pattern language, politics

Obama Pattern Language Primer — 14

Continuing a series of looks at Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language.

Please read Our Crisis Is Not Economic as a starting point.



This section considers amenities in a viable, integral human settlement.

The local shops and gathering places.

  • Individually Owned Shops
  • Street Cafe
  • Corner Grocery
  • Beer Hall
  • Traveller’s Inn
  • Bus Stop
  • Food Stands
  • Sleeping in Public
  • Individually Owned Shops [May be part of Shopping Street, Market of Many Shops]

    Alexander states: “When shops are too large, or controlled by absentee owners, they become plastic, bland and abstract.”

    Clearly this sets up a conflict and even a debate. Mall culture and Wal-Mart hangar-sized boxes are the seeming default. But there may well be an argument for precisely the smaller.more niche-type outlets that Alexander wants. I use “outlets” with some care because I see storage and home delivery as the future of much if not most shopping. This enables a store to be more a node where someone places an order. Perhaps it has tables and chairs and is social. The proprieter in knowledgable in the niche area. And so forth. Clearly there is no room for huge stores in a settlement that is car free within its perimeter.

    Street Cafes [May be part of Identifiable Neighbourhood , Activity Nodes, Small Public Squares]

    Alexander states the obvious: “The street cafe provides a unique setting , special to cities: a place where people can sit lazily, legitimately, be on view, and watch the world go by.”

    I would ideally place such nodes ever 300 feet or so and make them places where people could both gather and schmooze. And also where they might be able to get enough to eat to count as a viable meal. I am convinced that the kitchen’s days are numbered and that the pedestrian settlement would pretty much make eating out cost effective.

    Corner Grocery [May be part of Market of Many Shops, Web of Shopping, Identifiable Neighbourhood]

    Alexander: “It has lately been assumed that people no longer want to walk to local stores. This assumption is mistaken.”

    Alexander’s right and one should be able to meet basic grocery needs within 800 yards max of one’s residence. These communities should also have a kid business for elderly folk, where they carry the groceries for a small honorarium.

    Beer Hall [May be part of Neighbourhood Boundary, Promenade, Night Life]

    Alexander asks: “Where can people sing, and drink, and shout and drink, and let go of their sorrows?”

    And answers: “Somewhere in a community at least one big place where a few hundred people can gather, with beer and wine, music, and perhaps a half-dozen activities, so that people are continuously crossing from one to another.”

    In Capri there are such spots including some that are, cleverly, underground, diminishing intrusive sound.

    My ideal is a community built on a futuristic matrix shere there is a good deal underground, including the mechanism needed to recycle everything in the community onsite. The matrix would include wind turbines and extensive solar paneling and operate as a shell for the community. In some cases even collecting and processing rain water.

    “Traveller’s Inn [May be part of Magic of the City, Activity Nodes, Promenade, Night Life, Work Community]

    Akexander makes a cool point: “A man (sic) who stays the night in a strange place is still a member of the human community, and still needs company. There is no reason why he should creep into a hole, and watch TV alone, the way he does in a roadside motel.”

    And elaborates: “Make the traveler’s inn a place where travelers can take rooms for the night, but where- unlike most hotels and motels- the inn draws all its energy from the community of travelers that are there any given evening. The scale is small 30 or 40 guests to an inn; meals are offered communally; there is even a large space ringed round with beds in alcoves.”

    Bus Stop [May be part of Mini-Buses]

    Alexander argues: “Bus stops must be easy to recognize, and pleasant, with enough activity around them to make people comfortable and safe.”

    Adding: “Build bus stops so that they form tiny centers of public life. Build them as part of the gateways into neighbourhoods, work communities, parts of town….”

    In my ideal settlement there would be “rides”. I can see a default vehicle of some sort that simply goes through the various promenades and picks people up and drops them off. They could be operated at modest speed by persons trained to ensure safe movement. They would not be frequent enough to discourage walking and not infrequent enough to cause impatience. Five minute intervals comes to mind. They could also double as security vehicles as they would in effect be patrolling the community.

    Food Stands [May be part of Activity Nodes, Road Crossing, Raised Walk, Small Public Squares, Bus Stop]

    Fine: “Many of our habits and institutions are bolstered by the fact that we can get simple, inexpensive food on the street, on the way to shopping, work, and friends.”

    Sleeping in Public [May be part of Interchange, Small Public Squares, Public Outdoor Room, Street Cafes, Pedestrian Street]

    Says Alexander: “It is a mark of success in a park, public lobby or a porch, when people can come there and fall asleep.”

    Indeed but we are far from being the trusting community that we need to become to enable this prescription:

    “Keep the environment filled with ample benches, comfortable places, corners to sit on the ground, or lie in comfort in the sand. Make these places relatively sheltered, protected from circulation, perhaps up a step, with seats and grass to slump down upon, read the paper and doze off.”

    I would call this change I could believe in.

    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