Revillaging — how to turn a city into a village?

Sergey Dmitriev
4 min readJul 3, 2023
Graphics from Revillager project

I came across the first notable mention of this concept in an article from 2020. The idea is to reintroduce the sense of community and neighborly practices inherently found in villages (I’m referring to vibrant, thriving villages, not dwindling ones) into urban environments.

The article features a conversation with urbanist Mark Lakeman, who highlights that this approach, coupled with redesigning spaces to cater to the primary needs of city dwellers within walking distance, can effectively tackle mental health issues, housing shortages, and even the climate crisis. The article also delves into permaculture and the wisdom of indigenous communities, making it a truly insightful read.

Creating a cohesive and healthy community in a village-like setting encompasses significant considerations, akin to those of nurturing parents. Melissa Henning’s note on this matter from 2020 further adds depth to the discussion.

The concept is not new. The idea of perceiving the world as a global village, interconnected through communication technologies, was formulated back in 1962 by Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian cultural critic, philosopher, philologist, and literary critic. For example, this very idea served as the foundation for Vasily Esmanov and his team in creating the media platform “the Village” with editions in Moscow and St. Petersburg about ten years ago. The project gained significant attention among the young creative class in Russia, and at the time of launching the St. Petersburg edition, their team was based in our apartment project called HomeWork, which was one of the first co-working and co-living spaces in post-soviet countries where we (the founders: Yury Lifshits and myself) also experimented with community-based co-learning practices (we closed it in the fall of 2011).

Now, in 2023, I’ve come across a project called Revillager on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. A group of Canadians has raised $35k with 369 backers to launch an application and a corresponding course that will help urban dwellers, as well as those already living in permanent or temporary small communities, relearn all those lost communication skills and facilitate the exchange of their labor and its outcomes.

Graphics from Revillager project

I’m not sure how to feel about such initiatives. On one hand, can an app (even with an accompanying course) really change deep-seated social alienation? And, more broadly, isn’t the environment of a big city itself traumatizing for both the ecosystem as a whole and the individual?

Nevertheless, the concept of “revillaging” sparks anthropological and organizational interest in me (and let’s not forget how DuoLingo has significantly changed the world of language learning). Moreover, my friends and acquaintances with extensive experience in communities and rural areas have mentioned that they themselves have contemplated the need for such an app and platform. Surprisingly, this topic has sparked lively discussions in my Russian Telegram channel ‘Prozemlenie’ (Practicing Ground) both here and there (and the Russian edition of this note is here).

If the concept of revillaging gains more popularity, I am confident that there will be increased interest in the theories and experiences accumulated by ecovillages, which are widely shared through the Global Ecovillage Network. It’s worth noting that the latest definition of ecovillages also includes urban communities. Moreover, delving deeper into this subject, those who explore ecovillage models and their insights will likely delve into researching the tribal experiences of our ancestors, seeking to adapt some of their practices to the modern context. I discuss this topic in my note “From Ecovillages and Communities to Societies and Tribes”.

Perhaps there are spatial solutions that can make the urban environment more village-like and, at the same time, more environmentally friendly, even if only to a small extent. Exploring small towns in mountainous regions of the Balkans has led me to believe that traditional flat city planning is not the optimal solution and that utilizing the third dimension (height), similar to bees and ants, is essential.

It turns out that such an urban experiment was initiated in the 1970s by architect Paolo Soleri in the Arizona desert. Paolo coined new terms for his work, naming the project Arcosanti and his field of expertise “arcology” (architecture + ecology). Both the Wikipedia article and the Arcosanti Foundation’s website indicate that the project is still alive and evolving to this day (there’s a six-minute video from 2017, and here is a 10-minute video from 2019).