Future Living

How might our homes of tomorrow look, allowing us to live symbiotically with others and our environment? ReGen Villages founder James Ehrlich describes a new vision of domestic luxury

Illustration Christine Barrie

We know that our domestic habits are a huge contributor to carbon output; in the uk, 40 per cent of the country’s footprint comes from households. What might be harder to fathom is how to confront this issue in our own backyards, whilst also uprooting the zero-sum mentality (for me to win, you have to lose) that has brought us to this point. The next chapter for humans, if we are to have one, will be defined by a rethinking of this egocentric system, placing mutual prosperity (for me to win, you also have to win) at the heart of everything we do.

Someone who has fully grasped this approach is California-based entrepreneur James Ehrlich, founder of ReGen Villages – a startup working to develop self-sustaining communities via a pioneering model.

“This is a new kind of living, that’s about flourishing, that’s about thriving abundance and security,” he explains to me. ReGen communities mimic patterns from nature to create a “collaborative economy”, providing all necessary means for subsistence – such as year-round farm- to-table techniques, including aquaponics, from which waste is reappropriated to feed other animals. Alongside this, innovative ‘village operating systems’ create a sentient environment capable of breaking away from the Internet for self-reliance. Ultimately this software will allow one neighbourhood to communicate with other neighbourhoods around the world in similar climate zones, enabling them to autonomously improve each other. Ehrlich tells me that these are living spaces for “beautiful, multicultural, multigenerational, multi-socioeconomic-level families.” It is a lifestyle proven, he is quick to point out, to have multiple benefits, such as longevity and reduced health ailments.

In the suddenly precarious world of 2020, the appeal of a reliable, self-sustaining, intelligent eco-village is hard to deny. Currently, for the planet’s increasing number of city dwellers, when resources fail or supply chains break, as Ehrlich says, “it’s a catastrophe – people get trapped in an elevator, or they don’t have access to food, water or medicine.” Conversely, in self-sustaining communities, people meet the same challenges by “coming together with what they have, to work out what they can do to find ways forward.”

This isn’t about going without or regressing. In fact – in the spirit of that win-win paradigm shift – quite the opposite: “It’s a new kind of luxury; it’s the luxury of safety and security, with your natural resources supporting your thriving.” On the subject of whether the concept could be threatening to pre-existing destructive, but lucrative, companies he says, “It may be initially, to those in materials or construction, big ag or automotive, but, then again, I believe there’s a place for them to evolve with us in this.”

Perhaps most significantly, equivalent development work is already underway, and a revolution in our interior worlds is no longer optional. “What we’re saying,” Ehrlich emphasises, “is why don’t we build these neighbourhoods in consideration of the natural environment; in consideration of the human ability to live happy, healthy lives.

“It’s not about technology anymore; it’s about money and political will.”