pattern language, politics

COMMENT ON: The ‘Real Unemployment’ Needs Real Solutions

1. We will not have the jobs we need until we decide to become the society we can be.

2. China may be a problem but it is unrealistic to believe that we will solve our problem by trying to tell China how to behave.

3. The current infrastructure should be radically altered insofar as it is based on the idea that we will always have more cars and more and more single family dwellings dispersed over the land. This is a recipe for decline.

The US has an average population density of under 100 per square mile. This frustrates the creation of economically viable communities. Cities are five times more energy efficient than metrosprawl.

We need to reshape things to achieve adequate residential densities, walkable neighborhoods, and a rescaling of things so that people can work near where they live..

Jobs of the future will emerge naturally if we decide to reshape our automobile-dependent society, rewarding the creation of economically-viable neighborhoods with a population of up to 10,000 per square mile and the ability to walk to the places one needs for work, play and sustenance.

This will require a zoning revolution.

Detroit should be making the modular elements of new communities instead of more cars.

China, incidentally, has ecoblocks. We have nothing of the sort. Yet.

Read the article I’m commenting on at HuffingtonPost

pattern language, politics

COMMENT ON: U.S. Growth Prospects Deemed Bleak In New Decade By Economists

Prospects for growth are bleak because growth is not the problem. It’s the oil, automobile and detached-home philosophy.

That idea becomes inexorably bleaker whenever people talk as though that is what we want to revive.

It will not happen.

We have already won the economic war worldwide in a sadly ironic sense. All the world has bit on the obsolete American formula — the Henry Ford one — hook line and sinker. We are simply farther along on the evolutionary curve to obsolescence.

A single observation makes the point. The economic viability of a population dispersed as metrosprawl, living in detached homes and driving everywhere, oil-dependently, is one fifth that of a population living in an urban setting. This economic viability would increase to the extent that human settlements began to became denser pedestrian neighborhoods with a growing mix of essential institutions and commercial enterprises within walking distance. Linked by public conveyances.

Recalibrating and reconceptualizing the basics of community and pattern language are the keys to future economic viability. Growth will refer to human beings.

The new jobs that will result from recalibration will replace the jobs lost trying to push an economy that will not work now or ever again in the future.

Read the article this comment is on at HuffingtonPost

pattern language

Components of New Settlements Six — Integral Mix


Components need not be objects or things. They can be principles and ideas that get reflected in objects and things. I have suggested modules that are mass-produced and somewhat lego-like placed within spaces as substitutes for the conventional structures that architecture creates on sites from the ground up. I have suggested ways as substitutes for streets, as these settlements will not have car traffic. They will be largely pedestrian with a small mix-in of public conveyances existing and to be developed.

When I speak of an integral mix, I come to what is the most central proposition of all — namely that a community of from 5-10,000 should integrate within easy walking distances all the elements of what we think of as urban or city existence. The trick to this is scale. There is no reason whatsoever that most businesses could not be conducted from small outlets — even kiosks. If we evolve toward a society of monster warehouses or storage centers and increase efficiency of delivery, most things of a commercial nature can be ordered and delivered with the aid of a kiosk-person who could help a customer select the right this or that. Likewise, a community in which there are “commercial” or public landings at easily-reached intervals could have small computer-cafes, repair shops and eateries, And all manner of service businesses governmental and commercial.

The entire community would include all of the elements that would substantiate the description: integral. Entertainment, fitness, education, commerce, spiritual and even manufacturing if done on a scale suitable to the totality of the community.

Take preventative health. There is no reason who a community of 10,000 coud not have six or eight small clinics located in its “squares”, These would double as emergency-care input areas. A person with a serious need for hospitalization could be seen within minutes and transported to an appropriate hospital.

There would be no reason why a community with a larger health facility (or any other large business) could not itself have an integral mix. All it would mean is that a larger number of residents would be employed by the larger enterprise.

pattern language, politics

Face To Face, Security and “Highlands”

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.

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

President’s Talking Points for Now or Later

NOTE: This post — HERE — has been entirely submerged by the Huffington post. You will not find it on its main page under new posts. The only way it could remain there is if they chose to feature it. You will not find it where I designated it, on the Politics page. Same story. All this within an hour of posting it.

For now if we mean to get out of this crisis.

For later in the manner of Carter’s remorseful “malaise” speech if we do not do these things now.


1. Say that we cannot build an economy that will work by creating and selling more and more private vehicles. Effective now our policy will be to replace private vehicles by public transportation and other steps noted below.

2. Say that we cannot build an economy by spreading sprawling single dwellings that declined in value because they never were worth what people paid for them. We will be moving toward new human settlements that bode a new and more integral society.


By these two decisions we have the basis for the new economy. We will design new human settlements and make them a model for the world that will exist when we have moved beyond the car and sprawl.

To begin to develop the positive talking points, set your speechwriters to reading the following:

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


It has been said that the President puts little stock in blogs so I am not holding my breath. He is in good company. Huffington Post typically sinks my pattern language posts in record time. And even people I try to explain this to scratch their head. So why do I keep on? Because I know that the economy will not come back on the strengths of a private car and single homes economy. I know that the new economy will take place when we change to a society based on livable, car-free human settlements where the features of urban life are within reach of everyone. Read the links above and think about it.

Oh, and what caused the crisis? A gluttonous economy based on an unfounded belief in growth based on selling more cars and more houses.

You have just read what no administration voice has said thus far and until the President says it we will tank more and more.