This James Kunstler TED talk touches on the tragedy of the American suburb, and what we've lost in terms of human connection (and probably even sanity) with its development.
His talk's most salient point for us, however, has to do with the future of our cities. The imminent reality of our planet's inability to maintain our flagrant use of its resources will mean that we will need to do everything more locally. We'll live closer to where we work, and grow food closer to where we live.
But of course the idea living locally is nothing new.
University of Washington professor of architecture and urban design, Dr. Sharon Sutton recently visited this very concept with her students, when they explored applying afrocentric design principles to architecture. By studying arts rooted in the African and African-American experience, such as jazz, quilting, dance and literature, her students were able to glean a number of afrocentric design principles which seem to lend themselves perfectly to sustainable urban design. Among these principles were improvisation, asymmetry, being earth-centered, using leftover materials, making do with what one has, and a process of creation that is about the collective voice.
Using these principles, her students envisioned creating living spaces that are built around daily life practices, not consumerism. The spaces imagined were welcoming to people of all ages, and were place where people could live and work in the same complex. They imagined maintaining the texture of the city by having a number of small stores (instead of a single large one), and applying the purposeful use of silence in jazz to allowing for empty spaces within developments, so the block "has air passing through it."
Sutton's comment on the current building trends in Seattle:
"One of my dissatisfactions with what’s going on in Seattle in design right now is sites with many small properties are being massed into a single large building, which takes all the texture out of the city," said Sutton. "The reason why things come out looking so awful is because code has these maximum envelopes that are extruded forms on the site, and then the developers require architects to build almost to the maximum envelope, so there’s very little shaping of the building that’s allowed that anyone is willing to pay for."
So again we ask, why not take the time and effort to listen deeply to the voices our city's community members, value their knowledge and experiences, and see if perhaps we can't save ourselves the headache of another disastrous, frenzied wave of urban development?
From Kunstler's talk:
" ...No amount or combination of alternative fuels is going to allow us to continue running what we're running, the way we're running it. We're going to have to do everything very differently. And America's not prepared. We are sleepwalking into the future. We're not ready for what's coming at us. So I urge you all to do what you can. Life in the mid-21st century is going to be about living locally. Be prepared to be good neighbors. Be prepared to find vocations that make you useful to your neighbors and to your fellow citizens."