Monocle’s urban roots run deep; we like it here in the big bad metropolis. But this month we are heading beyond the city limits for our inaugural survey of village living.
Now, this statement comes with a few caveats. Firstly, this is not an issue about giving up, scaling back or never drinking decent coffee again. Nor is it an issue about what to grow in your vegetable patch or how to build a chicken coop. Instead it’s a survey of villages that have snap and vigour.
Because while a good village should have a reasonably laidback metabolism, it should also be able to support people who want to run a small business or enjoy having a wider social circle than their cat. That’s why we have also zoomed in on destinations in which people own thriving shops, have a campaigning newspaper or are proud of a popular small-scale cinema. These are places that know when to allow some standout contemporary architecture (we don’t want to bang our heads on a low-slung beam in the name of authenticity).
And our villages are not places in which residents feel trapped: when work, culture or a hospital visit beckon they know that they can jump on a train or bus and head into town. We believe that you can have the best of both worlds. So as you look around this issue don’t expect too many cream teas or wisteria-draped cottages. Instead, many of our villages border on town status (we have used a rough cut-off of 20,000 people as the dividing line between village vibe and town temperament).
Caveats aside, this is an interesting moment for rural watching. From Berlin to Tokyo we have seen the emergence of a group of often-young urbanites who are thinking about re-engineering their lives so that they can run a nice inn or buy some goats and not have to worry about getting on the city property ladder.
One place this shift is clear is on newsstands. In recent issues we have covered the success of numerous media players that understand this trend, including Servus in Stadt & Land, the rural-minded media brand based in Austria (see issue 92), and Landwirtschaftsverlag in Münster, which publishes LandLust (see The Forecast 2016), a bucolic magazine founded in 2005 that now has monthly sales of 1.1 million. And in Japan, any visit to the magazine racks will impress with an orchard of country titles that tap into the Lohas movement (that’s Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, in case you were wondering).
This village theme is unpacked in other ways too. In the Design section we look at the concept of the urban village and how it can deliver some of the tenets of rural life. And in this month’s Expo we look at how two world wars led to the creation of Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. Ostensibly a series of residences for students from around the world, it’s also the ultimate university village, packed with some of the world’s most amazing architecture – and a few good tales too.
And then there’s the world of tracht – traditional alpine kit. You know the stuff: lederhosen and dirndls. We head to the annual tracht fair in Salzburg to meet a new generation of manufacturers and designers who are benefitting from a boom in enthusiasm for this old-school styling. These are people who know that if you are going to live life in a village, you should be able to treat yourself to a good look.