Defining the problem: Monster we call city

I have lived most of my life in cities and grew up believing that I am among the privilege few in our country who have access to better education, better housing, better work opportunities and hence better quality of life. These are the few popular advantages of living an urban lifestyle. It was only over past few years I became present to the inherent damage city life has done to my emotional and physical health. Living solitary lives, highly inspired by attaining materialistic wealth and some abstract success, takes a huge toll on our lives.

An 80-year-old Harvard study on adult development (2015), has revealed that the key to living happy and healthy lives is building profound, healthy, and meaningful relationships (Dr. Robert Waldinger, 2015; Liz Mineo, 2017). 

Humans are social beings that thrive in a happy, secured, and loving environment; which is contrary to the solitary, competitive and busy environment of urban life. Psychologist and author, Susan Pinker, in her book, The Village effect, reiterates the significance of building small villages around us for living a happier, healthier, and longer life. For most of us, in our fast-paced city lives, our closest relationship is with our jobs or careers. That can make us feel very lonely. If that was not enough, living in cities also brings with it other researched consequences like the physical stress induced by air, water and noise pollution, emotional stress induced by competitive jobs, success-driven mindset and finances, and social stress caused by inequality and isolation. All these factors contribute towards us living an unhappy, unhealthy, and stressful life.

Probable Solution: Just a beginning

My husband, a ceramic artist, and a maker spent some time of his life in a Kibbutz in Israel. In past ten years, he has mentioned many times that he was the happiest and healthiest living there. Kibbutz is an example of community living, where a group of people come together to live and contribute towards a healthy and sustainable life. There are other few examples across the world of like-minded people trying to create a healthier and holistic life by building a meaningful community around them.

Completely jaded with the expensive, stressful, and success-oriented life in Bangalore, we were for past few years deeply questioning our lifestyle and choices. However, it was our commitment towards creating a healthy and hopeful future for our 2-year-old daughter that gave us the courage to take a major life altering decision. We sold all our possessions and bought a small farm in a village near Mysore, Karnataka and moved there to begin a newer and happier life.

Although we had some support from our family as well as few farmer friends living in our vicinity, the decision was still very daunting. With a not very clear future in our mind, we started building. In past 12 months, we have planted over 500 trees with a purpose to create a Permaculture food forest in our 15 acres farm. All the structures in the farm, including our house, are built in a cost-effective and sustainable manner with re-purposed shipping containers. We have also built a micro handicraft center that would thoughtfully make hand-crafted products using different medium like clay, wood, glass etc. We have named our space and creations Nugu.

Shipping Containers used for making various living and work spaces on our farm in Mulluru village, HD Kote, Karnataka.

Although it has been a rollercoaster journey like most new beginnings, our goal of creating a Smart, Sustainable and Supportive community is much clearer and visible.

The Dream: Smart Sustainable Supportive Community

We are on a mission to build a community where people can live, learn, and earn together. A community based on profound relationships not only with each other, but also with our environment and planet. This dream community designed for nurturing the people and environment would have these features at its core:

A Permaculture Farm: Permaculture is sustainable lifestyle that uses existing forces of nature towards building a healthy environment. We would use the practices of permaculture to grow an ecosystem where plants, animals, micro-organisms, and humans coexist in a symbiotic environment. This farm would be at the core of this community, providing food and sustenance for all species inhabited. Healthy food is at the core of human existence and with rigorous monoculture farming practices combined with the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers, we have created a huge imbalance in the ecosystem. Today we are not only eating unhealthy, chemical laid or genetically modified food, but are also deteriorating the quality of soil across the globe. The Permaculture practices in this community would be a perfect example towards living thoughtfully and healthy.

Humanity is the only religion: The intention is to not build a cult following a religion, guru, or idol. Respect for each other, respect for other species and respect for environment is the only binding belief. All members contribute and are responsible for each other’s safety and development.

Sustainable Business Units: The community would support each other to create micro business environments that provide opportunities for growth and development of our community and nearby communities. Businesses inspired by mutual and environment development would flourish. Living and working from the same space would not only allow people to spend more time with their family but also reduce the stress and pollution caused by travel.

Barter system: Within community, barter would be preferable mode of exchange of goods and services. Value of a product would not be defined by a currency but by mutual need and appreciation. This would not only transform our unhealthy relationship to currency but would also alleviate inequality and competition.

Open Learning Center: The community would also be a learning center for children and adults. Personalized and self-directed learning opportunities would be created for children through various real-life experiences and resources. Various functional centers like music, theatre, craft, carpentry, robotics, farming, organic products, yoga, meditation, Internet of Things, etc. would offer incredible learning opportunities for young minds.

Technology: This smart community would use technology to create better learning and living opportunities. Responsible Innovation would be at the heart of the community and technology would be used by people to make better use of resources. With the growing advent of Gig Economy and Work from home options, global connectivity will allow people to live in the community while undertaking various work projects.

Natural and Renewable resources: The community will be built and designed using natural and renewable resources. With sustainability at its core, all activities within the community will be executed keeping this in mind.

Each community needs to be small: Remember, we are building a small village and not a large group. A small intimate group that has love, compassion, and empathy as its root; learning and sustainability as its branches and happiness and health as its fruits. One such model would attract many other such communities and the cause will grow and spread at its own pace.

This dream is about creation and happiness. It led me to choose happiness over success. It gave me courage to transform my success-driven mindset to relationship-committed mindset. It gave me hope that humanity can flourish and peacefully coexist with each other and with nature.