pattern language, politics

Obama Pattern Language Primer — 5

Sadly, Huffington Post is submarining these Pattern Language offerings. They are given about a half a day on the home page and either bumped up or down into limbo.

I suspect this is because it is essentially subversive to question an economy that is built on infinite growth, and to opt for something sustainable. Also it is subversive to speak the truth about the end of oil and the demise of the private car as we know it. These are the realities behind the rhetiric and people do not wish to face them directly.

Nevertheless the insights of Christopher Alexander, supplemented by observations made thirty years after publication of his classic Pattern Language, are a suggestive starting point for persons who really want to think through what an alternative model of society might look like. So I will keep on nudging Huffington Post, which seems taken up with superficialities much of the time, because when I have been able to break the content ceiling the responses there have been helpful and intelligent.

Here’s an indication that there is at least some interest in a project of this sort.

This post continues where we left off. Click the link below for the series so far:


The source for the discussion is at the link below:


Today’s cluster touches on essential and subversive design themes.

Establish community and neighborhood policy to control the character of the local environment according to the following fundamental principles.

  1. Four-Story Limit
  2. Nine Percent Parking
  3. Parallel Roads
  4. Sacred Sites
  5. Access to Water
  6. Life Cycle
  7. Men and Women

Four-Story Limit (May be part of Magic of the City, City Country Fingers, Lace of Country Streets)

Alexander is both right and wrong: “There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy.”

The argument for a four story limit is not merely that high buildings induce alienation. The four story idea means that settlements can be planned as connected, modular elements which enable access by foot. A graded walkway or promenade rising a total of four levels is a thinkable notion for a reasonably concentrated settlement.

The current emphasis on building high in cities and sprawling single dwellings over the landscape is begging for disaster. We need an alternative understanding that places people first.

Nine Percent Parking (May be part of Local Transport Areas, Community of 7000 , Identifiable Neighbourhood )

Alexander says: “When the area devoted to parking is too great, it destroys the land.”

His solution is that no more than nine percent of any area be available for parkling. Mine is to reduce the number and need for vehicles, consigning them to the periphery of human settlements and reducing reliance of private automobiles in particular, thus gradually reducing the current slavish submission to paving paradise, to coin a phrase. This is no less realistic than Alexander’s proposal.

Parallel Roads (May be part of Local Transport Areas, Ring Roads , Subculture Boundary, Neighbourhood Boundary)

Says Alexander: :The net-like pattern of streets is obsolete. Congestion is choking cities. Cars can average 60 miles per hour on freeways but trips across town have an average speed of only 10 to 15 miles per hour.” This was thirty years ago, Now congestion has gone global.

Alexander’s solution is “parallel and alternating one-way roads to carry traffic to the ring roads gradually making major streets one-way and closing cross streets.” To which I say we already do that in Manhattan where I live. The future, IMO, needs to concentrate on moving beyond the patterns of existing cities and metro and rural areas. The only illustrations I can see of what I have in mind are models that computer folk have made based on Alexander’s work EXAMPLE ANOTHER

Sacred Sites

The link above will lead you to what Alexander has to say. I personally wish that religions would become ecumenical enough to invest in single facilities that would be shared and that might seek to emulate structures that have stood the test of time aesthetically. Such as this Corbusier Chapel.

Access to Water (May be part of Sacred Sites)

Alexander say: “When natural bodies of water occur near human settlements, treat them with great respect. Always preserve a belt of common land, immediately beside the water. And allow dense settlements to come right down to the water only at infrequent intervals along the waters edge.”

Well and good and unlikely to be implemented. I think the best clue here is to build communities that incorporate water recycling and gathering elements in their matrix. This would include massive rain gathering technology and a two fold recycling capability for drinking and other uses. You will see throughout that the movement is toward a scale that precludes the present economy and paves the way for a new economy where people are creating and paying for sustainability as a dominant value. This is where the likes of Rachel Maddow is a pedagogical disaster, reassuring us that all an economy needs is to get people buying stuff. This assurance is breathtaking.

The stuff we buy now we do not want to buy forever — most of it has to do with seeking to prop up a growth economy in which consumers are the ultimate victims. An economy based on cars and detached dwellings.

Life Cycle (May be part of Community of 7000, Identifiable Neighbourhood)

Alexander wants the “full cycle of life … represented and balanced in each community.” In other words, a mix of ages and stages. Fine. How will we do this if we do not move beyond the reifying diad of today — cars and detached dwellings?

Men and Women (May be part of Community of 7000, Identifiable Neighbourhood , Life Cycle )

“The world of a town in the 1970’s is split along sexual lines. Suburbs are for women, workplaces for men; kindergartens are for women, professional schools for men; supermarkets are for women, hardware stores for men.” This is already breaking down.

What is changing is the assumptions underlying these choices. Ideal would be communities of up to 10,000 where all ages, genders, races and so forth would be able to life side by side and enjoy a life that is centered on human fulfillment rather than the achievement of goals which are set by a society built on privilege and inequality.

More on Pattern Language:

See the brief at and then read in sequence:

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Four,, Part FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart NinePart TenPart ElevenPart TwelvePart ThirteenPart Fourteen


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