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30-10-2017 Longread Architecture & Design

‘Tesla’ of eco-villages opening in 2018

Words by Suzanna Knight

Illustrations by Regen Villages

Amsterdam, 2025. The city is at capacity, but just 20 minutes away from the city centre, a new kind of urban life is thriving. An eco-community, fully self-sustainable, made up of futuristic homes built in greenhouses, residents learning as they go, sharing data to help similar urban communities across the globe reach their potential. Sounds too good to be true? Not according to the people behind ReGen Villages. If all goes well, the first future urban farming families will be moving into their new homes in Almere in the summer of 2018.

What is ReGen Villages?

At the 2016 Venice Biennale, California based tech-entrepreneur James Ehrlich presented his vision for what he calls the ‘Tesla of eco-villages.’ A modern, sustainable community that uses the best of today’s technology to grow its own food, generate its own energy, recycle its own water and manage its own waste. Future-proof real estate development just outside of the city centre as a way to actively respond to the challenges of urbanisation, a growing global food crisis, and ever-increasing C02 emissions.

Where can I find a ReGen Village?

Construction of the prototype village in Almere should start early 2018, with the first families moving in around summertime. But more locations have already been revealed in Sweden, Norway, Belgium, the UK, and the United States.

“We chose these locations because their climates are similar, so we can use lessons learned and data from the prototype village to successfully construct and run the others. With that experience, we would like to take the step to other climate zones. Since development costs should also be lower at this time, we should be able to build more affordable models in developing countries as well. It could be a huge advantage for people in those countries to live in self-sustaining neighbourhoods like these.”

 

More on Future Cities: Stefano Boeri reimagines the high-rise as a thriving ecosystem, covered in trees and plants to help reduce air pollution >

Who will be living in this village?

When the concept was presented, over 3,100 families signed up to become part of the first ReGen Village. Families, retired couples, young idealists- anyone can buy a house in a ReGen Village. That is, anyone who can afford to.

“Prices will probably start somewhere around €275,000 for a single family home. We might have a few private sector rental houses as well,” Karin Gabor, Senior Process Manager of the Dutch team at ReGen Villages, explains. “We try our best to make the first village economically viable for everyone, but as it’s the first of its kind, we couldn’t realistically do so yet. The systems that make the village circular and allow it to function off the grid also make it quite expensive. We definitely do not intend to build these villages just for the happy few, so as technology develops, we hope it will become more viable for everyone.”

Can you just build a village like this anywhere?  

Not really. Even with clear agreements and government cooperation, building an innovative town like this is a challenge.

“We’re building a neighbourhood with 200 homes, and it’s the first ReGen Village, ever. It’s a challenge to create something new when you’re dealing with standard, existing rules and regulations that weren’t made with this new way of urban development in mind,” explains Karin. For example, the team wanted to build a few large greenhouses, called ‘food cathedrals’ to make sure there’d be enough food production for the whole village. But the regulations in that area of Almere don’t allow for large greenhouses, as the area isn’t supposed to be used for horticulture business. But since ReGen will only produce food for its own use, it’s not a business. “We’re obviously not a production company, and the rules are made for either companies that produce commercially or for private individuals, but not for whatever’s in between.”

“as technology develops, we hope it will become more viable for everyone”

What will follow?

If the first ReGen Village in Almere is constructed successfully, many more like it will follow. According to Ehrlich and his team, circular urban living with a focus on local food production is crucial to taking care of our planet, and ourselves. We just have to encourage our governments to have an open mind and allow for experimentation.

“Governments and municipalities should stop thinking in boxes. There should always be rules around safety, but to encourage these innovative developments, governments should create ‘rule-free zones’ where one can experiment. With clear goals and strict monitoring, zones like these won’t pose any risks, whilst still allowing experiments to take place.

Roll on 2018! We’re very curious to see how Regen Villages will unfold.