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The Big Answer


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Redesigning the American Dream

a book by Dolores Hayden

(our site's book review)

“We have not merely a housing shortage, but a broader set of unmet needs caused by the efforts of the entire society to fit itself into a housing pattern that reflects the dreams of the mid-nineteenth century better than the realities of the late twentieth century.” She says that for hundreds of years individuals tried to end social problems by building better towns, but just recently, people think instead about building better homes, as if neighborhood, community and towns didn’t exist and the family is supposed to solve all social problems.

People think only about building better homes, as if neighborhood, community and towns didn’t exist and the family is supposed to solve all social problems
People think only about building better homes, as if neighborhood, community and towns didn’t exist and the family is supposed to solve all social problems

She points to the need for: “. . . complex innovations—socially, economically and environmentally. . . [that] would reward housework and parenting as essential to society, incorporate male responsibility for nurturing, build on existing networks of neighbors, kin, and friends . . . and incorporate new technologies . . .” (Think MC. See Why Register for an MC?.) Unfortunately, she also talks more in terms of “policies” than of individual lifestyle choices and local responsibility. Policies can help when it gets to family-friendly (and MC-friendly) city planning and zoning and pushing for certain physical housing and neighborhood types. But the rest is up to the individual lifewish of each person.

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

The book shows some good potential MC designs, such as Irving Gill’s Horatio West Courts and the Danish Tynggarden, which has a hub (neighborhood center) with childcare. It explores single-parent homes with a common day-care unit for all to use and work in. MCs realize that hiring outsiders to care for one’s kids is a measure of last resort, not an option to consider up front. What’s the point of reproducing and having kids if you just lay them on someone else? If you don’t want to be with them, don’t have them!

Hiring outsiders to care for one’s kids is a measure of last resort, not an option to consider up front
Hiring outsiders to care for one’s kids is a measure of last resort, not an option to consider up front

She looks at plans with shared economic resources, which of course may work in certain European welfare states or in the Hutterites of northern U.S., but would be unattractive to most Americans—who will be happy to share some friendships, childcare and even elder care, but will, and should, resist the temptation to get into economic sharing. That could cause an infinity of complications as well as hard feelings, legal liabilities, etc. Besides, it’s un-American, unappealing and anti-individualistic.

She knows that neighborhoods of the future will need to support not just cottage industry houses and electronic cottages in which telecommuting replaces commuting, but provisions for baby-sitting co-ops for parents, most of whom work.

Toffler's electronic cottages in which telecommuting replaces commuting
Toffler's electronic cottages in which telecommuting replaces commuting

And she says that: “. . . most employed adults in the United States are not interested in moving toward communal groups, nor are they interested in having new bureaucracies run family life. . . . They . . . desire solutions which reinforce their economic independence and enhance personal choices about child rearing and sociability.”

She supports the basics of shared-hub-for-childcare (MC) concepts like one common back yard with a common area, with a shared childcare and recreational space in that common area. Unless the entire block is relandscaped to create more common green space, things won’t work. What would work better is to replace useless empty front lawns with small, diverse gardens, and then turn the extra back yard space into a large, common space, so the entire block could have an aesthetic integrated landscaping scheme—so different from the unaesthetic smorgasbord neighborhoods prevalent today. Precedents for this approach have been proposed for many decades. She supports sidewalks that link common spaces to private homes.

She notes that: “Some neighborhoods will find the model of the traditional village greens of New England a powerful inspiration, and many Americans could have town greens again, by literally carving out the heart of every converted suburban block for shared open space . . .” The book illustrates some of the above possibilities nicely. Of course, she realizes that the neighbors must like each other as good friends for this to work, because otherwise the legal and financial problems might lead to trouble when people moved, found they didn’t like each other, or wanted to oust a problem family from the block. (Think MC—without the methods the MCs use, the entire idea could backfire.)

She says that: “. . . demographics suggest that one facility sure to be in demand is community day care, along with home maintenance help for the elderly. The outdoor play space for children that a day-care facility requires is especially well-suited to a new green heart for every block.” There’s a lot of good ideas about women’s issues in the book as well.