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The Big Answer


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A Better Place to Live

a book by Philip Langdon

(our site's book review)

He supports suburbs fostering community and neighborhood life, making public areas in cities enjoyable, putting car garages out of sight, regulating city planning more responsibly, adding environmental factors to zoning codes, adding central recreation areas to neighborhoods, and mixing different uses and kinds of houses in close proximity. He says: “Those who recognize that the modern American suburb is mired in serious difficulties should be searching for ways of creating a better place to live.”

We are a disconnected and fragmented people, commuting and consuming, and then cocooning in isolation. He points out that the conservatives usurped the family values discussions of the 90s, nourishing the idea that each family should indulge in heroic individualism, not liberal, irresponsible neediness—everyone should take care of their own family’s needs, not worry about neighbors or others in the community (except for indulging in the “thousand points of light” of volunteerism). This overemphasis on the home/family combination as panacea (a strange, anomalous idea of the 20th century that would have been thought mad in previous centuries) has put marriage under a ton of stress.

Heroic individualism
Heroic individualism

There are two chances that families’ members will fully and successfully fill one another’s needs without additional social networks and connections: slim and none. Mankind has always known that, but from the middle 20th to the early 21st century has been eras in which technological advances have made modern man arrogant enough to believe that he could even “cure” himself of the need for community connectedness. And like the “cures” for many of our diseases in the 20th century, this cure backfired. Modernization doesn’t relieve mankind of his social-connectedness needs any more than it cures him of disease organisms. If anything, the psychological and social maladies of our modern age underscore our social connectedness needs, and our increase in materialism and consumption underscores our psychological and social maladies. Sociologists are seeing a decline in the number of people per household and a decline in social connectedness as correlating highly with the number of psychological complaints of citizens.

A decline in social connectedness correlates highly with the number of psychological complaints of citizens
A decline in social connectedness correlates highly with the number of psychological complaints of citizens

Langdon says : “. . . isolation . . . erodes the mental stability necessary for individuals to form their own judgments and resist undue external pressure and influence.” (E.g., peer pressure, marketing pressures for things people don’t really want or need, gang pressures, etc.) There are those that believe that social networking via computers and smart phones breaks the isolation, but in many ways it merely underscores it. Posting, texting, emailing, IMing, and chatting to those you've never met helps dull the stress of isolation, but those that do so end up more lonely and isolated unless they are communicating to real irl f2f friends (or relatives) and not just virtual ones. See Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?.

Social networking via computers and smart phones can make one even more lonely
Social networking via computers and smart phones can make one even more lonely

The author cites homeowner associations as giving people more of a community feeling of identity, where dues go for the good of the local neighborhood, whereas taxes go for all sorts of suspect purposes. But they also show how they can arouse bitterness and hate—people don’t mind regulating others but hate being regulated themselves.

Taxes go for all sorts of suspect purposes
Taxes go for all sorts of suspect purposes

He’d like to see less fragmented communities, more social connectedness, parents doing less child chauffeuring, adults with more time for kids, elderly empowered to stay in their longtime neighborhood and city planning that addressed real needs of people more than addressing only developers’ desires.

Langdon would like to see parents doing less child chauffeuring and parents making more time for kids
Langdon would like to see parents doing less child chauffeuring and parents making more time for kids

A related concept here: pedestrian-oriented Pedestrian Pockets and transit-oriented Transit-Oriented Developments.

Pedestrian pocket
Pedestrian pocket