abba's way

Three Car Free Notes

Short Form Content: It’s Not Gas Versus Electric its Both Against …
11 hours ago
Build car free cyber cities. Widen the definition of viable work. Read here for more of this ongoing analysis. This integrates ideologies and creates eventual global leadership because the rest of the world is lost on …

Short Form Content: Europe Leads The Way Toward Car Free
Jun 27, 2011
Europe Leads The Way Toward Car Free · Europe Stifles Drivers in Favor of Mass Transit and Walking – “While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help …

Short Form Content: We’ll get past oil whether we want to or not
Jul 01, 2011
We’ll get past oil whether we want to or not. A Thought Starter on the Creation of Car-free Communities for the 21st Century · Global Online Privacy. Posted by Stephen C. Rose at 11:53 AM …

pattern language, politics

Future Unfolds in A German Burb

The recession will more probably be over when we morph our minds to accept the future unfolding, as in this German suburb. Going car free is half the battle. The other is designing human settlements that integrate, rather than separating and distancing, the institutional elements needed to make for civilized and happy existence. Click the pattern language tag above for more.


pattern language, politics

Why Single Family Homes Are Obsolete

Not in the sense that they are presently the standard — the home that stands alone, that may be big enough for more than a nuclear family or small enough for two only. The standard, sprawled, often ugly, car-dependent, beloved American Dream acquisition, foreclosed and key to the economy. Single family homes that are the default, the ideal, the cash cow, whatever.

But these standard, pervasive, single family homes are, like private automobiles, obsolete for the future.

They may be cash cows for developers and resurrected real-estate speculators and they may for a time be the only thing that will enable you to escape the city or otherwise get right with the world. But they must eventually become either antiques (like old colonial dwellings in New England and along the Acela Corridor) or be folded in to reasonable human settlements that come about as a result of smart planning, humane design and caring attention to the thought of persons like Christopher Alexander.

I am talking largely about the single family dwellings of suburbia and exurbia, the little and big boxes that all look just the same, the bedroom community houses that have as much potential to be part of a vibrant neighborhood as a snake has to be a common pet.

Here are some salient reasons why the single family home cannot be a model for the future.

1. The future requires economies of scale to create reasonable ecological models.

Consider that a truly solar and wind driven neighborhood would thrive with a matrix for its dwellings that could incorporate 1000, or 5000 or 10,000 persons. Panels, turbines, not to mention recycling apparatus would be eco-effective and cost-effective if the huge expense involved was distributed among a large enough base. This thought becomes vapor if we assume the current proliferation of single family homes is the model for the future.

2. Single family homes represent a medium of conspicuous consumption which is borderline-disgusting.

I have watched some of the TV journeys through dwellings with more rooms than one can count, homes whose taste is not worthy of association with the word taste. These homes are a regurgitation of servile design responding to the big dollar which is no more. They got in under the wire and deep down everyone knew they made no sense, save as reflections of prideful ownership.

I think it was the noxious W who pushed the phrase ownership society. In a pig’s eye.

3. Single family homes are no longer affordable in an economy that will be moving more and more to the utilization of diverse human talents and less and less to the creation of capitalism’s friends, the defective and continually costly cash cows, otherwise known as the private car and the single family home.

The value of the single family homes being foreclosed today is about half what people paid for them and the economy is grimly absorbing this living nightmare. Everyone knew it when the deals were struck. It was a tacit crime against reason.

4. The American Dream will no longer be to own a car and have a single family home. It will be to live a decent life with a decent income and participate in a diverse and exciting community where the things needed to live are close at hand.

This will require a totally new approach to design and execution, a revolution in zoning. It will begin with an entrepreneurial model of a car-free human settlement and move, as people cotton to it, into actuality from place to place.

5. Security is enhanced by the creation of human settlements in locations not subject to the vagaries of flood and wind. Or settlements subject to these vagaries, but built to actually withstand them.

The private one family home is not a viable model for the creation of such settlements. Security will be one of the payoffs for a mentality that moves in the direction of these new settlements.

6. The dominant reason for the obsolescence of single family homes is their inextricable linkage to the automobile. They are slaves to the ideals that emerged, half-formed, in the minds of Henry Ford and Frank Lloyd Wright, when they imagined that we the people were going to become stalwart pioneers in an endless landscape. Wright actually assumed that every suburbanite would have a little garden in the back yard.

The result of this misjudgment is that we have built metrosprawl and continue to do so and it is an offense to nature, to humanity and to the future. It must be literally razed or radically changed to create livable human settlements where people have all the privacy they need in an environment that does not leave them. like Lucy Jordan, in a white suburban bedroom in a white suburban town. We are in the alienation elimination business. A sustainable economy requires a new conception if what it means to live together in society.

Imagine a community where children have a place to mingle and play within a few hundred feet of a dwelling and in sight of other adults gathered at social meeting places in a pedestrian setting. Imagine a community where preventive health nodes are also to be found within a few hundred yards of any dwellings and where one can eat and drink in social settings that are integrated into the mix and reached by foot.

The building of car-free communities is within our grasp and is the very key to sustainable economies. The decision to continue building private cars and single family homes spread to kingdom come is exactly the wrong decision for a viable future.

More On New Human Settlements:

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


pattern language, politics

Why Private Cars Are Obsolete

No they are not obsolete as the dominant mode of transportation in today’s world, with the American model of more roads and more cars being emulated everywhere else and the design of cities following the imperious needs of the automobile.

They are obsolete for the future, they are obsolete as one of the foundation stones of a future economy, they are obsolete as a viable choice for a society that is moving toward change you can believe in. Why so?

1. Foundation Stones of A Future Economy

Individually owned cars are too expensive for most people but this is not the main reason why they are not viable economically.

They are sold with the expectation that they will be a cash cow for the seller and related businesses. More and more cars is the mantra.

But all this does is make any effort to reduce congestion or move beyond oil or any other laudable objective completely impossible. A future economy needs to be based not on the sale of cars, but on the replacement of the entire infrastructure of automotive society by a new form and configuration where money is generated by the growth of new services based on a localized availability of all relevant aspects of urban life.

The current model, assuming the endless sale of cars, is sprawl and individually-owned dwellings, both increasingly unaffordable and nonsensical in terms of creating a community where people can interact as they wish, be private as they wish and have a range of choices and options without having to drive for miles to work or play.

Current emphasis on car sharing is simply an acknowledgement that the notion of growing an economy by continuing purchase of individually-owned vehicles is an invitation to entrapment in a global economy that is no longer viable.

In case you are scratching your head and wondering what planet I come from, check out this Google books reference to a 1990s conference on car free cities.

The foundation stones of a future economy are car-free, pedestrian communities that incorporate ecological economies of scale, recycling capacities of scale and all of the features, in localized nodes, that we now associate with urban life, but which are being changed to universal by the universal availability of the Web.

2. Change We Can Believe In

President Obama has all of the pieces of change we can believe in in statements he has made over the past several years. The only thing that he has not done so far is to acknowledge that moving beyond what he calls the tyranny of oil means moving beyond the economy of private cars. The economy of the future will be one where the thousands of dollars that we invested in car after car will be invested in quality of life items that are largely localized as communities become more integral. For example. there will be a massive jump in home care of all sorts or neighborhood care. The money we paid for cars will go to care givers, teachers, coaches and so forth.

Why has President Obama been silent on the vision of a post-automobile society based on the money-generating idea of building entirely new communities that integrate many of the ideas that he has for such things as birth through college education? And health reform? Does he really believe it is viable to have huge hospitals that require $600 payments just to perform blood work?

No, I am sure he would like to see preventive clinics in each community of a few thousand persons or so. This is only viable in a car free new settlement or in an existing settlement that has been freed of central auto traffic to the point of offering a pedestrian option to all.

None of the changes envisioned by President Obama can take place without a commitment to making new or renewed neighborhoods, settlements or towns that move a bit toward shared amenities including solar and wind and recycling. These things are not viable long term if they are confined to retrofitting what we have now.

The President should launch design contests, planning contests. The criteria: car-free. mixed residence, work, culture, educational, medical and so forth all within walking distance. Cars allowed only outside the perimeter of the space occupied by the dwellings and other structures.

More ideas on change we can believe in:

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


pattern language, politics

Obama Pattern Language Primer — 6

Christopher Alexander starts his book A Pattern Language with Independent Regions, which is a blanket term for an area with a general boundary, large enough to incorporate all of the subsequent patterns right down to your personal stuff. These notes are an effort to converse with Alexander’s great work, published 31 years ago.

Times have changed and we have at least some possibility now of injecting Alexander’s concerns into the debate about a post-oil society, a debate that will be beginning during the Obama Era.

Here are the posts in this series to date:


And here is the online version of Alexander’s Pattern Language — a hypertext outline that is your best introduction to this wonderful book. Each of these posts deals with a cluster of patterns.


Here is today’s cluster:

Both in the neighborhoods and the communities, and in between them, in the boundaries, encourage the formation of local centers.

  • Eccentric Nucleus
  • Density Rings
  • Activity Nodes
  • Promenade
  • Shopping Street
  • Night Life
  • Interchange
  • Eccentric Nucleus (May be part of Four-Story Limit , Magic of the City , Community of 7000, Subculture Boundary)

    Alexander says: “The random character of local densities confuses the identity of our communities, and also creates a chaos in the pattern of land use.”

    The rules Alexander proposes to remedy this can be read at the link above. My own belief is that the communities of 7,000 that he assumes will be gathered in enclosed areas where there are no cars. Therefore they will have a reasonably uniform density and there will be space between these nodes or settlements or towns.

    Density Rings (May be part of Eccentric Nucleus, Mosaic of Subcultures, Community of 7000 )

    This deals with the need to integrate all elements of a community, residence, shopping, etc. My suggestion is that residences form the perimeter of the car-free settlements, in part so they have an exterior view and in part so that some provision can be made for vehicles that continue to be privately owned. Instead of the two car garage, the exterior space, perhaps under the matrix, for a vehicle, bikes, whatever. I would lard the residential ring with small commercial establishment like convenience stores. cafes, and internet nodes. I might have another ring of facing residences for those with no vehicles. I would devote the center to open spaces and also to the larger concerns needed to complete a proper town, entertainment, sports, work nodes, services.

    Activity Nodes (May be part of Identifiable Neighbourhood , Network of Paths and Cars, Eccentric Nucleus, Subculture Boundary), Promenade)

    Alexander says, “Community facilities scattered individually through the city do nothing for the life of the city.”

    His solution: “Create nodes of activity throughout the community, spread about 300 yards apart. First identify those existing spots in the community where action seems to concentrate itself. Then modify the layout of the paths in the community to bring as many of them through these spots as possible. This makes each spot function as a “node” in the path network. Then, at the center of each node, make a small public square, and surround it with a combination of community facilities and shops which are mutually supportive.”

    I fully agree that this concept should be applied but this can only happen in a car-free, that is to say vehicular traffic free area. The draconian premise of my version of pattern language is that we can economically create the cities of the future by creating residential-commercial-cultural cells or towns which ate vehicle free. Populations of around 7,000 can be contained within a space that is less than a mile in diameter, with plenty of room for these nodes. They can be built on levels of no more than a cumulative four stories above ground. They can be varied in design and each have their own distinctive character. Without a decision to go vehicle-free we have no basis for creating a plan that will eventually work. Will this happen all at once, by fiat? Of course not. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists will have to gather the billions needed to build an ecomatrix that will handle all elements of recycling and energy creation and flll it with a livable environment that is based on the ideal of Alexander and others. It is a seismic shift and will only happen when we accept the basic vehicle-free, scale-that-enables-ecosanity premise.

    Promenade (May be part of Mosaic of Subcultures, Community of 7000, Activity Nodes)

    Alexander says: “Each subculture needs a center for its public life: a place where you can go to see people, and to be seen.”

    Yes. I generally envision that the residential perimeters will be accessed by a spiral graded sort of walkway that moves from the base to the top — a four-story easy grade. At various levels internal to the perimeter excitement would be ensured by the creation of “squares” just as exist in Rome or Paris of on Capri.

    Shopping Street (May be part of Magic of the City, Promenade, Web of Shopping)

    Alexander says: Shopping centers depend on access: they need locations near major traffic arteries. However, the shoppers them selves don’t benefit from traffic: they need quiet, comfort, and convenience, and access from the pedestrian paths in the surrounding area.”

    By eliminating vehicular traffic we create the possibility of an entirely new shopping pattern. The need for delivery of larger items would be handled not by having the items in the shops, but by having samples or guided access to online presentations that would lead to deliveries rather than carrying things off in a car. Many large ticket items would no longer be needed as dwellings would be designed to largely incorporate what we now think of as furniture, By standardizing “rooms” and making them somewhat like Lego elements, modular, one could select (order) rooms with the frameworks for sleeping, sitting and so forth. Home repair would be vastly diminished.

    Night Life (May be part of Magic of the City, Community of 7000 , Promenade)

    Says Alexander: “Most of the city’s activities close down at night; those which stay open won’t do much for the night life of the city unless they are together.

    In the nodes or towns I envision, Alexander’s concern would be met by the existence of a 24/7 culture that could extend from internet cafes and eating places to entertainment and other public facilities.

    Interchange (May be part of Web of Public Transportation , Local Transport Areas)

    Alexander says: “Interchanges play a central role in public transportation. Unless the interchanges are working properly, the public transportation system will not be able to sustain itself.”

    I solve the interchange problem by basically eliminating the need for them, at least in the nodes where people live car-free. Outside of these areas it is not at al clear that the future will require the sort of interchanges than now exist. The fundamental network for transportation between car free nodes or towns would likely be light rail or even pneumatic trains or people movers. Transportation to the the cities as we presently know them and across country would be by a combination of vehicles using the current interstate and rail network.

    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