pattern language, politics

Obama Pattern Language Primer — 9

This is the 9th in a series of posts seeking to interest the Obama Administration in a truly integral approach to building a new economy, where people will pay for the quality of life rather than to consume, consume, consume. Where the emphasis will be on a realistic way to overcome all sorts of stratification and dehumanization that make it hard to imagine a world beyond noxious highway congestion and alienating urban sprawl.

Christopher Alexander’s epochal book A Pattern Language, in a superb online, presentation is my text for this exercise. I also urge readers to check out my brief post “Our Crisis Is Not Economic.

Here is the online presentation of A Pattern Language:


Here are the posts in the series so far.


Today we turn to the transportation options within an integral town or settlement

Between the house clusters and work communities, allow the local road and path network to grow informally, piecemeal.

  • Looped Local Roads
  • T Junctions
  • Green Streets
  • Network of Paths and Cars
  • Main Gateways
  • Road Crossing
  • Raised Walk
  • Bike Paths and Racks
  • Children in the City
  • Looped Local Roads (May be part of Local Transport Areas, Identifiable Neighbourhood, Parallel Roads, House Cluster, Work Community)

    Alexander states: “Nobody wants fast through traffic going by their homes.”

    Here is where the advantage of the integral settlement I am suggesting is obvious. My model would have no vehicular traffic within its perimeters.

    However, to the extent that there are decisions made regarding such traffic, Alexander is salient and should be followed. In other words, this entire exercise is applicable in some degree to all settlements as they seek to recalibrate themselves. Alexander’s solution: “Lay out local roads so that they form loops. A loop is defined as any stretch of road which makes it impossible for cars that don’t have destinations on it to use it as a shortcut.”

    [T Junctions is offline as this is written.]

    Green Streets (May be part of Looped Local Roads, Common Land)

    Alexander notes, “There is too much hot hard asphalt in the world. A local road, which only gives access to buildings, needs a few stones for the wheels of the cars; nothing more. Most of it can still be green.”

    Through all of these patterns, Alexander assumes the presence of cars. I do not. I have already premised that a settlement will have a diameter of up to a half a mile (10 short Manhattan blocks) and that within a circle, oval or irregular shape there will be no car traffic. There might be people movers. There might be options for bicycling and for carts and moving chairs of various sorts. But the pedestrian would rule.

    Dwellings or residences would open out to open space to let light and air in and would open inward onto a walkway somewhat similar in feel to Las Ramblas in Barcelona. On the other side there might be another row of dwellings, punctuated as noted in prior entries, by different nodes of a public nature, from stores and small educational nodes to workspaces that are an evolution of the internet cafe.

    Network of Paths and Cars (May be part of Parallel Roads, Looped Local Roads, Green Streets, Activity Nodes, Paths and goals)

    Alexander gives the best reason of all for the elimination of cars from the area occupied by human settlements. “Cars are dangerous to pedestrians; yet activities occur just where cars and pedestrians meet.”

    While Alexander proposes that the car’s dominance be offset by paths, I vastly prefer and advocate that we have a network made up solely of pedestrian walkways. I do not exclude the prospect of certain public vehicles. There might be small bus-trains, connected carriers, which would be somewhat like the trolleys in San Francisco and which could double at slow times to make deliveries.

    Main Gateways (May be part of Identifiable Neighbourhood, House Cluster, Work Community, Building Complex, Circulation Realms)

    Alexander: “Any part of a town- large or small- which is to be identified by its inhabitants as a precinct of some kind, will be reinforced, helped in its distinctness, marked, and made more vivid, if the paths which enter it are marked by gateways where they cross the boundary.”

    I think this is reasonably obvious. It does raise the question of what sort of materials will be used to create the sort of de novo settlement I am approaching. In one sense it has almost a science fiction feel since it is an utter departure from current notions of how to organize human life. But in another it wants to draw on communities where there are hints of a more pedestrian way of life. I would point designers and architects to some of the Oasis towns in the Sahara, to Capri and even to what has been done in cities such as Avignon.


    I think what I am proposing is a designer and architects best dream, a chance to design and build not something that will be massively standardized, but a unique settlement that grows out of a co-planning process with the people who intend to live there. There will be some elements that are indeed mass produced in order to achieve economies.

    > The elements of an overall matrix which contains the means for recycling and generating wind and solar and other energy. (We have not discussed the prospect of individuals generating energy through their own activities.)

    > The essential unit of a dwelling which I envision to be a lego-like shell that is equal in size to conventional containers that are presently shipped as a matter of course by ship and rail and can be transferred to trucks. By cobbling these together in inventive ways. we have a basis for bypassing massive expenses and transferring the economic cost to the creation of quality of like elements such as making these communities energy independent and creating a human infrastructure of essential amenities and institutions within a short walk of anyone in the community.

    Raised Walk (May be part of Network of Paths and Cars , Road Crossing, Parallel Roads)

    Alexander gives yet anot5her reason to remove cars from the living equation: “Where fast moving cars and pedestrians meet in cities, the cars overwhelm the pedestrians. The car is king, and people are made to feel small.”

    I think we need the draconian solution. Our country is too wed to the car to make the adaptive changes Alexander proposes, in this case, raised walkways. (In Florida and Nevada, they do not even bother with sidewalks at many points.) The beauty of my plan is that you build one or two and if they fly they gradually replace what we have. If they do not, then the premises are wrong. I think Alexander might agree with me.

    Bike Paths and Racks (May be part of Local Transport Areas, Looped Local Roads, Network of Learning)

    Says Alexander: “Bikes are cheap, healthy, and good for the environment; but the environment is not designed for them. Bikes on roads are threatened by cars; bikes on paths threaten pedestrians.”

    His solution: “Build a system of paths designed as bike paths, with the following properties: the bike paths are marked clearly with a special, easily recognisable surface (for example, a red asphalt surface). As far as possible they run along local roads, or major pedestrian paths.”

    This notion is beginning to take hold but it has only tangental importance in my proposed settlement where walking is the easiest mode of transportation. Insofar as there might be bikes, they should indeed be separated from pedestrians.

    Children in the City (May be part of Parallel Roads, Promenade, Looped Local Roads, Bike Paths and Racks , Network of Learning )

    Alexander’s premise: “If children are not able to explore the whole of the adult world around about them, they cannot become adults. But modern cities are so dangerous that children cannot be allowed to explore them freely.”

    He advocates a complete separation of children from cars and this is simply not going to happen unless and until there are human settlements that are car free. All of Alexander’s premises work better is we start from scratch and see the current metrosprawl as a loss we have to take. The idea might be to give each property owner a stake in the new way of living. Or simply to build these initially in areas that have no current habitation.

    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


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