Okay, I’m not confident David Byrne would be all that excited about turning an ironic subtitle from the Talking Heads’ 1984 tune into a community engagement tactic. But stay with me here.
Over the last few months, the urban planning universe has been all atwitter (literally) with concern over how “those people,” the Agenda 21ers and Tea Party folks, have been making life tough in public meetings and planning processes. In February, a “Facing the Critics” session at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in San Diego attracted a standing-room-only crowd desperate for solutions to out-of-control meetings. (You can download presentations from that session here.) And in just the last couple weeks, I’ve attended meetings in Boston and Burlington, Vermont with similar topics on the agenda.
Put the village on hold. For the time being, it’s gonna take a parent, a councilman and a developer to raise a child.
Flashback 2003: Attending the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in New Orleans, I caught the keynote from a planning official for Vancouver, British Columbia. Now, under normal circumstances, I don’t suppose I’d remember much of what he said but, at the time, my daughter was just over three years old and something he used as the overall framing for his making Smart Growth work presentation really resonated with me.
“If it works for kids,” he said, “it works for everyone.”
More than three decades ago, sociologist Ernest Becker published The Denial of Death which made the argument that the fear of death, in all its irrevocability and finality, provides a unifying, baseline reality for humans.
We may be overwhelmed and confused by an increasing number of competing “truths,” wrote Becker, but one truth cuts through all others: We’re all gonna die.
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