Urban Flight: Primal Impulse In Search Of Simplicity


We are living a time of search for our wild essence, one that does not live in what we can buy, but in what we can be

by Brunella Nunes cover image Amanda Shelsher translated by Aline Scátola

There has been a lot of talk lately about living a simpler life, ruled by conscious consumption, permaculture, and a routine away from all the chaos and madness of big urban areas. We are living a period of search for our wildest essence, for a greater meaning, something that makes us more meaningful to the world. We are living a moment of urban flight, in which people are moving back to the countryside, to coastal areas, or ecovillages, building new communities where isolation is part of it, but doesn’t rule everything.

For a few years now, some effort has been going into urban flight. It’s the case of London, which, like many other cities, has reached full capacity and where, for example, commuters have to face overcrowded subway trains every day. Tired of London’s insufficient infrastructure, high cost of living, and low quality of life, Londoners are saying goodbye to the British capital. According to a Telegraph article and a report published by the Office of National Statistics, more than 58,000 people aged 30-39 have left the city between June, 2012, and June, 2013, setting a new record.

exodo urbano

An article in The Guardian also pointed out why so many Londoners are leaving and mentioned cases of people who moved to surrounding areas outside the city. Author Rafael Behr writes about how much he used to love London, despite its numerous flaws, but how he got tired of it, as it does not give you a chance to work and live well off what you earn. Efforts seem pointless, driving people away from what is fair and worthy of your efforts.

“The escape impulse is primitive. It is an appetite for oxygen, a dream of kids having a free-range childhood and a desire to see the horizon for sustained periods.”

Following that line of thought, Behr writes, “I’m clearly not alone in feeling London’s chaotic exuberance has soured into a dysfunctional mania. What was once eccentricity now feels like a pathology. It was certainly unhealthy for me, which is why I left. I didn’t belong anymore.” It’s with that in mind that a lot of people are looking for fresh air. With such a babelish, over-the-top capitalist boom, we get sick and constantly try to recharge our batteries away from big cities. It is overwhelming to live in a place where you barely have the time to see if it is sunny or raining outside. In Sao Paulo, right now you have to settle for water shortages or learn how to do the rain dance.

If you’re still wondering whether big cities are really holding us back, try to think about how much time you spend commuting every day, how much time you take to read something you like, how long has it been since you last saw your best friends or went on vacation. Most people only get 15 days off (if that), with reservations about “coming back soon” to work. How much longer are we going to live someone else’s dreams in exchange of a house that is maybe 50 times more than we make, or a car we will pay over ten years or more?

Our essence does not live in what we can buy, but in what we can be. Before man’s law, we are all born free, and that emerging consciousness has been spreading for a few years now.

Land in sight

The number of young people moving to the countryside is growing, demonstrating an inversion of migratory flows. Being in touch with nature, feeling free, simplicity, and new work opportunities are appealing to a generation that has probably never lived that kind of life, albeit crucial to our species. Along with this hunger for adventure, the rural landscape is proving to be promising these days, with the rise of organic food production and healthy lifestyles. Moreover, producers are aging and need younger people who are willing to take charge.

The remote commune of Timaukel, in the middle of Patagonia, Chile, is looking for 145 people to expand their existence. It’s because right now they only have 25 inhabitants and need not only to populate their community, but do it with residents who appreciate the area’s sustainable development. Surprisingly enough, the government has received over 1600 applications from people who are interested in moving to Timaukel and building a new community 2700 km (1700 miles) away from Santiago.


As people, especially young, are thinking outside the box, it’s a great encouragement to expand markets, as well as to spread out communities in remote areas. It’s what happens with ecovillages, sustainable settlements made by people and for people to live together in harmony with their surroundings, following important practices to make it work and endure through time, like promoting renewable energy sources, organic food production, bioconstruction – houses made from materials that don’t harm the environment –, and the creation of social and family support groups so no one is left on their own.

3D houses

In Brazil there are ecocommunities sprinkled in several states, offering new social construction from within, just like in ancient times. Only now it comes with much more responsibility and respect for what comes first: nature. The awakening of a broader, collective, environmental, sustainable consciousness, along with the good things new technologies can offer, gives us hope for what is ahead of us. If we can build a habitat our own way, with our own hands, and still incorporate a collective spirit, we can reach the nirvana of a simple life, with no material excess and with abundance of experiences that can help us evolve as a species and build a different world.

New ways of living

Even in large metropolitan areas, there is a constant search for less. New enterprises, though inaccessible to most of the population, expand the idea of more and more optimized spaces that serve basic needs only. A recent VICE story showed how young Parisians are paying small fortunes to live in tiny 7-17 sq.-meter (or 75-180 sq.-foot) apartments. The idea of living only with the essential could be much less expensive, though.

On the other hand, that adventurous spirit also highlights the idea of not having a steady home, of carrying your few belongings with you wherever you go, whether it’s a van, a trailer, a suitcase, or a Tiny House, a usually very affordable small, cozy prefab masonry home. The opportunity of taking new paths literally carrying your home with you is another very interesting appeal.

Tiny House
Tiny House

Human beings have an unremitting search for fulfillment and happiness within them. The paradox of this era is that while there are new things coming out every day and a massive flow of information every second – especially in terms of technology and convenience –, sometimes we feel distant, incomplete, frustrated, insignificant.

 Every day, thousands of unmotivated people drag their bodies to work thinking, “how can I get out of here?” We neglect our own lives for the extreme conformism of the past.

Our existential crisis is about to burst and part of society has been struggling to change that dull scenario, even if it means taking a leap into the unknown. And taking a leap is always a risk, but it is rewardingly reassuring when we finally touch the ground.

That will to go back to our roots and go after the time we’ve lost shows we are still, above all, wild. The closer we get to nature and its sublime simplicity, the closer we are to ourselves, connected and immersed in our own wishes, aspirations, fears, and pleasures. Could this be the salvation of our own survival? We don’t have that answer yet, but that is a cry for a breath of life that will echo in the horizon of our existence.

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Urban Exodus

This website gathers stories of people that went to the country; intimate narratives of families, couples and friends who quit imagining what a simpler life would be to actually live it. The project's owner was inspired by her own journey moving from Seattle to Maine.

Global Ecovillage Network

Global Ecovillage Network organizes data about sustainable actions, ecologic communities and people focused on expanding this ideas around the world. Besides having a map with many ecovillages, you can also find valuable information to create and maintain an ecovillage.

EcoAldeas Map

Since 2012 a Latin American couple travels the continent looking for ecovillages. Their data bank is already considered a reference in the matter, with more than 200 locations.


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