Adaptation Villages: An Architect’s Vision for Resilient Communities

Book author & Pel-Ona Architects and Urbanists Co-Founder Korkut Onaran shares his views on climate change-adapted communities.

A bird’s-eye view of the adaptation village center. Drawing by Ronnie Pelusio, courtesy of Korkut Onaran

A bird’s-eye view of the adaptation village center. In the foreground are the central park, a civic building/gathering hall (to the left), and a temporary farmers’ market. In the background are the business row and neighborhoods. Drawing by Ronnie Pelusio, courtesy of Korkut Onaran

Korkut Onaran is an architect and academic of Turkish origin who has dedicated his career to finding ways of creating resilient communities in the face of climate change. In his recently published book—Urbanism for a Difficult Future: Practical Responses to the Climate Crisis—he showcases his vision for “adaptation villages,” settlements established in ideally safe areas, designed with systems for food production, water, energy and waste management.

The scaled-down setup is compatible with the 15-minute city concept, except the village would spread across an area no bigger than a 15-minute walking shed. Topics including re/localization and re/zoning can help plan and create what Onaran calls “pockets of self-sufficiencies,” increasing resiliency during changing climate and social crisis.

Of these seemingly utopian villages, yet inspired by real challenges in the real world, and more, with Pel-Ona Architects and Urbanists Co-Founder & Principal Korkut Onaran, in a conversation with Multi-Housing News.

We are indeed looking at a difficult future, climate-wise. How aware is the construction industry?

Korkut Onaran

Korkut Onaran, Co-Founder & Principal, Pel-Ona Architects and Urbanists & book author. Image courtesy of Korkut Onaran

Onaran: The awareness within the construction industry varies. Some are aware of the changing markets. For the first time in U.S. recent history, the homebuying power of the middle class is low, especially for the kind of large suburban houses we have been building in suburbia. Thus, the increasing rental market. I am confident that once the industry understands why we need a development model such as the adaptation village the book advocates, they will see it as a new market and will support it.

If you had the power to transform any city in the U.S. as you envision, what would it look like?

Onaran: There is alternative energy production at neighborhood and block scales—solar or wind farms—nested within the regional power system. Similarly, there are water storages and food production at neighborhood and block scales. Waste management is also localized. Now we have multiple neighborhood-scale facilities instead of one large-scale system. Most of the essential services, as well as essential goods, are provided within walking distance.

 

Zoning has changed to permit not only multiple units on a lot, but also limited retail and industry, as well—what we call ‘cottage retail’ and ‘cottage industry’ in the book—as well as food growing. These are permitted everywhere, zoned as single-family before.

Residents’ lives are more diverse. They are more involved in communal activities, in managing common facilities and coordinating modest-scale production. There is a strong local or hyperlocal economy in each neighborhood.

  • Image from the Urbanism for a Difficult Future: Practical Responses to the Climate Crisis book, courtesy of Korkut Onaran.
  • Image from the Urbanism for a Difficult Future: Practical Responses to the Climate Crisis book, courtesy of Korkut Onaran.
  • Image from the Urbanism for a Difficult Future: Practical Responses to the Climate Crisis book, courtesy of Korkut Onaran.
  • Image from the Urbanism for a Difficult Future: Practical Responses to the Climate Crisis book, courtesy of Korkut Onaran.
  • Image from the Urbanism for a Difficult Future: Practical Responses to the Climate Crisis book, courtesy of Korkut Onaran.
  • Image from the Urbanism for a Difficult Future: Practical Responses to the Climate Crisis book, courtesy of Korkut Onaran.
  • Image from the Urbanism for a Difficult Future: Practical Responses to the Climate Crisis book, courtesy of Korkut Onaran.
  • Image from the Urbanism for a Difficult Future: Practical Responses to the Climate Crisis book, courtesy of Korkut Onaran.

Tell us more about these pockets of “self-sufficiencies” and why it’s important to implement them.

Onaran: In the book, I describe the problem and the solution in the following way:

The problem: vulnerabilities. When we depend on regional systems for our power and water, when we count on regional distribution for our food supply, and when we expect large waste management networks to remove our garbage and waste, we are vulnerable. If or when these systems are disturbed or interrupted, life becomes very hard. When certain essential services and goods are located far away, and access to them becomes difficult or impossible due to road closures and infrastructure damage, isolation becomes fatal.

The solution: resilience. If we did have localized water and energy sources, say at household, block and neighborhood scales, nested within the larger systems; if we had localized food production and waste management, then we could live through interruptions and disasters relatively easier.

If we had the essential services in the near vicinity and if certain essential goods were produced nearby, then survival could be possible despite interruptions in regional access routes. Thus, localization of the sustenance systems and diversification of local services and businesses are the primary objectives in addressing our vulnerabilities and achieving resilience.    

Which regions/metros in the U.S. are leading in the fight against climate change from an urban planning perspective?

Onaran: Even though they are not addressing climate change directly, some of the recent state acts aim at reforming land use and housing policies. Such are the ones in Utah, Oregon—there is a bill being discussed in the Senate in Colorado, as well—and others, and in my opinion, open the door to some of the zoning reform measures we advocate in the book.

How influential are businesses when it comes to urban development? How does this affect the relationship between businesses and residents?

Onaran: It would take volumes to answer this question. I just want to mention that the adaptation village model is inclusive and good for local businesses. Here, I would like to quote the last paragraph of the book’s conclusion:

‘Even though the future brings many challenges, there are ways to thrive while addressing them. We have an opportunity to create resilient communities by practical steps. Moving away from the danger, if presented as a rational process, opens the door for the opportunity for a landscape of self-sufficiencies with a network of lean economies supporting each other and enabling us to be creative, productive and motivated to engage, enjoy and support each other. This is not a distant utopia, but a very practical and immediate opportunity. We need to grab it. It is our responsibility to grab it.’


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We’re just out of a different kind of calamity—the pandemic. How does this play into the reconstruction of life in urban centers?

Onaran: The Life in the 21st Century book chapter discusses the implications of living with a pandemic on adaptation strategies. It argues that certain changes in our lifestyles imposed by the distancing and quarantine requirements will have lasting effects. However, there are some valuable lessons that can be learned from some of these changes.

There are three strategies that emerged with the pandemic: working from home, podding and contact tracing. The chapter introduces a discussion on a more personal level regarding how we manage our work and weekly schedules and outlines important lessons we have learned during both the last financial crisis and the distancing and social isolation imposed upon us because of the recent pandemic. Following these lessons, hopefully, we will move toward more resilient lifestyles by transforming our cities into pockets of self-sufficiencies I described above.

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