If memory serves, it was twenty years ago this year that Seaside, Florida, first showed up on my radar. That’s fairly early if you use the typical southeastern beach goer as your guide but not so early if your measure is the people who actually made Seaside happen. Their window was considerably different. In fact, by the time I clued in in 1995, they’d been at the task for almost 15 years.
Looking back over my years of writing for Placeshakers, I notice two themes that keep surfacing: First, we’re better off taking an active role in shaping the forces of community change than we are pretending that immunity to change is a legitimate or viable option; and second, connected communities are far better positioned to weather change, mitigate negative impacts, and seize opportunity than factionalized ones. Such connections, taken collectively, form the bedrock of what we call “resilience.”
Basically, working towards something beats working against something and communities where people know, trust and rely upon one another are far more effective at getting it done.
Mo’ money, mo’ problems. That’s what Biggie says. Me, I lack the net worth to fully test the premise, but I tend to agree anyways. Because it’s something that plays out at the community level over and over again.
Too often, people are conditioned to believe that, with the right vision, leadership or hard work, a community can prosper and, in time, overcome its problems. That you can exist at a point where you’re down, come together in response, then ultimately reach some idealized state where your challenging times are behind you.
Lately I’ve been thinking about “health, safety, and general welfare” — the basis by which zoning is typically legitimized and measured — and wondering just how great a disconnect needs to form between our purported values and our land use regulations before we admit that something’s not working.
“What a bunch of idiots. Don’t they know this will create a traffic nightmare?”
Sound familiar? It’s the most commonly voiced complaint any time the community conversation turns to traffic calming.
Taken at face value, it’s not an outrageous sentiment. After all, when you’re out and about, anything that stands between you and where you want to be looks like a problem. So why on earth would anyone choose to further complicate your commute on purpose?
For reasons both mysterious and irrelevant, Citylab’s Facebook page promoted a two and a half year old post on bike theft this weekend. What proved interesting about it, at least to me, is that in explaining market demand for stolen bicycles, it referenced a study on how people perceive different types of crime — finding that receiving stolen property and failing to return misdelivered property are considered so insignificant that respondents rated them not really worthy of punishment.
Call me naive.
When I was first exposed to the New Urbanism in the 1990s, it was as a 9 to 5 brand marketer with an appreciation for music and art. Killing time one day in my dentist’s waiting room, I stumbled upon “Bye-Bye Suburban Dream,” the cover story of the latest Newsweek magazine.
I still remember the feeling I had as I read it. Unbelievable, I thought. This is a movement pursuing places where people, community, beauty and culture are once again prioritized. Where the interconnected everyday human experiences that color our lives are valued. Where commerce and art can both thrive.
For some reason — perhaps because the weather was poor, I have a 15 year old daughter, and watching movies makes for a good way to cope with both — one of the themes of the Doyon Family holiday break ended up being future dystopias. Not something necessarily aligned with the hopeful messages more commonly associated with the season but instructive nonetheless.
In the realm of supply chains and distribution logistics, Santa’s the guy. Even FedEx and UPS, the recognized leaders in the field, fail to measure up against the benchmarks he maintains, year after year, without fail.
So you’d presumably be safe in assuming that the planning and design of his village at the North Pole would reflect a similar insistence on best practices. That it would be a model worthy of emulation — not just in terms of efficiency and productivity, but in terms of the emotional, economic and spiritual fulfillment necessary to maintain a happy and motivated workforce.
As placemakers, we know that the challenges of the built environment require more than just new ideas — no matter how clever, unique or seemingly innovative. That was the approach of the 20th century and — no spoiler alert required — it didn’t work out all that well. In retrospect, we know now that the ideas of the modernist revolution in planning were too closely tied to a particular wish list for how we’d like the world to work, rather than reflecting the complexity of who we really are — from our natural instincts and behaviors to the inconvenient links between how we connect, live together in community and, ultimately, survive for the long haul.