Franz Nahrada /
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There is a basic decision to make about our planetary future today: what general conclusion will we draw from our decades and centuries of exploitation and destruction of this planet? Suposed we could make a choice: would we choose the path of rewilding nature or would we choose the opposite?
Some dream of concentrating humans even more in cities and agglomerations, which comes with a lot of questionable techno - futuristic assumptions like colonizing space and fostering nuclear energies and so on.
There are some grave reasons why we should envision the future as the exact opposite: setting as the upmost goal of humanity the purpose of preserving landscape and augment the beauty of the planet on which we live. Restarting the communion with plants, animals, ecosystems on a much more sophisticated level.
There are three main reasons why we cannot withdraw from nature and let it go wild:
In the cities, the spirit has freed itself from one-sidedness and ignorance, it has learned to comprehend the hundreds of thousands of possibilities of human existence; now it is also hungry to really shape many of these and not to drown in a grey mush or urban uniformity: but even this seemingly urban phenomenon requires a return to village-ness.
Imagine small but vibrant human settlements and microregions as an incarnation of such a conscious design of human existence; no two alike, and each with a genius loci and personality. A diversity which manifests itself in space, in architecture, in a thousand colours and forms. Yet - through global connections of knowledge - each one of them able to solve their probblems mainly based on local resources, with the help and in alignment to a reproductive and regenerative system of natural processes.
This village competence of life production is based on developed automation technology and bio-based material technology. Automation means autonomy. Industries have laid the groundwork to move production back to the periphery by embodying intelligence in the tools. They will continue to serve us, but increasingly less as depence - creating Trojan horses made by economic interests guilefully designing their products as customer - binding engines.
We need to request and realize that the development of industrial products is our business as prosumer communities. We need to open source everything and make ourselves competent to understand everything. The intelligence embodied in such a productive learning is a living intelligence: it is collective spirit expressed in images, concepts and models that are constantly improved, questioned and exchanged.
Broadband and fine-grained access to this global sphere of work, education, healing, play and creation, universal telematic access with universal realisation possibilities is the core of what we could call "global villages". One could compare this core to a library capable of providing an answer to every question that arises in the local context of life.
Around this futuristic library or learning center, people live and dwell and work who might play very different roles; while some are involved in global intellectual production contexts, others work to shape the local sphere of life. We need to experiment with the right mix and with the forms of exchange and cooperation that connect the inhabitants of such a "global village". It is not far - fetched that electronic tools of simulation and prescience will largely shape the decision making.
Central to this new villageness is a common intent, a common image of the cultural distinctiveness and the spatial design of life of such a place. Of course there is something which most of them will share: emphasis on local and renewable resources, regenerativity and circular flows to take precedence over conventional consumption schemes.
Thus, our external bodies of settlement are evolving into living organisms that adapt to communities and their spirit in an evolutionary way. One could even imagine swimming, travelling and flying villages, but the vast majority will approach the plant paradigm.
Together they will form larger communities of regional, national or continental dimensions. There most likely might be complementary themes in the neighborhood which helps them work together and support each other - thus creating a rural form of sophisticated collaboration and voluntary division of labor which would allow to reach urban standards.
Each and Every of these villages is a living place of learning and experimentation. What works in one local sphere may not necessarily work just as well elsewhere. It is only in the interaction with many other elements of a natural, cultural and settlement system that the full role of each individual element, each individual process, becomes apparent. And for everything and for everyone there is most likely the right place in which it can manifest its particular positive impact. The permanent play with these possibilities, the negotiation, the improvement, the creative new beginning is at once an artful and constitutive feature of "global villages".
There is an emerging paradox - not only in this visionary future, but already toda: that there is a vital need for education especially in rural regions, quite as individual and differentiated as in the cities, but with an important addition: the per capita need of education is even bigger!
Whether in the provision of social services, in the area of administration and infrastructure, in production, in trade, in service sectors, or where it is a matter of dealing with natural resources or cultural mediation: specialisation, high standards and high demands have taken hold everywhere and create tasks that have to be satisfied by fewer people in rural regions than in urban areas.
So, on the one hand, local people in these new rural circumstance actually have a higher need for education per se than the inhabitants of cities with their volume of people and their high degree of specialisation - on the other hand, they face the additional problem that these educational needs are naturally much more difficult to address and satisfy locally than in cities.
Theoretically, on a global scale, A wealth of knowledge providers would be available, but they are mostly only really present in the urban centres. This is reinforced by some vicious circles:
While in the big cities coordinated actions are the order of the day to link industrial clusters, education providers and local planners and decision-makers (an impressive milestone was the UNESCO conference "Learning Cities" in Beijing in 2013), on the other side, in rural areas, a passive attitude, if not uncoordinated opportunism, still prevails. Some municipalities then strive for short-term effects, for example, to establish highly specialised institutions whose graduates will most certainly not find a job in their professional careers in the respective region, thus - after a few years of illusive presence - catapulting the young students out all the more in the longer term.
Of course there is good news, too: a whole series of very heterogeneous institutions around the world have recognised these problems and for some time have begun to counteract this development: We find among them schools, libraries, adult education institutions, educational organisations, cultural associations, village renewal associations and many more. They have recognised, in many places and in many forms, that the key to good development, especially in rural areas, is not only to provide equal education locally - but also to link it to local development perspectives. It is a common experience that the more local the development perspective, the more successful the measures.
In fact, the solution of the problem is to use the global educational resources and adapt them to local circumstances creatively. Modern communication technologies such as broadband internet and cooperation in networks are very important means to bring in content, teachers etc. An ever-increasing number of half- or three-quarter-finished "raw products" are available on the net worldwide, which can certainly be docked to local scenarios.
In this context, it has proven to be particularly beneficial for local development if a strong local centre is created in a locality or small region where globally inspired learning and local encounters can take place in equal measure. As beautiful and attractive as learning at home might sound, it is not sufficient for the goal of promoting local development. The local encounter is important, this is where ideas and initiatives develop that fascinate the young people, that make them believe in the region, that perhaps have a lasting influence on their life plans and above all bring them into resonance and relationships with each other and ultimately generate something like coordinated ventures.
Another aspect is that the "raw products" need to be modularized, segmented and recombined according to the specific loal and regional contexts. It would have to be an education that is as modular as a Lego collection of building blocks, in order to adapt to the respective context and the respective requirements. Very much like libraries that sensitively select the right book for each and every individual. Only in this case the library would be largely the net, the digital medium, and the modules would also result from the respective jointly decided local future perspectiv e- which is unpredictable and always new. This also means that central educational institutions have not become superfluous, but would have to grow into the completely new role of delivering such modules, whereas locally a new kind of "information coach" or "educational generalist" would be required.
There is - and this is the strength of our concept - no universal model of future learning places, neither is there a fixed pathway. Rather this model enables a lot of differencies, depending on things like the division of roles within the municipality or culture and history in general. We cannot identify the "true seed". Often there are crossoversborder crossings, e.g. schools also slip into the role of missing adult education institutions in order to create a more integral learning place. Often it is "cultural inns", "open technology labs" or old cinemas or even museums that have long been the intellectual centre of local identity, reflective community building and intellectual impulses for development of place and region.
The impulses to strengthen such places of learning, meeting and access to knowledge resources come from different sides: from municipalities and provinces, regional development programmes and from the educational institutions themselves. The tasks of these places are manifold, often it is about documenting the dying out knowledge of the region itself and making it available for the population of this region. Often it is about cultural and historical awareness, identity building and so on. Just as important, however, are new findings from all areas relevant to everyday life, construction, energy, agriculture, crafts, health, sport, business, technology, services and much more.
Imagine a virtual "Villageversity" draws its strength from this diversity. It would create a bridge betwween the knowledge providers and the local knowledge centers, delivering the hundreds, perhaps thousands of facets that are necessary for the development of sustainably vibrant regions, municipalities and communities in rural areas - and draws a large part of its topics from practical experience and knowledge accumulation in other local circumstances.
So the new media and their virtual connections have a decisive role to play here, both as a tool for collecting and preserving, but above all for disseminating this knowledge. On the other hand, the learning place is a place that not only offers the possibilities of the internet for individual use, like an internet café, but also actively supports communal learning processes, informal as well as certified. Think of public viewing in townhall meeting style, but also think of learning circles or computer - augmented meetings. Think of cinema, even IMAX. Think of virtual exhibits. Think of workshops and labs with instructors virtually present. There are several patterns to be applied here.
This can create entirely new educational infrastructures that are urgently needed in areas with weak provision. It is not only data and inanimate content that commute, but learning takes place in the age of broadband internet through "poignant" audio-visual connections with the help of digital media as facilitators of a living process experienced with many senses. Think drones, robots with mobile cameras and so on.
The better and sharper the image, the more diverse the number of simultaneous connections, the more intensely the synchronicity of a virtual learning community can be experienced. Broadband is the great enabler for such a learning community. And only fiberoptics is truly broadband. We have already experienced how exciting it can be for the residents of a community to form such a learning community at the same time as many others. In one fell swoop, the annoying feeling of smallness, of insignificance compared to the city is gone - we are so many and we know so much that our community can stand up to the city, or even better, grow together with it virtually.
The internet has thus brought about a situation in which a supra-regional networking of future learning places with each other has become possible and extremely meaningful at the same time. Through the internet, not only can local educational offerings be drastically expanded - but on the same page the places where this happens can themselves become production sites of educational events and, in the broadest sense, even of the knowledge offered therein, they can build up media competences as senders and receivers. Media competences that they need on the one hand anyway to "stage" the digital contents locally, which they only need to expand a little to prepare their own offers for others.
So, in our vision, decentralised future learning places gradually could grow into the role of complementary knowledge centres: while constantly new impulses from the outside also facilitate the overcoming of barriers to thinking on the inside, this inside gradually transforms. People can form what we call "specialists regulars" and "study circles" and perhaps also work together on topics on a supra-regional basis for longer periods of time. Villages might start to see themselves as "reality labs", they could accumulate knowledge by deepening a theme and share that knowledge with others and over time develop an expertise that makes them comparable to universities - this is most likely the core of our vision.
While, as mentioned above, a process is underway worldwide that brings together local actors, especially in cities, to form "learning cities", such processes are still in their infancy in rural areas due to a lack of actors, braodband connections, political will etc. But "learning regions" have a great future, especially in view of the immense diversity and depth of global learning opportunities. The challenge here lies more on the side of identifying educational needs. Are these shaped by hopes of strengthening successful enterprises on export markets; or is the trend more towards quality of life, efficient use of resources, local cycles, and generally decoupling from the competitive "warfare economy"? Will we increasingly prioretize resilience against the increasingly threatening and volatile global course of crises? This is where unlimited co-operation will unfold its true power to boost rural development. When the interest in optimising local cycles is in the foreground rather than competitive advantages, it promotes the free exchange of knowledge.
Thus it gives the emerging space of free designs, open source hardware, plans and drafts for sustainable building, mobility, regenerative agriculture and production, in short, a completely different "fourth industrial revolution" in the direction of small scale and holism, a logical opportunity to develop in unprecedented scale.