Village Homes, in Davis, California, is a place I have long admired. Begun in 1974, it encompasses some 240 housing units, most of which are single-family homes set close together. Although cars are necessary for the suburban setting, their importance is minimized. The important parts of homes face away from the narrow streets and parking spots. There are extensive walking paths throughout, open green spaces, large common garden areas, and community centers. Houses have solar panels and solar water heaters. Rather than having storm sewers,
This is exactly the sort of place
for the meaning of “wealth” to be redefined.
the excess rainwater flows into surface swales, where it is allowed to percolate into the ground to maintain the water table. In spring, Village Homes is utterly beautiful.
More importantly, the people who live in Village Homes are a solid community, with many close friendships and lots of cooperation. To my way of thinking, this is exactly the sort of place for the meaning of “wealth” to be redefined.
Properties in Village Homes are expensive, so the fact that there is community wealth does not mean that money is not required. It is. But similar communities may well be less affluent, yet still be able to enjoy the kinds of wealth that come from strong community and exchanges of goods and expertise within the community. Certainly, life in any strong community is better than one where people don’t know their neighbors.
We are unlikely to completely escape the meaning of “wealth”
that those with lots of money insist on:
lots of money.
There should be millions of places like Village Homes all around the world. Village Homes is in a suburban American setting, but there is no inherent reason that equally vital communities can’t be urban. Nor should it be necessary for such communities to be especially affluent. It is important that all of them do their best to respect environmental limits, but in the end, the element of community is probably the most important element. At Village Homes, the “community” we speak of is obvious, but the same word has taken on new meanings in our internet age, and it’s even possible that a community might be geographically scattered, at least somewhat.
We are unlikely to completely escape the meaning of “wealth” that those with lots of money insist on: lots of money. But I would like to suggest that our new world, with its rising population and diminishing resources, will probably diminish our opportunities to have a lot of excess money, and we need to recognize and cultivate other kinds of wealth. If we do, diminished opportunity to accumulate excessive cash should not be of particular concern. We all know that money is certainly not the only kind of wealth. It is up to us to define for ourselves what other kinds of wealth are important. Here is where places like Village Homes come in. Strong community is itself a form of wealth, one that results in pleasant living with low crime.
If you are wealthy, you can readily afford piano lessons for your children. But suppose you didn’t have the cash, but were able to obtain those lessons by indulging your passion for making furniture to trade for piano lessons. No cash need change hands, but each party increases its wealth. Further, no taxes are involved. Is the person who obtains piano lessons without cash less wealthy than one who pays?
Things that you can make or do are wealth.
Given a vibrant community, virtually everyone has something to contribute. It needn’t require special training or skills. Baby sitting is a very important element for many working families, and might be exchanged for many things that don’t involve cash. How about organizing a teen club in the community building? Workshops in organic gardening? Knitting lessons? The entire community is enriched when people give their time and talent in this sort of barter.
I offer the following elements that we do not commonly think of as wealth, but which, in fact, are, besides the obvious wealth derived from freedom, health and fitness, marriage, children, friendships, a healthy environment, and more.
- Practical expertise of any kind
- Items you make yourself
- Food you produce yourself
- Art and music you make yourself
- Time, to be used as needed for yourself or others
- Natural beauty and wilderness we hold in common
If you have these things, particularly if you live in a beautiful and strong-knit community like Village Homes, it is almost impossible not to think of yourself as wealthy, regardless of how much or how little money you have. When each person is able to contribute something to the community, either goods or expertise, all will be wealthy.