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The Big Answer


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The Next American Metropolis: Ecology, Community, and the American Dream

a book by Peter Calthorpe

(our site's book review)

The author says that “Periodically, America reinvents itself, simultaneously discovering the best of its past and marrying it to irresistible forces of change. I believe that time is now.” This well spoken phrase from the introduction shows uncommonly good social and evolutionary instincts—one is left hoping he can continue this attitude as subtext for the rest of the book. He cites loss of community and isolated families as suburban sprawl symptoms before he even exits his introduction.

Calthorpe looks at communities fracturing into enclaves, gated and guarded communities that symbolize secession more than safety
Calthorpe looks at communities fracturing into enclaves, gated and guarded communities that symbolize secession more than safety

And he looks at communities fracturing into enclaves, changing families unmatched by changing policies and changing city planning, pollution, loss of inner-city development, and mindless growth, adding that: “Over the last twenty years [he wrote in 1993] these patterns of growth have become more and more dysfunctional. Finally they have come to produce environments which often frustrate rather than enhance everyday life.”

Pedestrian pocket
Pedestrian pocket

And just to prove that he really “gets it,” he points out that: “. . . we need to start creating neighborhoods rather than subdivisions.” Physically he advocates pedestrian-oriented Pedestrian Pockets and transit-oriented Transit-Oriented Developments. (The MC plans—especially the hubs—are designed around pedestrian traffic in neighborhoods. His ideas alone, without MCs, would not suffice, as he says to: “. . . turn suburbs into towns, projects into neighborhoods, and networks into communities.” All this walking around might actually create extra dangers to and from walkers if current social realities persist even though Pedestrian Pockets evolve. See MCs and Why Register for an MC?.)

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

The author says that “We need communities that are occupied full time and that provide a world of opportunity for kids, communities that support [people] in their efforts to weave together an ever more complex life of home and work.” Amen.

We need communities that are occupied full time and that provide a world of opportunity for kids
We need communities that are occupied full time and that provide a world of opportunity for kids

His village greens (common open areas within settlements) and transit plazas are advocated for the purpose of creating prominent civic components to core commercial areas. He’s hoping that daycare facilities incorporated into the village greens will support those working in these areas. He needs to look more closely at daycare quality and the increasing costs that many parents find so burdensome before he decides this is the right future for America.

Some daycare facilities
Some daycare facilities

He’s right to want to get people to associate in civic/public ways like this, but he hasn’t factored in some of today’s 2014 realities: Fear of strangers is palpable, desire for the company of strangers has never been lower, danger from criminal elements keeps millions off public transit vehicles (even though mass transit is only 10% as dangerous as automobile travel), parks turn into drug-dealing centers in many areas, and women returning from jobs after dark are much too vulnerable. Perhaps acting as though we were safe and secure will do the self-fulfilling prophecy thing. Perhaps the victims of the sociopaths will create such an intense media circus that those among us that wished to indulge in the civic relations and public citizenship characteristic of times past will simply bury their nostalgic desires, return to their alienated, disconnected, automobile-centered way of life and drown their illusions in an orgy of TV escapism.

An orgy of TV escapism
An orgy of TV escapism

(In other words, his ideas would be a wonderful complement to MC evolution, and we support them wholeheartedly, but isn’t the cart before the horse here? Can we really return to community connectivity and civic friendliness when it clashes with what we’ve become in our dysfunctional families?

Isn’t the cart before the horse here? We can't return to community connectivity and civic friendliness when it clashes with what we’ve become in our dysfunctional families.
Isn’t the cart before the horse here? We can't return to community connectivity and civic friendliness when it clashes with what we’ve become in our dysfunctional families

We can wish to be different and set the stage for this difference, but will these relative superficialities actually empower the actualization of these differences? We’d hate to see his city planning innovations backfire because they tried to put square-peg people into round-hole environments. Perhaps MCs and this author’s ideas should come to fruition concomitantly.)

trying to force a square peg into a round hole
Trying to force a square peg into a round hole