Monday, November 14, 2005

But don't forget the details...

Much discussion has gone into what an ideal post peak community should contain to remain sustainable over the long haul. Food production, raw material access, community organization and other aspects have been covered in detail here and in other locations on the net. This post looks past the basic needs to the community extras; those things that would make life more pleasurable or comfortable.

Public Square
The Spanish colonists to Latin America got this one right. When laying out towns and cities, they left a central plaza—usually next to the church and government building—where citizens could gather, exchange goods, or simply relax. It was and still is a communal shared space in many Latin American cities, where push cart vendors hawk refreshments, children play, lovers meet, and the elderly play dominoes and while away the time. From time to time markets or fairs are held and goods and ideas exchanged. Ideas that occasionally lead to rallies, riots or revolution, all occur within the confines of that simple space. These spaces are highly underrated and missing in most new “communities.” The food court at the local Galleria Mall will not cut it. As our world and worldview begin to contract, local gathering points become increasingly important to maintaining one of the neater aspects of civilized living.

Recreational Sports
Physical activity is generally beneficial to one’s health and engaging in hard work is one way to go about this. However, it is not usually pleasurable. Sporting activities on the other hand can be. Assuming some free time would be available to individuals in the future, recreational sporting events should be held. No, this doesn’t refer to those occupations held by a small number of highly compensated individuals. Rather, loose assortment of teams and leagues could be formed much like the corporate softball or bowling leagues of today. It would provide yet another way for members of a community could bond with each other, engage in some healthy competition and stay active.

Tree lined streets
Trees make the neighborhood. Some cities have this down now, others need to do some catching up. As we slide into our low energy future and are forced to walk and bike more, what is more enjoyable on a hot summer day—walking along sidewalk beneath a canopy of leaves in the shade or sweating it out in the sun? If we ensure more than a few of these trees are fruit or nut trees we could also gain another food source as well.

Festivals
Oktoberfest. The Thanksgiving parade. Street Scene. Art on the Boulevard. These are some of the many community events that occur just about anywhere. These, like the public square are also underrated. They bring people together for a reason other than work or shopping and can add a pleasant element to just about anyone’s life. Sure the festival may celebrate a nut or a bird or an eccentric fool but it brings people together with an unspoken message “relax, chill out and have a good time.” A more involved festival gets people, particularly the participants, excited weeks ahead of time and gives them something to look forward to. Events that add food and drink to the occasion enrich the sensory experience. When combined with good music and some dancing, all five senses are stimulated. None of this needs expensive or intensive equipment either. Just some open space, a theme and a bunch of involved people and away you go.

Community Information and Learning Center
This complex sounding title really refers to a library that doubles as a place of continuing education. The retention of information is one half of the continuation of knowledge. The other half requires its transmission. For the most part that is accomplished via schooling of children. But education needn’t be complete at adulthood. People of any age should be able to learn new practices, crafts or theories when desired. It could be as formal as your current degree granting college institution of today or as simple as a how-to-knit class. Ideally this location would continue to be connected with the outside world, but as the jury is still out on the fate of technology, at the very least an information repository would continue to maintain and transmit the existing knowledge base.

Public Transport
Unless the community is 100% walkable, (e.g. less than 10 minutes walk from any point in town) some form of public transit would be a good idea. It could be as regimented as a street car or train system to as simple as a horse pulled wagon with seats. Planners need to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to problem of moving people from one point to another. Cuba has demonstrated a number of innovative means of public transport, many of which people in this country would no doubt turn their noses up at. Although it is unclear how far technology and industry will regress back to, there is no reason why people should remain stuck at home.

City Comforts
The final category here is what I broadly define as “City Comforts” after the book written by David Sucher. In his highly illustrated book, David describes well over one hundred items, structures or design elements to humanize the urban realm. These range from the mundane such as pavement selection to the complex like design criteria. Any town or community that can employ as many of these features as possible will be far more pleasing to the eye and comforting to the body. If you have time, be sure to check out his site for more information.

None of these elements described in this posting are essential. We probably could live without seasonal festivals or a soccer league. As long as the basic human needs are being met in a community without the assistance of fossil fuels or consumption of non-renewable resources, the settlement is by definition, sustainable. But why merely exist when, with a little enlightened planning you can really live.

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