest) housing design. It puts humans first, a pleasant contrast to the inhospitable car-centric landscapes which characterize American life of the last few decades, with their ugly strip-malls and sprawling yet disconnected suburbs. There is real value in having more closely-knit communities like this, in which people know each other and can casually meet up and talk to each other (no need for scheduling a get-together and driving for 20 minutes just to see your friends or have some dinner/an evening beer with them). It is also a better place for children to grow up, safe enough for them to play outside with their friends instead of being glued to the screens of their devices inside all day.

    For the critics (especially those, who are like myself a bit more conservative-minded than the average Portland resident):
    1. The American dream is about living a happy, healthy, safe, prosperous and self-determined life. It's not about living in a big McMansion and driving everywhere, this is a misrepresentation by real estate developers.
    2. Communal living isn't inherently "hippie" or "left-wing", conservative traditional societies have been doing it for millennia. Pick up a book about early American living (or even just Anne of Green Gable, etc.) in which life in America is described before our society changed drastically to what we now consider "normal". If you could talk to your great grand-parents, they certainly wouldn't consider the current style of living to be normal.
    3. Living like this might seem unnatural or weird to you, but that's mostly because many aren't used to it anymore. People don't want to talk to their neighbors because they are scared of social interaction and feel like there is nothing that connects them. Isn't it strange that many people have few regular (emphasis on the regular, as in every day or at least once a week) social interactions with anyone other than their spouses and their colleagues at work. Social interaction can feel exhausting sometime, but the more you do it the less exhausting it gets, it's simply a matter of being accustomed to it. Loneliness is a far greater problem for our society (and us individuals) than too much social interaction.
    4. Humans are designed to walk places, that's why God gave us legs and feet. Walking is healthy, safe and completely free. Designing residential areas to be walkable makes them more attractive and safer. Many of societies problems are related to the overuse of car centric design, just think of the obesity epidemic, the problem of drunk driving and the hundreds of thousands of people who are severely injured or disabled in car accidents each year. Not to mention the fact that our beautiful landscapes have become littered with millions of miles of road and gigantic parking lots. Cars (like all technology) should serve us, not be our masters and force us to model our lives around them.
    5. Lastly, the use of wild plants, shrubs and food producing gardens is not just pretty to look at but also good for the human psyche. It also reduces noise (leaves absorb noise like few other materials) and generate a pleasant living climate in summer. Even if their contribution to "food-security" that the guy in the video was talking about so much is rather insignificant, they are still much preferable to the boring monotony of HOA-regulated pesticide-treated lawns that are unfortunately so common in many places. Which is not to say that lawns don't have a right to exist as well, they just shouldn't be the entirety of plant life in a yard.

  9. It's true….I lived in a planned community that had little village areas. The kids would play there with each other while the parents were able to easily watch. I would so love to be part of a tiny house community that was a circle and in the middle a park like area for folks to play games together. No need to onmy have those things in a retirement community.

  10. Several sound ideas throughout this video such as converting existing neighborhoods into intentional, somewhat-shared living spaces. Brilliant community efforts towards peaceful secure living and food sources.

  11. Planned Urbana Development (PUD), HOA, Condos…. Not sure how this is different….

  12. Applaud this great idea to go back and reunite people as use to be long time ago … Thanks for the motivation to replicate this .

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