This is the 11th post in this effort to interest the Obama Administration in what I believe is the only truly workable solution to moving from where we have been to where we want to go. This move can be expressed in contrasts: between growth and sustainability; between stratification and integration; between suicidal and ecological.
My text is the patterns in Christopher Alexander’s classic A Pattern Language. I graft onto his 1977 fund of ideas my evolving proposal for car-free, integral, sustainable communities. Not cookie cutter Malvina Reynolds little boxes. But new settlements, built to general specifications but each offering a chance to develop a synchronous conversation between architects, planners and those who intend to live in them.
Please begin by reading a brief post, which states my presuppositions. It is a year old now but still relevant. : Our Crisis Is Not Economic.
You can check each contention of this note against the source summary of A Pattern Language at the link below:
You can read all posts in this the series so far at the link below:
Today we move to key public-private issues.
In each house cluster and work community, provide the smaller bits of common land, to provide for local versions of the same needs.
Common Land Connected Play Public Outdoor Room Grave Sites Still Water Local Sports Adventure Playground Animals
Common Land (May be part of Accessible Green, House Cluster, Row Houses, Housing Hill, Work Community)
Alexander’s premise is: “Without common land no social system can survive.”
He adds: “Give over 25 per cent of the land in house clusters to common land which touches, or is very very near, the homes which share it. Basic: be wary of the automobile; on no account let it dominate this land.”
This is assumed in my proposal by making human-settlements car free within their perimeters, The common land would be common because the dwellings would be essentially lego blocks placed in a matrix that would itself be commonly owned in some way, either by an entity or a cooperative or some other common owner. When I say lego blocks I am assuming that we will rapidly move to a more rational, yet highly adaptable, way of creating dwelling space. Namely by building models which incorporate most of the features of contemporary dwellings that are stand alone — there is no reason, for example, to need more than cushions if a model already has a ledge that could serve either as a couch or a shelf or a bed.
Connected Play (May be part of Common Land)
Alexander: “If children don’t play enough with other children during the first five years of life, there is a great chance that they will have some kind of mental illness later in their lives.”
His prescription: “Lay out common land, paths, gardens, and bridges so that groups of at least 64 households are connected by a swath of land that does not cross traffic. Establish this land as the connected play space for the children in these households.”
To which I say yes. But it will not happen without a commitment to a bottom-up creation of human settlements. Where, you might ask, are these wonders to be created. Well, since they really require only a mile as a diameter, anyplace where there is a mile that can be eked out. Maybe the first of these will be built in vacant areas of desert or plains or even mountainous areas. I am reasonably certain none of this will happen at all unless the Obama administration concedes that it makes sense to push the Apollo simile far enough to actually get behind a human settlement that would achieve sustainability, integration of disparate services and life elements and security, an issue we shall discuss in future posts. Bear in mind that it makes sense to see security in terms of prevention rather than to accept powder keg conditions and pour on the fire power. This whole exercise is about becoming sensible.
The best security (as Jane Jacobs understood) is to put everything within the reach of eyes on a stoop;
Public Outdoor Room (May be part of Main Gateways, Accessible Green, Small Public Squares, Common Land, Pedestrian Street)
Alexander has it right: “There are very few spots along the streets of modern towns and neighbourhoods where people can hang out, comfortably, for hours at a time.”
So: “In every neighbourhood and work community, make a piece of common land into an outdoor room- a partly enclosed place, with some roof, columns, without walls, and perhaps with a trellis; place it beside an important path and within view of many homes and workshops.”
What more need one say? From this page into the designer’s imagination.
Grave Sites (May be part of Life Cycle, Identifiable Neighbourhood , Holy Ground, Common Land)
Alexander says: “No people who turn their backs on death can be alive. The presence of the dead among the living will be a daily fact in any society which encourages its people to live.”
He suggests: “Never build massive cemeteries. Instead, allocate pieces of land throughout the community as grave sites- corners of parks, sections of paths, gardens, beside gateways- where memorials to people who have died can be ritually placed with inscriptions and mementos which celebrate their life.”
I think this is a stretch. In the first place many are cremated and this could result in the creation of small mortuary areas. I would tend to locate cemeteries outside the perimeter, not because I do not agree with Alexander’s gist, but because think it would be best to solve the problem of living together in a new way before we add in what we do with the dead. I also feel that it is only a short time until we deal with death with online memorial sites that actually remind us of people in a tangible way.
Local Sports (May be part of Work Community, Health Center)
Alexander on health: “The human body does not wear out with use. On the contrary, it wears down when it is not used.”
I agree with his suggestions: “Scatter places for team and individual sports through every work community and neighbourhood: tennis, squash, table tennis, swimming, billiards, basketball, dancing, gymnasium… and make the action visible to passers-by, as an invitation to participate.”
Adventure Playground (May be part of Common Land, Connected Play)
Alexander: “A castle, made of cartons, rocks, and old branches, by a group of children for themselves, is worth a thousand perfectly detailed, exactly finished castles, made for them in a factory.”
He continues: “Set up a playground for the children in each neighbourhood. Not a highly finished playground, with asphalt and swings, but a place with raw materials of all kinds- nets, boxes, barrels, trees, ropes, simple tools, frames, grass, and water- where children can create and re-create playgrounds of their own.”
This is where Alexander dreams that a planner and various governmental units will all fall in line. It would probably cost a mint to do something as simple as this. The only answer I can see is to create a spate of new professions or occupations. Such as playground managers who see that a small playground is stocked properly and run safely. All of the sustainability model I am proposing involves creating a whole spate of new jobs that have to do with making the settlement work optimally. I have in mind the elimination of padding jobs in offices and their replacement with hands on community jobs requiring a range of specific skills. Also, kids like swings.
Animals (May be part of Common Land, Your Own Home, Green Streets)
Says Alexander: “Animals are as important a part of nature as the trees and grass and flowers. There is some evidence, in addition, which suggests that contact with animals may play a vital role in a child’s emotional development.”
Here is Alexander’s solution: “Make legal provisions which allow people to keep any animals on their private lots or in private stables. Create a piece of fenced and protected common land, where animals are free to graze, with grass, trees, and water in it. Make at least one system of movement in the neighbourhood which is entirely asphalt-free- where dung can fall freely without needing to be cleaned up.”
Here is mine: In many communities there will be no private lots. In fact a private lot might merely be an add on for someone with a pet that required more than the community otherwise allows. The whole relationship between what I am talking about and communities that are more animal-centric (farms, etc.) is both simple and complex. Simply, we would have agricultural areas where communities would be surrounded with farming land, out buildings and so forth. Complexly, we would have some cut off on the degree to which animals could be allowed in the more urbanized communities.
NOTE: I am making an effort to find some visual basis for suggesting the structure of settlements I am trying to convey. So far I have found only the following:
More on Pattern Language:
See the brief at http://stephencrose.wordpress.com/pattern-language/ and then read in sequence: