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The Big Answer


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A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction

a book by Christopher Alexander and Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein

(our site's book review)

This city planning proposal encourages a mix of household types in every neighborhood so that one-person households, couples, families with kids and group households are side-by-side. This should include provisions for elders (who can have an important childcare role to play if the neighborhoods so desire, obviously).

Provisions for elders should exist in every neighborhood (they can have an important childcare role to play)
Provisions for elders should exist in every neighborhood (they can have an important childcare role to play)

The book, like most books that relate to social planning, bemoans the ineffectiveness of the isolated nuclear family, which often fails and then we’re left with divorce and separation, which traumatizes children. “. . . it seems very likely that the nuclear family is not a viable social form. It is too small. Each person in a nuclear family is too tightly linked to other members of the family; any one relationship which goes sour, even for a few hours, becomes critical; people cannot simply turn away toward uncles, aunts, grandchildren, cousins, brothers. Instead, each difficulty twists the family unit into even tighter spirals of discomfort; the children become prey to all kinds of dependencies and oedipal neuroses; the parents are so dependent upon each other that they are finally forced to separate. Philip Slater describes this situation for American families and finds in the adults of the family, especially the women, a terrible, brooding sense of deprivation. There are simply not enough people around, not enough communal action . . .”

The isolated nuclear family creates a toxic choicelessness that gets resented—such families are too small a social unit to go it alone
The isolated nuclear family creates a toxic choicelessness that gets resented—such families are too small a social unit to go it alone

Happily, not only do the authors bewail steep-gradient nurturance and isolated nuclear families, but they also bemoan any city planning (based upon the delusions that households will be mostly occupied by nuclear families, which is very incorrect) that helps precipitate this senseless mess.

Each person in each MC is to have his/her own personal space—Christopher Alexander and Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein support alone space wholeheartedly as well
Each person in each MC is to have his/her own personal space—Christopher Alexander and Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein support alone space wholeheartedly as well

Finally, the authors show uncommon wisdom in the area of alone space: “Of course, the couple needs a shared realm, where they can function together, invite friends, be alone together. This realm needs to be made up of functions which they share. But it is also true that each partner is trying to maintain an individuality, and not be submerged in the identity of the other, or the identity of the ‘couple.’ Each partner needs space to nourish this need.”

Spouses need to maintain an individuality, and not be submerged in the identity of the other—putting all their eggs in one basket
Spouses need to maintain an individuality, and not be submerged in the identity of the other—putting all their eggs in one basket

To sum up, in this book the authors refreshingly manifest unexpected insight and knowledge.