Revillaging: Looking to Our Roots as We Redesign Towns and Cities

Yves here. A mental health break, in the form of a piece on “revillaging”.

By April M. Short, an editor, journalist and documentary editor and producer. She is a writing fellow at Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute. Previously, she served as a managing editor at AlterNet as well as an award-winning senior staff writer for Santa Cruz, California’s weekly newspaper. Her work has been published with the San Francisco Chronicle, In These Times, Salon and many others. Produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute

Our current ways of living are life-threatening and unsustainable. Our increasingly individualized society is contributing to epidemic levels of loneliness and isolation, depression, anxiety and other mental health crises. There is a serious need for people to reconnect with community—and also with the planet as there is perhaps an inextricable link between our anxiety and depression epidemics, and the existential threat of climate change (which has very real physical, mental and emotional impacts). Faced with this dire need for something to change, there is a growing movement of communities and individuals looking to new ways of living—and old ones.

The potential solution to all of the above issues could be as simple as looking back in time at the structures and cultural dynamics of our villager ancestors, explains Mark Lakeman, an urban architect, permaculture pioneer and national leader in the development of sustainable communities and public spaces.

“For the majority of our history, or herstory, people have been living at a human scale, and it’s been multigenerational,” says Lakeman. “It was always a cooperative or collaborative structure.”

Since the ’90s, Lakeman has been at the forefront of what is often referred to as the revillaging movement. Revillaging seeks to rehash the way people live and interact in our society from the ground up, by reconstructing urban spaces and the way we relate within them. One key piece of revillaging means making sure all of the needs of a given resident can be met within a walkable distance, by redesigning the grid to operate at a “human scale.”

Lakeman’s work with revillaging has gradually reshaped his home city of Portland, Oregon, over the decades, working to alter (and at times break) city zoning laws to carve out public squares and work-live gathering spaces, art projects like Portland’s iconic intersection street paintings, and other elements of permaculture design. Lakeman continues to inspire change in city structures around the world via lectures, education and groundbreaking urban design projects.

Lakeman says the grid street pattern, which was generally adopted throughout America after the passage of the Northwest Land Ordinance of 1785, created a culture that places commodification and the private parceling out of land above community gathering. He says the intersections that separate the grid of land plots are designed in a way that keeps neighbors separate from each other. And, in his point of view, this design was not happenstance or convenience, but an intentional separation.

“Nobody ever chooses to live in grids; grids only happen when people live within conquered land,” he says. “The United States of America has the lowest number of community gathering places of all first world nations because of the way our landscape and our economy and everything is a contrivance.”

In the U.S., most major cities are strapped for space, and parks and public squares are lacking, as a 2015 City Park Facts database shows. Many cities continue to slash their budgets for parks and recreational spaces, and cities with high urban densities, such as New York and Chicago, have 4.6 acres per 1,000 residents, as an article in the Conversation details.

Lakeman recalls an epiphany that marked the start of his revillaging work, about three decades ago. It took place in the middle of an intersection in Portland, where he stood and gazed out at the grid that spanned all directions and thought about the indigenous society that was decimated and paved over in order for the intersection—and the country at large—to exist. And then he thought of his own Celtic ancestors who were once conquered by the Roman Empire.

“I stood in that intersection and I was like, ‘My ancestors were visited by an untenable, incomprehensible scale of violence, and I’m alive. … Here I am, in this time, and what I want to know is: where’s my public square?’” he says, shouting for emphasis.

Lakeman’s intersection realization happened not long after he’d returned home from a perspective-shattering journey for seven years around the world, living with and learning from various indigenous cultures in Africa, North America and elsewhere. He’d left a corporate career to travel in search of evidence of his own lifelong conviction that humans are, at the core, interdependent and full of empathy. He wanted to find ways he might help to reintegrate those values back home.

What he found were communities living in ways that were “mind-blowing.”

“In a Mayan community I visited, I saw social architecture I’d never even seen before that showed what it’s like to grow up in a place where everyone knows they’re going to be interdependent for generations,” he said. “They talked about the future and the past sort of interchangeably.”

He says he witnessed androgynous cultures with social setups that were completely free of gender roles, and experienced living in places where everyone grew up knowing their actions were all on behalf of the whole.

He also witnessed the way every one of the indigenous cultures he visited was centered around public squares and gathering spaces.

“It’s so interdependent, and your relationships are so multigenerational,” he says.

The conversations and revelations he shared with indigenous people during his years of travel reconstructed his entire way of looking at the potential of human community and lifestyle, and inspired him to work to restructure the physical landscape at home.

When he asked people in the indigenous cultures what to do about all of the disconnects and problems he saw happening in the U.S., he was advised to “go home and look around in the place where you live and realize that all this cultural infrastructure is missing and it’s supposed to be there, and it used to be there for your ancestors, until they were conquered,” he says.

Over the last three decades, Lakeman’s work has reconfigured much of the city of Portland—including many of its intersections. He founded the intentional, activist community called the Planet Repair Institute, out of which came City Repair, a nonprofit that supports the creation of permanent community art and gathering spaces throughout the city—and is responsible for mini-parks and hundreds of mandalas and other murals that cover up the asphalt in many of Portland’s street intersections. City Repair also hosts the annual, 20-year-old Village Building Convergence, a festival-esque event highlighting community-built projects. Lakeman also founded the permaculture-oriented architectural design firm Communitecture, Inc.

Lakeman says his work has always been guided by the underlying understanding that the most marginalized people in any community must be the priority in order for any change to happen on a societal level, which is why his projects all work toward affordable models of living, and work with houseless communities in Portland and beyond.

Every Person Is a Village

“The source of our comfort and of our own growth and our belonging is each other,” says Lakeman. “And if we’re alienated from a larger social organism, which is our larger self, then we’re really easy to control.”

Lakeman says in the absence of interconnected ways of living, people are looking to fill a void, and out of that sense of void, insecurity and disconnection to self are born.

“Capitalism can thrive when people feel so isolated that they can be made to feel inadequate, and their internal compasses can get really confused,” he says. “If we’re alienated from our own species, then it’s really easy to manipulate us.”

He says it’s equally easy—or at least possible—for every one of us to act as a village. After his intersection revelation years ago, Lakeman says he walked right over to the house of an older woman he’d lived near since he was a kid, but never bothered to greet, knocked on her door and offered to paint her house.

“I was just so happy,” he says. “It was like, I’m finally doing something that matters.” Then, he began talking with neighbors and telling them about this neighbor who didn’t have any children or money to paint her house. And immediately the community began to offer painting supplies and offer to chip in—they even ended up installing solar panels for the woman.

“So, I was immediately experiencing that as soon as you begin to scratch the surface of isolation, everybody’s in, all they need is a story.”

After the neighbors had begun to connect around the woman’s home, the trend took off.

“Suddenly the neighborhood is connected, and they were painting their street together,” he says, referencing the beginning of the iconic street murals that color many of Portland’s intersections. When the project began, it was illegal, he says. “But we were all breaking the law together.”

Many of Lakeman’s projects, especially in the early days of City Repair, started out as illegal, largely according to zoning laws, but he says through patient, empathetic conversations with officials over the years, as well as strategic community engagement, they have changed some of the city’s laws along with its public spaces.

“When we self-empower, when we empower ourselves to actually get off the couch and do stuff right where we live—you can actually get to the point where you can break the law and even the police will stand with you against the government,” he says. “That is what happened to us.”

Houseless Communities Revillaging

The concept of “village” has a particular life in homeless communities throughout the U.S. When Andrew Heben, an urban planner, professional tiny house builder and author of the book Tent City Urbanism, visited homeless encampments across the U.S. as a project for his master’s thesis between 2009 and 2011, the media’s portrayal of homeless encampments was one of dismal spaces rampant with drug abuse and crime. But what he actually encountered were uniquely supportive, democratic, often intricately organized and relatively nonviolent communities.

Heben now works as project director for SquareOne Villages in Eugene, Oregon, which has been a national model for low-income, tiny home villages since 2012. The organization works to establish both temporary, transitional villages for people who have been houseless, as well as permanent, affordable housing villages. Their permanent villages are set up in an alternative homeownership model that is a hybrid between a community land trust, where the organization owns the land, and limited equity co-ops that allow residents to co-own shares of the village and gain equity over time. The idea is to ensure living in these villages remains affordable for low-income people in perpetuity.

Amanda Dellinger, SquareOne’s community relations director, says houseless communities offer a particularly potent example of how people naturally gravitate toward villages and interdependence in order to survive, which is why the majority of the rules, standards and operations of their villages are all independently run by residents.

SquareOne also sets itself up as a model for anyone interested in forming an affordable tiny house community. On their website, they offer an extensive toolkit that includes sample tiny home blueprints, models of village setups and extensive instructions on how to start your own tiny home village.

Dellinger says people call and write to SquareOne at overwhelming rates, “constantly,” from around the country and beyond looking for advice to create their own villages. She said people also travel from around the world to take tours of their villages. Villages inspired by SquareOne that she knows of have already been constructed in Albany, Oregon; Salem, Oregon; and Redding, California, and several other locations are currently in the works.

“SquareOne has really been about reenvisioning the housing model altogether,” she says. “And that’s what it’s going to take. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board because what we’re doing isn’t working. The homelessness issue and the housing crisis is so profound because we don’t have enough housing stock, literally,” she says, adding that the other aspects of villages—the supportive community, the inter-reliance and localized way of life—are also key to the success of their villages.

“Living like this, getting the support from the people who live there with you, is just so powerful,” she says. “We need so much more of that for people in vulnerable situations. But, also, the majority of people—even… [those who] make median area income or above—feel so isolated because we’ve taken such a big step away from living in community, this village mentality. It’s become all about individualism or individual success. It’s very strange, and it’s not going well for people.”

Cultivating the Elements of Village

Beth Berry, a writer and online educator known for the parenting blog Revolution from Home, has been working with the concept of revillaging from the perspective of parenting. After her 2019 article in Motherly on the absence of the village and its impacts on moms in particular went viral, she has doubled down on the concept, offering a recurring online course and private coaching sessions aimed at helping people revillage their own lives.

Berry points to car culture as one key reason the U.S. has grown apart from the village, and recalls her time living in Mexico in an impoverished, but deeply interwoven, community where she experienced a “walking culture.”

“I had like 50 human interactions per day, not necessarily talking to 50 people, but just simple things that helped me feel like, ‘Wow, things are good.’ It was settling and calming for my nervous system.” The difference in the experience of “living at a walking pace versus a car culture,” she says, is “really pretty enormous.”

Other cultural factors she sees as adding up against the village include the propensity for people in the U.S. to move away from their hometowns, a false narrative that families don’t need to depend on each other to help rear their kids, the reliance on technology and screens for entertainment and connection, and a prevailing lack of trust amongst adults.

“It’s sort of an air of fear that’s been conditioned into us by the culture,” she says. “We no longer have a built-in sense of interdependence based on necessity. You know, we don’t need each other to help raise the barn walls.”

While Berry’s work focuses on parenting, and mothers in particular‚ she says in general, people can benefit from getting creative and courageous about their activities.

“Meet your neighbors,” she says. “Take perfectionism off the table and have a potluck, have a neighborhood barbecue. Do the things that help us get to know the people directly around us. But it takes courage, because that muscle is kind of atrophying in a lot of us.”

Another key factor standing in the way of an interconnected lifestyle, she says, is that people’s lives are physically compartmentalized.

“We’re often not living in the same place as we work, and our schools that our kids are going to are not necessarily in the neighborhoods that we live in,” she says.

Revillaging for Resilience in the Face of Climate Disaster

Lakeman also points to the compartmentalization of work, school, home and other activities as one of the major problems of the urban grid layout, as it prevents people from living at a “human scale.” And the challenges inherent in living this way are magnified in the face of the current climate disaster.

“This is one of the things that we realized early in City Repair: every neighborhood is filled with the people, the full spectrum of the entirety of the skills and talents, to power of the entire society—at the local level,” he says. “And the emissions related to transportation are slashed almost entirely by letting people activate their talents where they live, with other people. Empire is predicated upon isolating people at the local level so they don’t realize that they’re surrounded by all the help they need.”

Lakeman says he and his team recently worked on a project that implemented revillaging design for the Bay Area city of Vallejo, roughly 30 miles north of San Francisco, which is likely to be vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise due to climate change. Their design was part of the 100 Resilient Cities project, which is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The project asked designers to compete to send in their plans to address climate change.

Lakeman says the people at Rockefeller requested that architects, “design like a force of nature.” He delves into the “force of nature” concept in an interview with Andrew Millison on Earth Repair Radio about the Vallejo project.

“In Vallejo, we showed the solution of revillaging entire blocks, and then entire neighborhoods of blocks,” Lakeman says. And, block by block, they showed a revillaging of the city’s entire infrastructure to adapt places like schools into community centers, and create various nodes of connection within walking distance.

“The vision for Vallejo, and it really should be everywhere, is to enable the transition of where people are housed into a more dynamic environment,” he says. “We added things called spot zones where living and working becomes legal, allowing people to build right up to their property lines and augment their homes with spaces that allow for live-work functions, so that people don’t have to transit the landscape to go and get their needs met. They can actually just walk to a neighborhood node.”

“Whether it’s Vallejo or anywhere, we’re not going to get on the climate change program without relating it to all these other things which are urgent,” he says, “like equity, social justice and fundamental accessible housing. … All these things are going to come together.”

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34 comments

  1. Burns

    Good article. Of course, we in the U.S are always reinventing (or disrupting?) the wheel. Currently traveling in Taiwan right now and Taipei is exactly as Lakeman describes: each block is essentially a tiny village with people building their businesses right up to the property line on the ground floor, residences above, everybody seems to know everybody in the back streets, and there’s a general.sense of vibrancy and connectedness that you dont find in America, even in big cities like NYC. I feel like Lakeman is chasing after something that already exists here and in many other parts of the world.

    That being said, Taiwanese residential architecture really is mostly hideous, so there’s room for improvement even here.

    Reply
    1. Pym of Nantucket

      I’m glad you added that last paragraph. I was wondering if there were two Taipeis on the island and I had accidentally visited the hideous one.

      Reply
  2. PlutoniumKun

    The Danes in particular (for some reason) did lots of research on urban forms and neighbourliness. They came up with all sorts of odd little factoids, such that the optimal size of front garden for neighbour interaction is 2 metres (6 foot). Any more, and people don’t stop and talk, any less and people don’t have to go out and take care of it and meet their neighbour doing the same thing.

    The big enemy of course is the private car. It stops people meeting each other, it stops people using their local shops/facilities, it makes roads unattractive for kids to play in or for people to walk on. Until we can persuade people that cars are the number one cause of urban alienation, very little can be done. To me the ultimate visual indicator as to whether a city collectively prioritises people over capital is whether they give cars or pedestrians/cyclists priority.

    Reply
    1. Carla

      Yes, our walk-able and bike-able neighborhoods are the first thing I promote to others about our century-old inner-ring suburb. One of the biggest struggles has been keeping our 100-year-old commercial strips vital. Out of 4 major ones, two are now healthy, one that was on its death throes is starting to be revived, thanks to the efforts of energetic and organized neighbors, and one is quite endangered. We also have a dead mall that the city has been unable to re-develop for the last 10 or 15 years, depending on how you’re counting. I think of it as similar to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

      Thanks to Ohio politics, public school funding is a nightmare and the cause of strife between neighbors every time a school levy is on the ballot. On the very bright side, we have an award-winning local public library system with four branches that is thriving. Walking to the library is a reality for kids (of all ages) in most parts of the city.

      Reply
    2. Susan the other

      kinda interesting bec. when I was a kid c. 1950+ my mother and her sisters used to be nostalgic for grandma’s garden. I grew up thinking it was a big, lush, beautifully kept source of veggies and fruit and free range chickens. So decades later I went back and found the house and sneaked around to the back to see it. It was about 12 x 18 feet. And yes, my grandmother was Danish.

      Reply
      1. aletheia33

        do you mean to say that decades later the garden was still going? if so–how wonderful!
        and with chickens?

        Reply
  3. DanB

    From this essay: Lakeman says in the absence of interconnected ways of living, people are looking to fill a void, and out of that sense of void, insecurity and disconnection to self are born.

    “Capitalism can thrive when people feel so isolated that they can be made to feel inadequate, and their internal compasses can get really confused,” he says. “If we’re alienated from our own species, then it’s really easy to manipulate us.”

    This seems a good a way to think about this past Super Tuesday’s results.

    Reply
    1. Pym of Nantucket

      Lots I liked in the article but I was a bit turned off by a lot of the language and associations used typical of writing in an echo chamber. I think the current weakness of our effort to transform our society is the weak persuasion toward un-woke folk.

      The village is a good metaphor for this actually. When I moved to a small village in the Rocky Mountains I found it was remarkable how closed it was to integrating someone from the city. Transformational movements are going to have to accept more people into their village than Jacobins who already believe and take their assumptions for granted.

      When I worked for a left leaning party I had to tell people “don’t call new volunteers ‘comrade’, or even ‘brother/sister'”. Persuasion is the are of talking to people who are fundamentally in disagreement with you.

      Reply
  4. chuck roast

    All very sympathetic. More angst in my pants. If I had a nickel for every similar piece I have read over the years, well, you know. One short mention of the ubiquitous urban pathological disease otherwise known as the “car”…and in relation to Mexico no less…an epiphany…wow!

    With all due respect, please spare us this sort of feel-good bulls**t and let’s hear from people who have kil*ed their cars. With the exception of the poor schlubs who have to commute to work, they will be stories about improved mental and physical well being.

    Reply
    1. HotFlash

      So glad you asked! I killed my car in 2006. OK, it was a truck (elderly Ram van, huge, propane powered), we used it for our business, and well, the insurance came in at $4,000 that year, no accidents *ever*, b/c we were commercial. To park in front of my own house cost $300 per year back then, and the mechanic who worked on our van (it was propane-powered) died.

      We now belong to Autoshare, ‘coz we occasionally do need to haul a 200lb instrument or do a service call many km away. Nice. We get just the size vehicle we need, for just as long as we need it, and the rest of the time *they* have to feed it, park it, maintain it and insure it. My neighbours help with the bill by renting the local carshare vehicles when *they* need them. The rest of the time we bike, or rarely, walk or (gasp) take public transit or trains.

      Back in 2006 it was costing me $300 per year to park on the street in front of my own house. The city has changed the residential parking rates to reflect how much is for convenience, penalizing street parkers who have driveways etc available to park in, and really dinging permits for second cars or ‘convenience’ parkers. But I still see cars parked on my street that rarely move — carshare would be ideal for these folks. We have a little local parking lot down the block, has 2-3 sharecars in it, there’s a cargo van and more cars a couple of blocks away, I am never more than 15 minutes by bike away from an available car or van. It’s really the way to go.

      The rest of the time, we bike, all year ’round, and usually can get *anywhere* around town faster by bike than by any surface route (car, taxi, Uber, public transit). Subway hands-down faster, but it doesn’t go everywhere. Our public transit permits bikes on subways and streetcars during non-rush hours, and our buses even have bike carriers on the front — cool!

      However, our city’s transit plan may be walk and bike friendly, but our city’s development plan surely privileges developers of tall condos. Here are some photos, half of the block our local volunteer bikeshop just moved into, currently shops and restaurants with a flat or two above, is slated to become a giant condo with ‘retail’ below — usually works out to a few artisanal pickle stores and overpriced clothing, barber, and coffee shops that last for less than a year but mainly a whole lot of “Prime retail for lease!”

      Capitalism, it is conquering and colonizing all our villages, territories.

      Reply
      1. JeffK

        I think you nailed it HotFlash. We might be able to drive less, have block parties, paint the neighborhood roundabout, and feel all neighborly – which is good – until the city planners decide that our neighborhood is slated for increased density. The neighborhood formerly populated with modest working class homes with yards and playgrounds becomes rezoned for high-occupancy buildings and commercial development. Your 2 bedroom rental home gets torn down and replaced with two three story apartment buildings, and the newcomers are wage slaves who complain about children playing on the sidewalks. I’m sure it looks real swell on the surface to the developers and city managers as they drive by. They seem to only care about some sketch-up world vision brought to life, and the dollar value of businesses that moved into the area bringing jobs jobs jobs. In their minds they have been “revillaging”.

        It seems to me that village is a multi-generational social structure that evolves; although I’ve never lived on one, but I have lived in a close-knit neighborhood that got rezoned, then everyone got kicked out or moved away. I am not sure villages can be planned or retrofitted as much as city planners think. I think some planned developments actually inhibit social interactions.

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    2. aletheia33

      i’m glad you asked too!

      My Car Free Life

      i have been living car free since september 2019. i had been unable to save at all for a down payment for my next used car, so i thought i would give it a try and see how it went.

      it was scary at first. sort of how you feel in that moment when your car breaks down and you don’t quite know yet how you’ll get to your destination, that feeling extended over maybe 2-3 weeks. i learned there is a medicaid ride service i can use to get to health care appointments. i learned the (rare and inconvenient) bus times to get to and from the supermarket. within a couple of months, i was gaining the habit of a different life and to my utter surprise, loving it. i can vouch for a dramatic improvement in my mental and physical well-being, which i had no idea i would experience. my winter depression was dramatically improved, i think simply from spending time outdoors in the fresh air and the light and engaging in simple social interactions on the streets, all counteracting the usual psychological effects of winter isolation.

      the following spring i discovered the joy of using an electric bicycle, which i was able to buy on a very affordable state-supported electric vehicle loan from my credit union. my wonderful local bike shop owners taught me over time how to use and care for my new vehicle, which resides in my living room when at home. then this past fall i took a workshop on winter biking and discovered that although most people should not try to bicycle on really bad weather days, it is quite enjoyable to ride one’s bike to do errands when it’s 20 degrees, windy, and sunny, for it is possible with the right clothing to remain toasty warm while riding. who knew how much fun this could all be?

      my small vermont town is not totally ideal for living car free, mainly because public transportation is inadequate. but the situation could be worse. the downtown area does have a drugstore, a hardware store, cafes, the library, the senior center, the food coop, the movie theatre, etc., and with an electric bike, on which you can haul, virtually effortlessly, all the weight you can pile on it, one can stock up at the supermarkets etc. on the strip outside the town center.

      a major problem for bicyclists here, though, is safety. humans when enhanced, extended, and crazed by human-decency-distorting speeding metal cages (i.e. motorists) (as i have come to see them) do not see and do not consider and do not want to have to pay attention to bicyclists or respect any right they have to space and safety on the road. and motorists do not always pay attention to pedestrian crosswalks either. there are accidents and injuries, sometimes serious. a fairly solid cohort of bicyclers and walkers have been working actively for many years to push the changes the town needs. some changes have been made. from their long view, momentum is growing as more people every year are ditching their cars, by choice and/or necessity.

      in rural areas, people do have to have cars to get to their jobs, so i see my own freedom from car ownership as a kind of luxury i can “afford” because i work from home and because drawing social security has freed up some hours in my day. i’m doing what i can to support the local “active transportation” (biking and walking) movement so that others can discover the joy i have in car-free living. and i now believe that for people over age 60, it represents a source of vitality like no other.

      ps i do occasionally rent a car to take a vacation day or weekend, which may include hauling a large bulky item or two that i need to deal with. the expense of this kind of renting, including an annual driver insurance premium, is way less than that of owning. the rental company, enterprise, picks me up both ways, and offers weekend specials from labor day through memorial day.

      Reply
    3. worldblee

      I agree, and in fact Portland, which is cited approvingly in the article, is still crippled by car culture. It does have a pretty good public transit system but it’s overpriced ($2.50 per ride) and most people don’t use it. So the streets are choked with traffic. There are good parks, but there are more in richer neighborhoods (shocking, I know). Making all public transit free would help people a lot more than hiring consultants to advise on re-villaging in my opinion. (Not that I’m against the concept of people coming together!)

      Reply
  5. Don Utter

    Another movement like this is strongtowns.org

    Many articles can be found on the web page and one can sign up for a newsletter.

    Here is an article from their home page.

    Local Leaders Are Reshaping America One Small Town at a Time

    Information on their conference

    Registration is now open for the National Strong Towns Conference and Celebration, taking place on April 30-May 1, 2020. Join Quint Studer and Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn in Pensacola, Florida for two-days of insights and best practices from America’s most up and coming cities, and network with leaders from all over North America who are building their own strong towns.

    Reply
  6. Keith Newman

    I sympathise in a way with Mr. Roast’s comment as this is very old hat. However important truths do bear repetition so I was fine with the article. For those interested in reading more about human oriented cities, I recommend looking at the Wikipedia entry for Jane Jacobs who was active in the field for 40 years in Canada and the US beginning in the early 1960s.

    Reply
    1. chuck roast

      Without checking Wiki I can tell you that Jane Jacobs made her bones in mid-Manhattan leading huge demonstrations to stop the cross-Manhattan thruway and finally putting the great car-worshiper Robert Moses into a well deserved retirement. Theory is bullshit…practice prevails.

      Reply
  7. Rod

    Empire is predicated upon isolating people at the local level so they don’t realize that they’re surrounded by all the help they need.”

    this really struck me as I have seen this dynamic, and been ‘blessed’ by this dynamic, a time or few.

    The last time in particular being a mechanical issue with my truck while visiting my isolated farm homeplace this past November.(550 miles away from my home)

    I knew I had a problem at the freezing dawn–reflected until daybreak and made an FYI call to relative 60 miles away–by sunrise, local neighbors called by that relative were on site with me and a friends mechanic was doing a Facetime evaluation with me under the hood–a ride to the parts store 15 miles away ensued and by noon all repaired and back to normal. The snow resumed.

    We all high fived before going to lunch very very relieved.

    Someone said “It really does take a Village” and we spent a warm lunch talking on that theme and the outcomes that could be had. The sense of mutual community and success through collective effort was as palatable as the sandwiches we were eating.

    Facades of Individualism crumble when we recognize and acknowledge this.

    Reply
  8. Anarcissie

    Capitalists will sell you anything if you have the money, so I wonder why we don’t see village life on offer to the upper middle class and above? If that’s what people really like? Or do we? I haven’t been out to Connecticut in quite a while. About 20 years ago, when I felt I ‘had to’ drive out to the less classy New Jersey to ‘work’, wherever new stuff was being built, it was pretty much the same old story, although sometimes the really avant-garde developers twisted the streets a bit.

    Reply
    1. a different chris

      >Capitalists will sell you anything if you have the money

      *If* they can actually conceive of it. But people with big bucks aren’t like you and me, and (despite the time-worn joke) and they are the ones making the decisions.

      Reply
    2. Calypso Facto

      There’s Serenbe in the Atlanta suburbs, and Village Homes in Davis CA. Both are apparently full with waiting lists for potential buyers (well, Village Homes at least, not sure about recent numbers for Serenbe). Here’s an article on Serenbe:

      The Seductive Power of a Surburban Utopia

      Village Homes was designed with permaculture principles and is a delight to cruise around on Google Maps if you’ve never seen it. It lacks some of the amenities that Serenbe built in, though – less a village than a nice subdivision.

      Reply
  9. Susan the other

    zooming around. ” joy riding.” Oh, let’s drive over and see it. I need a glass of wine – I spent the whole day running errands. Hey, I drove all the way to Salt Lake and the Social Security office told me I needed to bring a copy of my tax returns, great. The internet has reduced the godawful lack of communication but has it reduced the time spent hassling over every damn thing? I submit the problem isn’t capitalism – it’s Rube Goldberg capitalism. Sprawling capitalism. (and all those exponential opportunities for greed, but that’s another story) So this link is rejuvenating. I’m pretty sure we’re gonna revert to our senses. Slowly at first and then all at once!

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  10. Synoia

    In the U.S., most major cities are strapped for space, and parks and public squares are lacking, as a 2015 City Park Facts database shows. Many cities continue to slash their budgets for parks and recreational spaces, and cities with high urban densities, such as New York and Chicago, have 4.6 acres per 1,000 residents, as an article in the Conversation details.

    I beg to differ. Eliminate parking, roughly 8 parking spaces per car, and the attendant cars, and for about every 10 cars one acre becomes available. Or half an acre per household.

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  11. Adam Eran

    Making cities and architecture that serve humans is the point of the patterns compiled in A Pattern Language (Alexander, et. al.). Very different from what gets all the press now.

    Also recommended: New Urbanist reading and videos. For example: Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, by Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck.

    It’s not so much “the grid” that’s inimical to community, or the lack of public spaces–although those can be barriers–as the auto.

    Sprawl is the concrete realization of racism. White flight from integrated cities is also part of this problem, just as it’s part of the health care problem. When Truman proposed Medicare-for-all, the Dixiecrats rejected the idea of integrated hospitals, as the postwar generation rejected integrated cities.

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    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If the FedGov had not adopted anti-black policies against black urbanites seeking to move into the emerging suburbs, we would have had an integrated flight-from-the-cities into integrated suburbs. Had there been no racism, there would still have been a desire on the part of mass quantities of tenement-confined persons to live in a somewhat more quasi-natural setting.

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    2. Pym of Nantucket

      Urban sprawl exists in Lagos, Beijing and Jakarta. Again, blaming one bad thing on another bad thing reinforces a narrative that there is a pantheon of good and a pantheon of bad and two distinct populations of people inhabit these separate world views. Frankly, this is a very American way of looking at problems and has even infected Amercan academia.

      A lot (or most) of things happen due to inaction, and not purposeful action. In spite of a lot of effort by postmodernists to say otherwise, not actively resisting a bad outcome “X” (like sprawl, or racism, climate change) is different than purposefully designing it with malicious or selfish intent. Change is being undermined everywhere because this demotivates passive people. Groups who desire change are are involved in efforts to classify passive people with malicious guilty people, when psychologically we know there is a big difference in the human mind with those two behaviors. I don’t believe this strategy is working system-wide because persuasion requires the target to feel empathy toward the persuader, not to be insulted by them, regardless of individual guilt.

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  12. Tomonthebeach

    Some of us are already revillaged and loving it. Our neighborhood (120 homes) on the Atlantic coast of FL has an outdoor pavilion where we gather monthly for a BYOB/V evening gettogether. Last night was one. Afterward, we had new neighbors (a couple in their 50s) walk home with us for another 3-hours of getting to know one another. This afternoon, another neighbor (Sally, in her 80s) came by with the book she promised to lend me last night at the pavilion. Our entire town is only 8,500 strong. Everybody is friendly (except the requisite few iconoclast recluse geezers every town has).

    Our adult life required relocating every 3 years so our friends were typically colleagues from allovertheplace. We barely knew anybody but our next-door neighbors. Retirement triggered relocating to Happilyeverafter, and we are enjoying the evolution of our community to something similar to what we experienced growing up as kids. Communities need pavilions.

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  13. Mark Barnes

    I’m a bit skeptical. There’s this recurrent theme in architecture and city planning that [pick favorite design feature] will somehow make us better people. During my career in planning, those features were, at various times, front porches, alleys, narrow streets, live/work spaces, roundabouts, pocket parks, and dozens of other (mostly never implemented) ideas. Good urban design helps, but is hardly sufficient. Portland is a lovely city with many serious problems unrelated to urban form. Likewise, it’s not hard to find examples of individuals and communities that thrive in poorly-designed urban spaces.

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  14. Barbara

    When New Jersey started becoming a suburb of New York City in the 1920s, they devised a system of street design that today is a disaster. A few main roads for residential shopping and car access to trains and busses to NYC. Residential streets a maze of no more than 2-3 blocks before you have to make a turn into another little maze.

    With the onset of malls in the 1950s forward, the local shopping areas are inconsequential and it’s impossible for most to walk to supermarkets. With the addition of social media, most residents of a town are strangers to one another. And there is very little public transit locally, except to go to the malls. If I wanted to go from Teaneck in the North to Parsippany in the central part of NJ, virtually my only choice is to go by car.

    The neighborhood I grew up in in NYC was better organized for shopping, services, travel and neighborliness.

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