In the wake of the worst recession since the Great Depression, Americans appear to be seeking a return to a simpler way of life. They want to reconnect with food and nature. Reducing waste and expenses has become a priority. Living a little “smaller” than before is essential. Unfortunately, they are told that the only way to live responsibly is to return to a dense urban environment.
Urban planners, environmentalists and governments are pushing for more centralized urban life. Their core belief is that by increasing our density in urban settings we can reduce our dependence on cars, use fewer resources, and lessen our impact on the environment. While this may satisfy a segment of our society, some people desire a quieter rural lifestyle. The question is whether we can balance the need for space with relatively high density. One answer is the new ruralism.
The new ruralism is loosely defined as a development that balances the need to minimize the general use of land for shelter and maximize the use of the land for green space or sustainable agriculture. Other elements of New Ruralism are regaining connections with our neighbors, learning to respect our food by understanding how we grow it, and reconnecting with the outdoors. A large part of what being an American once meant was a sense of independence based on self-reliance balanced by the ability to enlist the help of a neighbor. In modern America we have lost much of what defined us to our ancestors.
A central element of the New Ruralism concept is high-density housing. At first, that seems to contradict the rural idea of the new ruralismo, but it does result in more green spaces. There are several examples on which to build for the framework of the new ruralismo. An excellent example that has stood the test of time is the Israeli moshav. Unlike the Israeli kibbutz, where the land is collectively owned, the moshav has private land for agriculture, as well as land for a private house. The houses are spread over relatively small lots, while most of the land is used for agriculture. The proximity of the houses lends itself to a closer community that encourages neighbors to interact with each other. Unlike urban settings, the overall feel is pastoral and relaxing. Interestingly, there have been some attempts in the United States to attract city dwellers to the countryside to farm. Unfortunately, they take large tracts of land and leave many feeling as isolated as in the city.
High-density housing lends itself to larger open spaces that can be used in agriculture or left as green spaces or a combination of both. The agricultural piece can be presented in many ways. A community garden can be planted and worked collectively. Alternatively, individual owners could rent plots for their own gardens. With large enough spaces, business operations can be used to supply an on-site restaurant. In Georgia, the Serenby development has a 25-acre farm that supplies vegetables to a restaurant and on-site bed and breakfast. Other developments, such as Montaluce, use locally grown vineyards to supply grapes for wine. Some attempts to include agriculture have simply adapted to the rich and are not really an attempt to bring people closer to their food.
At New Ruralism, homeowners connect more with their food. With a global market, we can buy fruits and vegetables outside of the local seasons. Processed foods disconnect us even more from the plants and animals we eat. Our children have no idea where the food they eat comes from or how they are raised. By encouraging owners to participate in growing fruits and vegetables or raising livestock, the new ruralism gives them a new respect for the food they eat.
Along with the regained respect for food, the owners are drawn to nature. We have so lost ourselves in television, the Internet and other forms of indoor entertainment that we have forgotten the beauty of our surroundings. The same open space used for agriculture can also be used for green spaces. Trail and park systems can help relax homeowners and improve health.
Certainly New Ruralism has limitations, but it is a valid concept that provides people with an alternative to urban life. We are constantly told that suburban sprawl is fundamentally wrong and that we must return to the cities. Padding is a development priority. There is something American about being contradictory. The new ruralism is a great expression of our fundamental search for freedom.