New Ruralism – A Return to Our American Roots

In the wake of the worst recession since the Great Depression, Americans seem to be seeking a return to a simpler way of life. They desire to reconnection with food and nature. Reducing waste and expenses has become a priority. Living a little “smaller” than previously is essential. Unfortunately they are being told the only way to live responsibly is to move back into a dense urban setting.

Land planners, environmentalists and governments are pushing for a more centralized, urban life. Their fundamental belief is that by increasing our density in urban settings we can reduce our dependence on automobiles, 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 can we balance the need for space with relatively high density. One answer is New Ruralism.

 

New Ruralism is loosely defined as development that balances the need of minimizing overall land usage for shelter and maximizing land usage for greenspace or sustainable agriculture. Other elements of New Ruralism are regaining connections with our neighbors, learning to respect our food by understanding how we raise it and reconnecting with the outdoors. A large part of what it once meant to be an American was a sense of independence based on self-sufficiency counterbalanced by the ability to count on a neighbor for assistance. In modern America we have lost much that defined us forefathers.

 

A central element of the New Ruralism concept is high density housing. At first that seems to contradict the rural idea of New Ruralism, but it results in more greenspace. There are various examples to draw upon for the framework of New Ruralism. An excellent example that has stood the test of time is the Israeli moshav.  Unlike the Israeli kibbutz where the land is owned collectively, the moshav has private land for farming as well as land for a private home. The homes are arranged on relatively small lots while the majority of the land is left for agriculture. The close proximity of the houses lends itself to closer community leading neighbors to interact with each other. Unlike urban settings the overall feeling is pastoral and relaxing. Interestingly there have been some attempts in the US to draw city dwellers to the country to farm. Unfortunately they take huge tracts of land and leave many feeling just as isolated as they were in the city.

 

High density housing lends itself to larger open spaces that can be used in agriculture or left as greenspace or a combination of both. The agriculture piece can come in many forms. A communal garden can be planted and worked collectively. Alternately individual owners could lease parcels for their own gardens. With large enough spaces commercial operations can be used to supply an on-site restaurant. In Georgia, the development Serenby has a 25 acre farm that supplies vegetables to an on-site restaurant and bed and breakfast. Other developments like Montaluce use vineyards farmed on-site to supply grapes for wine. Some attempts to include agriculture have simply been tailored to the rich and not really an attempt to bring people closer to their food.

 

In New Ruralism, homeowners become more connect to their food. With a global market we are able to purchase fruits and vegetables outside of the local seasons. Processed foods further disconnect us from the plants and animals that we eat. Our children have no idea from where the foods they eat come or how they are raised. By enticing homeowners to participate in growing fruits and vegetable or raising livestock, New Ruralism gives them a new respect for the food they eat. 

 

Along with regained respect for food, homeowners are drawn out into nature. We have become so lost in television, 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. Systems of trails and parks can help relax homeowners as well as result in better health.

 

Certainly there are limitations to New Ruralism, but it is a valid concept that gives people an alternative to urban living. We are constantly told that suburban sprawl is fundamentally wrong and that we need to move back to the cities. Infill is a development priority. There is something American about being contrarian. New Ruralism is a great expression of our fundamental pursuit of freedom.