Search for “urban village” online and many of the entries that come up will refer to an urban planning concept of residences clustered near shops and offices. In the U.S. in particular, it’s a fairly new idea that focuses on neighborhood design. But an urban village is traditionally much more than a physical space. It’s a network of relationships; a community of interrelated people. Similarly, a true urban village isn’t just a real estate grid and the marketplace exchanges that occur there. Among those who focus on sharing and the commons, it’s a term that refers to a collaborative way of life — a relatively small, place-based urban community where people cooperate to meet one another’s many needs, be they residential, economic, governmental, or social. In the process, they wind up transforming their own experience of that community.
And these kinds of urban villages are on the rise around the world, especially throughout northern Europe. Metropolises like Berlin and Copenhagen host do-it-yourself communities like Holzmarkt and the long-running Christiania. Israel is seeing a growth in urban kibbutzim. In South Korea, Seoul is aiming to establish “sharing villages” throughout the city. While ecovillages and intentional communities are still more popular in rural areas, where agriculture plays a key role, urban villages are seen by their proponents as a natural and obvious antidote to the problems of climate change, economic inequality, and social isolation.
“The city is a normal environment for this because there’s critical mass, so it’s logical,” says Tine De Moor, a professor focusing on “Institutions for Collective Action in Historical Perspective” at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “I’ve been describing these cooperatives for quite a few years, but they’ve only been growing since.”