It sounds a bit like a futuristic kibbutz but the developers of the ‘high-tech eco village’ ground is about to be broken on in the Netherlands believe it represents the future of residential construction and urban planning. The 50-acre village will consist of 203 new homes including small cottages, large villas and terraced houses and is a half-hour commute from the capital, Amsterdam. Development is expected to begin within the next couple of months and be completed before the end of 2019.
So far the village sounds like any number of the other new-build commuter housing developments that spring up around the world’s major cities. However, this particular village is to be built from the ground up with tech-infused self-sustainability at its core. ReGen Villages, the developers behind the project, to be built on land reclaimed in the 1960s after a seawall was built – the construction site is 7 metres below sea level – will ensure that the new village will have a carbon footprint that is just about as shallow as it gets.
The village will produce its own renewable energy, most of its food, have a self-sufficient, eco-friendly waste-disposal system and be car-free. ‘Vertical gardens’ housed inside greenhouses, orchards, and ‘food forests’ will, along with chicken and fish farming, provide much of the produce residents need on-site.
Renewable energy will be produced through solar panels, wind turbines and biomass generators and an eco-friendly self-contained sewage system that filters sewage through plants, trees and an anaerobic digester is to be built. Food and animal waste will be processed into chicken and fish feed through an organic system based on black soldier flies and worms.
Cars, presumed to be all electric in the near future, will be left in designated parking areas around the perimeter of the village where charging points connected to the renewable generation system will be positioned.
The whole system will be run by an AI-based ‘village OS’ software that will also include a Blockchain-powered ‘time bank’. This will record hours volunteered by residents to community work such as farming, gardening, providing care for the youngest and most elderly residents or teaching a yoga class or leading other communal activities or services. Community volunteer hours will be offset against Home Owners Association fees.
The business model developers ReGen Villages plan to operate is also a much longer term, ‘sustainable’ alternative to that common to property developers and home construction companies. Due to the high cost of building the hi-tech, sustainable infrastructure of the village from the ground up, initial margins on the sale of homes, which will be priced at between €200,000 and €850,000, will be wafer thin. The profit will come over the long term from ongoing property management that is expected to generate annual single-digit returns but indefinitely. Most property developers seek to maximise initial profits and get in and out of new developments as quickly as possible, reinvesting margins in new land and construction.
ReGen Villages has already earmarked new villages like the first in the Netherlands for land near to the towns of Lund in Sweden and Lejre-Hvalso in Denmark. Founder James Ehrlich says that his company has significant financial backing waiting in the pipeline for the proof-of-concept that the first village will provide. He also believes that demographic trends are on his side:
“In the last few years, we’ve really seen that the market has shifted and that there’s a hollowing out of cities. They are really expensive and the quality of life is going down, and as much as millennials or younger people really want to be in the city, the fact is that they can’t really afford it . . . the trends are really moving toward this kind of neighbourhood development outside of cities.”
The close-to-complete self-sustainability may prove to be much more of a challenge to replicate on a larger scale. Nonetheless, if the Netherlands’ first eco-friendly, smart village turns out to be anywhere near as an idyllic as it sounds in theory, there should be no shortage of volunteers more than happy to move out of the city into this kind of self-contained community.