If I had to pick an ideal place to live, the utmost of utopia’s, it would have to be a moderately sized town with a decent town center (with several coffee shops, one book store with a coffee shop, and a used book store with low prices and optional coffee shop) and homes that are within walking distance of most parts of town so as to afford the residents the ability to walk to most of the places they need to go. Sadly I think about 1% of America has this lay out.
<%image(20050526-harvard design.gif|139|177|harvard design mag)%> A book that critiques the disconnected nature of many American cities and suburbs is Harvard Design Magazine. There actually are people out there who think that our towns and cities have been designed poorly and there are viable options for new forms of urban planning. In addition, those design ideas have some pretty far-reaching implications for building community and being salt and light.
As is our custom, Jules and I were at Borders (our great good third place) in the middle of desolate ocean of cars, traffic lights, and box stores in the mall area. A frequent browser of the magazine area, Julie had picked up the Harvard Design Magazine and I had begun to spy it when she got up. After she read most of the article on urban renewal, we began to discuss the really sensible ideas contained within the $18 magazine:
– Build modest homes within the town limits, but break up the developments with interspersed shopping areas so that each community has places to go for the essentials within a reasonable distance.
– Grid the roads so that the traffic is not dependent on major thoroughfares and plan for various forms of public transportation along certain routes on the grid.
– Plan schools and other important buildings more toward the center of the town and near the center of town so that people have the option of walking, taking the bus, or riding in on the train.
– Create common areas and parks to compensate for the lack of yard space among the modest homes.
If you’ll pardon the “French” here, David Sedaris (a hilarious writer) has remarked that hell is reserved for people like the “shit-heads” who brought us strip malls. Though not quite sharing his view of the such planners, I do think that so many of our developments, strip malls, and office parks that sprawl all over America have really wrecked community identity/awareness, caused an over-reliance on the automobile, and so on. I don’t want this to be a rant. I want to simply point out that the superbly intelligent folks at Harvard may have found a better option for the smog-infested tar pits that we call the suburbs.
So if you happen to see this latest edition of the Harvard Design Magazine, give the article on urban planning a look-over. I’m not sure what the next step is in this area, but I think it has such a bearing on our quality of life, ability to interact with people naturally and be salt and light, and preservation of the environment that we should at least get informed about some alternative ways to plan our communities and live day to day.