Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Happy Cities (3) Community Destroyed

The automobile combined with the detached house in a dispersed suburb has destroyed community life in the modern city. Charles Montgomery says in Happy City,

We have this Conundrum. The detached house in distant dispersal (of a modern suburb) is a blunt instrument: it is a powerful tool for retreating with your nuclear family, and perhaps your direct neighbours, but a terrible base to nurture other intensities and relationships. Your social life must be scheduled and formal. Serendipity disappears in the time eaten up by the commute, in the space between windshield and the garage doors. On the other hand, life in places that feel too crowded to control can leave us so over-stimulated and exhausted that we retreat into solitude.

What we need are places that help us to moderate our interactions with strangers without having to retreat entirely.

We need the nourishing, helping warmth of people, but also need the healing touch of nature. We need to connect, but also need to retreat. We benefit from the consequences of proximity, but these conveniences come with the price of over-stimulation and crowding. We cannot solve the conundrum of sustainable city living unless we understand the contradictory forces and resolve the tension between them (p.123).
Being around too many strangers involves a stress full mix of social uncertainty and lack of control.
Crowding is a problem of perception, and it a problem of design that can be addressed, at least in part, by understanding the subtle physics of sociability (p.126).
We spend a great deal of effort insulating ourselves from stranger, whether its retreating to the edge of suburbia or adding more security features to our urban apartment. But this habit can deprive us of some of the most important interactions of life: those that happen in the blurry zone among people who are not quite stranger, but not yet freed.
The lighter relations we have in volunteer groups, with neighbours, or even with people we see regularly on the street can boost feeling of self-esteem, mastery, and physical health (p.127).
People who say they feel that they “belong to their community are happier than those who do not.

And people who trust their neighbours feel a greater sense of that belonging.
And the sense of belong is influenced by social contact(p.134).
It has been a terrible mistake to design cities around the nuclear family at the expense of other ties (p.134).

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