Ah, the mind works in mysterious ways.
Let me tie these things together. Face to face is what we lose in a cyber world. We meet icon to icon across vast physical spaces. Eye to eye is getting so uncommon that it carries some dangers these days.
Community, and the quest for it, is a huge human drive, made manifest in the sagacious writings of a Durkheim, a Tonnies, a Robert Nisbet whose book “Community and Power” was originally titled “The Quest for Comunity”. It’s a scathing and wiondrous attack on the depersonalized, atomized state.
It is a call to consider how we might resuscitate a face to face world of neighborhoods. Let us not get prematurely weepy-eyed for the return of the town. Read “Wisconson Death Trip” for a graphic suggestion that there is no difference in the violent proclivities of city and town.
The trick is to move toward a society with the tollowing community-building elements.
Pedestrian ways with plenty of outdoor nooks and crannies and places to congregate, chap, sip, schmooze.
Work within a walk of no more than a mile.
An emphasis on small and focused businesses, retail outlets, entertainment venues, sports and fitness facilities, health nodes (for preventative services), educational nodes, for a move toward total education for all ages and a move to supplement conventional schooling and on residences that are connected, not detached, and sufficiently sense so that a human settlement can actually function as an economy.
Now once we start to give prizes to architects who can give form and substance to such ideas, and get them off the metrosprawl addiction, the immediate question of security arises. Why build a matrix to encourage community if everyone is getting more and more suspicious, privatized and interested only in one’s narrow group?
But this is precisely what must be defeated. We need to reclaim the world, not shut it out, to expand life, not reify it to the point we become things.
My general solution to this is a two pronged effort.
First, there must a rubric applied to the creation of public space. At present public space is a travesty. We need to reclaim it and make it for enjoyable public interaction. We need to have the following principle: Public space must attract, not intimidate, enhance not repel. The current warehouse mode of essentially protecting structures from human interactions is all wrong.
The second thing we need is security. Security can be achieved most easily by designing living spaces that are eminently safe and secure. Most often these should be apartments or connected dwellings where the outdoor space is common, that is to say public. My own sense is that we should build settlement models after the construction of stadiums with dwellings around the perimeter and a graded public (pedestrian) way between facing rows of homes of sufficient size and variety to make them attractive to many different sorts. Everything should be mixed.
This perimeter would have all manner of nodes and kiosks and such, making such necessities as we need available within a walk, not a drive.
Now why does this all add up to security. Because a community such as this can be monitored with much greater effectiveness than our metrosprawl communities. Or our impersonal mass-residence urban projects.
It’s that simple.
Now “Highlands” — one of my favorite Dylan songs, more recent than most.
It records an older person’s journey through life and notes the reality of face to face and at the same time the alienation and even depression it can create. I mention it because it is honest about the fact that we all die, we all have needs, we all have desires. That we do not think about these things, that we rely on drugs and alcohol to dull us to who we are and where we are going is merely an indication of an alienation index that is peaking.
Dylan could not have had this meditation without there being a pedestrian option. He walks in a park and sees people. He walks into a restaurant and has an encounter with the waitress. He cogitates as he strolls. At one point he’s listening to Neil Young and is yelled at for turning up the sound.
We live in a world where the nuclear family is no longer the the measure of all things. Where people are growing older. Where we are seeing that our current automobile, oil-based, interchange-riddled social and economic structure is going to pass from the scene.
The passage can be slow and painful. It most probably will be that. But it would be easier and smarter to begin to design the communities of the future, sustainable, eco-block conscious, with urban amenities whether in NYC or Tea, South Dakota.
We do not need more conventional philanthropic efforts to influence policy with studies. We need contests to create the future. Contests to design livable options which are sustainable, cost-effective and secure. I can see what I would like. But I cannot draw it. Someone else can though.