Before my arrival in Panama I was struggling to understand what exactly Kalu Yala was about. On initial investigation, I was able to ascertain from my trawl through the internet that it was the development of a sustainable town within a 500+ acre property in the heart of a 7000+ acre river valley. My initial problem in understanding this concept was ‘how can such a development occur without destroying exactly what they are trying to protect?’
The answer to this became clear to me on arrival. In our induction week we were painted a clearer picture of what exactly their intensions were by the Kalu Yala CEO Jimmy Stice. There is a much bigger picture than just the building of an eco-town in the jungle. Kalu Yala has recognised the inefficiencies of the modern built environment, its shortcomings and the society values that have been shed along the way as a repercussion of rapid technological change.
Kalu Yala is about changing the way cities are built by placing an emphasis on the symbiotic relationship between people and their surroundings. This is where the term ‘New Urbanism’ comes into play. To quote from newurbanism.org ‘this is an international movement to reform the design of the built environment, raising our quality of life and standard of living by creating better places to live. New Urbanism is the revival of our lost art of place-making, and is essentially a re-ordering of the built environment into the form of complete cities, towns, villages, and neighborhoods – the way communities have been built for centuries around the world’.
Over the last 50 years or so all the major cities across the globe have been victim to urban sprawl. The consequence of this ‘sprawl’ is that planning is thrown out the window leaving you with a built environment that does not make any sense; from the proximity between living quarters to the infrastructure that surrounds it and the absence of communal space that congests it. So the Kalu Yala development intends to create a town that works with the environment rather than against it, using planning ideologies such as ‘new urbanism’ along side agricultural programmes such as Permaculture (as shown to us by ‘AG’ Director Alex Goff on our arrival into the valley site), to create a self sustaining community that is rich in relationships and has a real sense of place.
Ed Everett in the Root Series lectures opened with the statement “our most important infrastructure is yet our most forgotten infrastructure.” The point that he is making is how community was previously intrinsic to the workings of a healthy living environment. We have lost these notions in our strife for success; pressured by time, money and the break down in family cohesion – often as a result of higher divorce rates and career driven parents. Mr Everett’s proposed solution to this is to create an environment which encourages interaction between neighbours, reversing the negative affect of privatised lesure and re-building the lost bonds of trust.