Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | November 13, 2009

How Do you Sell An Apartment in a Vertical Village? (part 5)

Several schmucks have made comments about how this brilliant idea is not for them. (No insult intended- I just liked the sound of ‘several schmucks’).

The first thing to to affirm is that this isn’t for everyone. I only hope to slow the blanketing ugliness of suburbs. I want to offer an alternative for those people who do find value in this type of living.

5 land use. looking into VV courtard

Courtyard or town center between buildings. (We could do much better design work).

There are those people who love to build their own houses by hand and maintain them. There are people who are actually farmers. There are people who don’t want to have to see large open spaces and wildlife. All of these folks need to look elsewhere.

My target is the people who are living in suburbs because they have the money to do so but, when looking honestly, admit that they would prefer not to mark the seasons by mowing, raking, snow shoveling and repairing.

The sales target is a person who might be interested in any of the following:

  • Reduced time requirements of home ownership.
  • Saving opportunities in all directions.
  • Increased availability of amenities, such as people enjoy in the city.
  • Higher quality services (faster mail, more secure environment, excellent public transportation, access to large garden plots, golf courses, etc)
  • The opportunity to significantly improve our impact on land, water, wildlife, carbon emissions, consumption required and all natural systems.
  • The availability of locally grown, affordably priced food.
  • The ability to look from your window or walk 10 minutes from your house into a national park-like landscape.
  • Enjoy a marked increase in community building opportunities through carefully designed buildings, courtyards and town centers.
  • The opportunity for a sense of cohesion and “town pride” lost on many (but not all) sprawling suburbs.
  • Income generating possibilities on your parcel of land.*
5 land use. Garage space

Stick the car under ground and drop your second vehicle for public bus.

Personally, any one of these factors above would sell me on this manner of living. However, several people have raised valid concerns.

  • I don’t want to live up in the sky, it gives me a weird feeling.
  • I want my own space and privacy.
  • People don’t spontaneously walk outside, fewer children play on the streets, people don’t spontaneously meet the neighbors, people lead more sedentary life styles.
  • Ideological resistance because the “American Dream” includes owning your own house.
  • People partly move to the suburbs to manage their own property and have the opportunity to garden.

I grant that this would be a different way of living for those accustomed to the burbs. Several of these challenges can be answered by creative design, constructing the project (so that people can experience it) and re-teaching people’s expectations.

In existing condominium high rises, one finds that one’s own apartment does provide a quite adequate sense of privacy. The halls and outside “town centers” are certainly less private than a back yard. (Point for the burbs). There would be ample opportunity for gardening in private community garden plots as well as common spaces.

Except in the unusual case, I am picturing condominium’s which you buy and own. This, combined with your ownership of a parcel of farm/parkland/wilderness would have to replace the “American Dream” (nightmare) of suburban ownership.

By this point we have already whittled down our target market. To me the most challenging questions remain unanswered. Is the experience of living 12 stories in the sky intrinsically inferior to living on the ground?

I can’t speak to this from any direct experience. I find the American sedentary lifestyle arises from a number of factors working together and would not be solved by Vertical Villages. However, I do think that the combination of easy access to beautiful areas to walk and bike with the ability to walk to numerous retail stores rather than driving would balance out any negative impact on the couch potato problem.

Would fewer kids play outside? Would people venture outside more seldom? I can easily see either of these negative effects occurring.

Yet a community of 200 (5 buildings at 12-15 stories each) could easily employ a security guard and the residents would be able to recognize each other’s faces. There is the possibility that the local ball-field or skate park could be more safe than the suburban equivalent.

Also, though people might take fewer spontaneous trips to their backyard, they might make far more planned trips for a variety of outdoor activities. There could be more opportunities for activities within easy walking distance.

5. scene 1 trees colored

Typical sprawl.

5. scene 2 color

Opportunity Abounds.

In the end, living in the Vertical Villages of the future is not for everyone but I’m convinced that it has an important role to fill. Aside from the satisfaction of more sustainable development and the beautiful surroundings it seems to me that the greatest opportunity presented is the chance to rebuild village community.

Sharing stores, coffee shops, garden areas, parks, hallways, village centers, parking garages hiking trails, economic endeavors (land lease) and so much more with your neighbors would be a dramatic shift from the little island of isolation which is modern suburbia. You would lose some sense of personal space and privacy but you would be physically brought into community and connection in a way that could offer immense satisfaction. I’m not suggesting an externally imposed, commune-style utopia, I’m just suggesting the naturally occurring joys of learning to interact with other humans.

The final post will deal with the challenges of bringing the idea to market.


* If you chose to use public transportation and rent cars occasionally you could lease your underground parking space. You could also work with other residents who each own sections of the surrounding land to lease your land for farming, wind-power generation, golf courses, school field’s, or any other function which could not be achieved using half-acre, fenced, suburban backyards.



  1. We have one more post to go on the subject of Vertical Villages. Part 6 will discuss “If these are such a great idea, why hasn’t the market already delivered them?”

    I want to add one comment that won’t have a place in the final post.

    Buildings this size (5-20 stories) in groups offer the opportunity for cool things like: A) recycling all grey water for local outdoor use. B) Processing sewage locally. The methane can be captured and used to generate electricity.

    Notice the oversized horse in the illustration bottom right. Now you’re sold…

  2. I like your description of the type of person who this kind of place is for. It sounds a lot like the kind of person who likes city living. So my question is this: what is the difference between your vertical villages idea and what is already readily available in cities? Is it the large amount of green space surrounding the villages?

    I think one way to approach the question of, “How will we get people to move into these villages?” is to ask, “Why do people leave the city, and how do we get them to stay?”

    • Two key differences from what already exists in good supply. Buildings are multi-use. (residential on top of commercial). This does happen in cities, but not nearly as often as it could. I suppose it is less necessary in cities because you have so many buildings to serve different purposes.

      The main difference, as you surmise, is that these villages purchase a large chunk of land around them and limit its development.
      Better than a city because it doesn’t have the noise, traffic volume, crime, dirt, lack of access to major areas of nature, distance from arable land, and view of endless buildings.
      I think the VV does address several of the problems which cause people to leave cities.

      My main target of reform is the suburbs but, if I could use sim-city to remake the world I would target cities too. large factories, industrial and distribution hubs just have to use the space – so we will ignore them (maybe plant things on their roof or put solar panels or something).

      But cities have the problem of being congested. Ideally, a city is built upwards, and limited to a 15 minute walk from one end to the other. At either side you have open land. Anything bigger and people stop walking and start driving and taking public transport back and forth. Rather have public transport reserved to take people between these village hubs. The transportation cost (and all the time wasted in traffic) happens because cities over grow and are surrounded by miles and miles of strip malls and suburbs. Terribly inefficient for transportation.


      • I like it. A few more questions: who owns the green space around the vertical villages? When you buy a condo in the village, do you also buy a share in the collective land? And how do you ensure that that land is not sold to developers who want to build another vertical village / an awesome department store / little houses where you can have your OWN backyard? Or if the land is parceled into individual plots, how do you keep people from selling their plots to developers or building on their plots? This raises lots of questions of ownership that I assume you’ve thought about. Is it OK to sell property with strings attached? It happens now with zoning laws / housing development regulations. It’s an interesting question to me – if I am allowed to do whatever I want with my property, shouldn’t I be allowed to agree to sell it only on the condition that someone signs a contract stating they will not, say, put pink flamingos in their lawn? But in that case what is it that they have really bought, since they do NOT have the ability to do whatever they want with their property. Hmmm….

  3. Fascinating to think about this. I believe the future will have a lot more communal living like what you are talking about.
    I would like to see more discussion about what really drives this kind of development. People mostly move to cities because of jobs. We have had vertical villages in the past–medieval castles, ancient walled cities, Anasazi cliff dwellings. What had driven the growth of larger cities is the industrial age that provided lots of jobs for lots of people. Briefly, people move to the cities to survive. So how can you provide jobs in your vertical villages? If the jobs are beyond walking distance, then you either need lots of cars and places to park them, or much, much better public transportation than you have now. In either case, you haven’t solved the fundamental problem created by industrialization of separating home and work. As long as people are sleeping in one village and working in another, you will have sprawl, because people want some green in their homes, and also want to be not too far from their jobs.

  4. Brian, I love everything about this except the buying vs. renting assumption.

    I think the types of ownership associations and collective ownership governance models that would be requires to make this happen would potentially require just as much but different types of frustration.

    You’re still responsible for the costs of maintenance, property taxes, and all the other nightmares of home ownership, except you’re adding other potential “tragedy of the commons” problems.

    I can see a lot of possible examples where a maintenance project is proposed which 51% of the owners feel is required and wise and which 49% feel is wasteful or they should not be responsible for because they’re condo is at the top and therefore doesn’t need new flood protection (or something).

    So my question is this: Why not one (or a very few) owners who design this (very attractive by the way) lifestyle and figure out through clever forecasting and risk taking how much it should cost for someone to live there.

    I love the idea, but I’m questioning the ownership model. There are just too many problems in my mind with owning your place of residence. Each person is less mobile and less liquid, and is responsible for a use that someone else is probably much better at.

    Like you said, if someone loves being bogged down with the horrible decision of when and whether to maintain a property and whether to hire someone else or mess it up themselves, then hooray for them.

    But 99% of us are happy to let someone else fix our cars, make our food, build our computers, etc., why wouldn’t we also realize that owning property is something that some people know how to do more efficiently than we do.

    In conclusion, I want to live in your Vertical Villiage (assuming I love it and it’s affordable) but I don’t want to own it.



  5. To summarize my point one final way,

    I want to live in your villiage, but I want it to be very practical for me to live in a better one if one comes along.


  6. I currently live in a very compact city that’s not super congested (compared to alternatives) and provides easy walking/biking access across most of it. I’m surrounded on all sides by green space and ocean (no more than ten blocks to the north and south) and live a block away from a town center that offers most amenities I need (including groceries, restaurants, bars, hipster fetish items, etc).

    So, I don’t know how closely I match your model or not, but since I probably match it more closely than most other people reading this, I’d like to suggest one missing factor in your proposal: city-ish environments make people *crazy.* I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s becoming more evident to me over time how much culture and society are dramatically effected by the basic configuration in which people live.

    Imagine if Bryn Athyn were vertically integrated. Would it be the same? Without yards to rake and mow, what do preteens do with their hours after school? Where do we have summer barbecues? How would Calvin escape the social awkwardness of elementary school with so many other kids around (with other people always in the frame, Hobbes would be perpetually reduced to stuffed animal status)

    I do believe that I live in one of the best cities in this country, with nothing feasible to complain about my living situation, but as time goes on…man, do I miss the burbs.

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