If there’s one thing the 20th century gave us, it’s the luxury of not needing each other. It so defines our culture that it’s physically embodied in our sprawling, disconnected landscapes.
That alone begs a classic, chicken-n-egg question: Did the leisurely lure of the suburbs kill our sense of community? Were our social ties unwittingly severed by the meandering disconnection of subdivisions and strip malls or was sprawl just a symptom of something larger? After all, for all their rewards, meaningful relationships take a lot of work. Perhaps, once the modern world elevated our prospects for personal independence, we cut those ties ourselves, willingly, lest our happy motoring be weighted down with excess baggage.
Sprawl: form following function.
This morning I took a moment to reflect upon the challenges and tragedy of the past year — BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well, Aussie wildfires, the Christchurch and Haiti earthquakes — until, as a Californian, my mind inevitably drifted back to current events in Japan and their nuclear radiation currently floating its way stateside over the Texas-sized plastic trash flotilla/vortex in the northern Pacific.
And did I mention last week’s news on democratic revolution in the Middle East/North Africa? It’s enough to drive a guy to drink.
Sense of community. It’s been a rallying cry of New Urbanists since the beginning and for good reason. For years leading up to the birth of the neo-traditionalists, it didn’t take much effort to realize that our surroundings had changed—a lot—and not for the better.
Our neighborhoods—subdivisions, really—were isolating us from each other and from the things we needed to get done. Despite the ample comforts we’d developed to help mitigate the separation, that’s simply not a good recipe for human productivity, much less fulfillment.
There was a hole to be filled, and the distinctly market-based New Urbanists stepped in to fill it. Continue reading
Provoked by this seasonal opportunity to give thanks, we at PlaceShakers cast an eye towards our communities and offer up this second helping of a piece from earlier this year. Its message for the season? Be glad. Not just for what you have, but for the people you have to share it with. Happy Thanksgiving!
Something terrible happened in my neighborhood. Continue reading
The obesity epidemic isn’t really “news” anymore (thank you, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution) yet when I question my friends who work outside the fields of design and planning on why Americans are so fat, they tie everything back to poor food choices. But what about exercise? They reply that if you want to exercise, just find yourself a park or a gym. No worries.
So, although we know that there is an obesity “problem,” one with significant national impacts, the average American still is not aware that it is, in many ways, a design problem. A result of a built environment that has been constructed over the past 50 years with one singular purpose – move more cars faster. Continue reading
Western Canada’s form-based codes are missing.
This is no small problem. Those of us working in the region are continuously grilled by municipalities with the same question, often delivered with a suspicious, cocked eyebrow: “Where are they? Where in Canada have they, or any other alternative zoning regulation, been enacted?”
The answer we’re obliged to offer is unfortunately neither reassuring nor helpful: “We’ve turned up little evidence,” we mutter quietly. Little enough, in fact, that a comparable municipal mentor is typically unable to be found.
A mystery is at hand. Continue reading