pattern language, politics

Obama Pattern Language Primer — 8

Welcome to this series of posts seeking to popularize Christopher Alexander’s epochal book A Pattern Language and to apply its premises to the current effort to move beyond the morass of a 20th century economy into something more appropriate to a new future. To understand why I believe now is the time to reconsider and begin serious application of Alexander’s thinking, please read my piece “Our Crisis Is Not Economic.

To get up to speed on this series so far, here is the link to all the posts:


To visit the online home of a marvelous hypertext summary of Alexander’s Pattern Language, go here:


We are still in the Independent Regions section, discussing the creation of towns or nodes or human settlements.

Between the house clusters, around the centers, and especially in the boundaries between neighborhoods, encourage the formation of work communities.

  • Work Community
  • Industrial Ribbon
  • University as a marketplace
  • Local Town Hall
  • Necklace of Community Projects
  • Market of Many Shops
  • Health Center
  • Housing Inbetween
  • Work Community (May be part of Scattered Work, Subculture Boundary, Neighbourhood Boundary, Activity Nodes.)

    Alexander states: “If you spend eight hours of your day at work, and eight hours at home, there is no reason why your workplace should be any less of a community than your home.”

    Here I depart somewhat from Alexander. He continues: “Build or encourage the formation of work communities- each one a collection of smaller clusters of workplaces which have their own courtyards, gathered round a larger common square or common courtyard which contains shops and lunch counters. the total work community should have no more than 10 or 20 workplaces in it.”

    I believe some of the town-city units of 5-10.000 that are developed could be, in effect, company towns, gathering a class of workers, or workers for a particular company, but my image of a decentralized work environment makes some serious distinctions. There are first workers whose performance for any employer could be done at home or remotely. These workers would, in my view, either work at home or, as likely,. at evolved Internet Cafes where they would have a secure connection to their central offices. Workers who work with their hands or who are shopkeepers wouldl, of course, set up shop within these communities. This leaves the third realm of worker who must somehow go to a certain place in order to do a job. This could be a construction worker or a worker for a corporation or a scientist or a doctor.

    My solution for what we might call evolved commuting would be high speed straight line arteries for rail or other vehicles, possibly elevated or submerged. They would connect with nodes that contain the destinations. In other words I am proposing that each element of what is build in an independent region or state or polity be contained within an ecomatrix and that these be essentially closed to public or private vehicular transport. An ecomatrix is the infrastructure needed to ensure onsite recycling, water collection, wind energy and all other aspects that enable maximum sustainability.

    Industrial Ribbon (May be part of Work Community, Scattered Work, Subculture Boundary)

    Alexander notes: “Exaggerated zoning laws separate industry from the rest of urban life completely, and contribute to the plastic unreality of sheltered residential neighbourhoods.” This is obvious and deleterious in the extreme,

    Alexander’s solution does not go far enough and mine is implied in the previous comment regarding how industries and factories would be placed. An independent region might contain some 20 or so towns or nodes and four or five industrial nodes.

    Necklace of Community Projects (May be part of Local Town Hall, University as a marketplace, Health Center)

    Alexander contends: “The local town hall will not be an honest part of the community which lives around it, unless it is itself surrounded by all kinds of small community activities and projects, generated by the people for themselves.”

    As already indicated all a town or human settlement would contain all of these elements and be entirely reachable on foot.

    Market of Many Shops (May be part of Web of Shopping , Shopping Street)

    Alexander says: “It is natural and convenient to want a market where all the different foods and household goods you need can be bought under a single roof. But when the market has a single management, like a supermarket, the foods are bland, and there is no joy in going there.”

    And his solution is spot on: “Instead of modern supermarkets establish frequent marketplaces, each one made up of may smaller shops which are autonomous and specialised. Build the structure of the market as a minimum, which provides no more than a roof, columns which define aisles, and basic services. Within this structure allow the different shops to create their own environment, according to their individual taste and needs.”

    And this is doable if one builds settlements as suggested here.

    Housing Inbetween (May be part of Identifiable Neighbourhood, Household Mix, Subculture Boundary, Neighbourhood Boundary, Work Community)

    Alexander contends: “Wherever there is a sharp separation between residential and non residential parts of town, the non-residential areas will quickly turn to slums.”

    This is a good argument for the confinement of “industry” to areas that are capagle also of supporting residences. If we gentuinely move to a green economy, many of the liabilities of industrial areas will diminish. There will still be your massive industrial
    complexes, but their number and oppressiveness can be reduced.

    Please note that Local Town Hall and Health Center were not available when this was written. I definitely opt for a town hall as part of each community, a meeting place that can double as a cultural center. And I am strong for health nodes distributed as makes sense throughout the complexes. To the extent that these are preventive and diagnostic, they can be small and highly useful in a health system skewed toward prevention. I would see an infirmary in most towns and a hospital in a cluster of five towns.

    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 and then read in sequence:

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


    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google photo

    You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s