Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Magic Village

Over the last 20 years,I have spoken often and sometimes perhaps too passionately about climate change. I have even ruined a dinner party or two with my zeal. In all fairness though, I've seen ruined dinner parties over much less significant issues.

When I went to the United Nations in 1991 as a representative of the International Solar Energy Society, I came back thinking that a Kyoto type agreement would be made reasonably soon, and that the nations of the earth would recognize the clear and present danger that climate change represented to our respective civilizations.

Now, some 14 years later, we finally have an accord, sans USA. But the Kyoto Treaty was just a beginning. It was not meant to be a cure all, but rather, a starting point.

As a senior Utility Executive said to me last week,"I no longer debate climate change". Those who choose to ignore it at this point are simply treating the issue politically-not in a rational or scientific manner. With the National Academies of Science of all major Nations now urging their political leadership to take the issue seriously, only the darkest of intellects can now argue the talking points of those corporations who have a vested interest in its debunking.

I used to speak primarily about the need to implement mitigation policy. That policy is based on the rule of holes. If you are in hole, stop digging. That means we should stop doing the thing that is causing the thing to happen.

But now I am beginning to speak more and more about adapting. For it is now clear that the change that is already in the works is going to require a lot of attention. That means newer and higher dikes, food and water supply studies, and changing the way we work and live.

One way to both mitigate and adapt is to begin to rebuild and transform our cities in a more thoughtful and people oriented way. In affect, we are going to have to transform our cities into a patchwork of villages. We will need to have neighborhood gardens and local stores with real food in them. We will need to have telework centers with day care and parks and places on the street to chat and drink a coffee. We will need to transform our post war car planned cities thoughtfully and economically.

One of the embodiments of this idea is called New Urbanism

"NEW URBANISM promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities. These contain housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other.

New Urbanism promotes the increased use of trains and light rail, instead of more highways and roads. Urban living is rapidly becoming the new hip and modern way to live for people of all ages.

Currently, there are over 500 New Urbanist projects planned or under construction in the United States alone, half of which are in historic urban centers.


1. Walkability-Most things should be within a 10-minute walk of home and work.

2. Connectivity-An interconnected street grid network should disperses traffic & promote walking.

3. Mixed-Use & Diversity- We should strive for a mix of shops, offices, apartments, and homes on site with mixed-use within neighborhoods, within blocks, and within buildings. There should be a diversity of people - of ages, classes, cultures, and races.

4. Mixed Housing- There should be a range of types, sizes and prices in close proximity.

5. Quality Architecture & Urban Design- We should emphasize beauty, aesthetics, human comfort, and create a sense of place. The architecture should be of human scale with beautiful surroundings to nourish the human spirit

6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure- There should be a discernable center and edge with a public space at the center.

7. Increased Density- We should design for more buildings, residences, shops, and services that are closer together for ease of walking, to enable a more efficient use of services and resources, and to create a more convenient, enjoyable place to live.

8. Smart Transportation -We should plan for a network of high-quality trains connecting cities, towns, and neighborhoods together. We should strive for a design that encourages a greater use of bicycles, rollerblades, scooters, and walking as daily transportation

9. Sustainability -We should strive for a minimal environmental impact of development and its operations by using eco-friendly technologies. We should promote more local production, with more walking, and less driving.

10. Quality of Life- When we add these principles together, they add up to a higher quality of life, and they create places that enrich, uplift, and inspire the human spirit."

This all actually sounds very much like my village in Mexico.

We don't drive there because the streets are too narrow and they are too full of people walking around. Besides, almost everything you need is never more than a few blocks away. Most of the the restaurants and stores are within a few blocks of my house. As far as the public space, we have a park in the middle of town where everybody meets and Santa Claus shows up. I call it the park of the laughing children.

If you really need something, you know you need to make a road trip, and a trip down the mountain is rarely taken lightly.

Peak Oil, Climate Change, and the economic uncertainty that lays ahead of us will give us the opportunity to do something very right with many things that are presently very wrong.

Bringing life back to our neighborhoods is a remarkably sensible thing to do.

Handing our cities and towns back to the people who live in them,

is a remarkably simple yet profound non verbal statement,

and public expression of a new found urban commitment

to ourselves,

And the magic of the village,

and the sanctity of place.


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*Joan Miro, Prades,The Village


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen, to all of your suggestions. The extant regulations against these common sense ideas were insidiously put in place to support the automotive industry.

Finding alternative sources of wealth and employment for the vast numbers of people employed in the individual vehicular transportation industry is the single most daunting thing we must face as a society.

We must confront the imutable transition of running out of fossil fuel. Resisting change is not an option but accepting it is no doubt revolutionary.

12:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The principle of permacultlure can be applied to a farm, or a village or a city - or even your own urban lot.

Begin with Zone One - the center - everything works outward - easily accessible and designed to work with humans in good relationship to nature not against it.

6:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I arrived in S.A. in 1977. I loved the small town atmosphere and sense of community.

I grew up in a town 15 minutes from N.Y.C. with a small "pork" store and a post office.

Now we have the same urban sprawl with a new mega mall out near 1604. Nothing like Houston, but I joke that you have to pack a lunch and water to go out there.

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

New Orleans will have to be razed or I presume it will and there you have the perfect place to build the villeage you suggest. Of course getting the plans drawn abd accepted will be next to impossible but the fact that a medium sized city needs a total rebuild would be the chance for this concept to at least be partially implemented.

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I spent a lot of years trying to live that way, when we were on Long Island. We had one car and some children and we had a quarter acre of land in a subdivision. We had huge organic gardens, chickens and bees, and plenty of play space, all in the back yard. When we moved to west Texas I thought we would do even more things like that, but lo, folks around us only went to church and funerals and sports events. I gradually gave in. But your idea is the right way to live. Do you think we could get zoning changed to mixed use so folks could have small coffee shops in our living rooms? Nah, some folks would show up and never go home....anyway, you have the right idea. Keep it up.

7:52 AM  
Blogger John said...

Few of the members of my Spain family have a car. It’s not because they can’t afford such a luxury it’s because nearly everything they need in Barcelona is within walking distance of their homes. If they do need something outside of their neighborhood they have excellent public transportation that can take them anywhere and every neighborhood has it’s own beautiful park where people visit and congregate often. I’m not suggesting that Barcelona is an example of New Urbanism but it sure comes a lot closer than any place I have seen in the United States.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post, Oz, so excellent guidelines for a sustainable society

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Chicago, in an area which some people would call "urban" and look at you as if you were too poor to afford to live in the suburbs. But I've never been happier. I don't own a car, walk a block to any store I need, and half a block to the subway to go to work. I can't imagine why people would live anyplace else.

Somebody mentioned the "old cities". While those are mostly European, at least all the east coast citied and Chicago also count among them. Chicago may be the only midwest town to classify as still truly urban.

9:50 PM  

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