Suffering outrageous cash shortages at the gas station is a blunt reality for millions of Americans who cannot find viable alternatives in the current market; outdated politics of transportation are clogging the lungs of the world and bleeding our national wealth to death; and, most importantly, our implicit devotion to newness and individuality forbids us from considering the traditional wisdom of “community building” as a substitute to our predicament. As the price of gas goes up, citizens are looking to change their fate at the driving wheel, attacking their pledge to a society focused on unbridle consumerism and, for the first time in more than twenty-five years, questioning their location choices while committing themselves to amazing environmental design alternatives.
America is being confronted with a threat to its own survival; and, simultaneously, it is acting collectively, boldly, decisively, and quickly to solve this crisis and avoid the worst. Little by little we are realizing that as our landscapes were built around places to go, we lost our places to be; that instead of consumption, we can have community; and, that our own two feet can deliver, without a doubt, the best transportation alternative in the market.
Any place affording a walking distance from home to work, from home to recreation or civic amenities, or from home to the grocery store -a little bit more than five minutes or the equivalent of 1,300 feet, makes it possible to pick up a quart of milk without burning a quart of gas; creates a healthy pedestrian population; lowers crime rates; offers less stress; is generally bound by human-scaled architecture; has cleaner air; and, generates greater neighbor-to-neighbor cohesion. These types of compact communities use less land, water, energy and materials; and, most importantly, they are becoming the preferred choice for building cities after the Dark New Age (DNA) of gas shortages.
Before it becomes a matter of national security, due to their scarcity, the wisdom of traditional compact communities like the Medieval European city, the Islamic clan, the English hamlet, the traditional American village, or the twentieth-century garden-city neighborhood needs to be rediscovered and its lessons need to be shared freely to produce an infinite amount of livable and sustainable places. As we move into the future, we must come up with alternatives to reshape our existing suburban territories; we must re-evaluate our notions of development and re-development; we must establish alliances to build new public infrastructure; we must come up with low-impact ways to generate electricity; we must demand pure water and clean air; we must generate neither pollution nor noise; we must create our own “living machines” to process wastewater and sewage; we must produce our own food in our own greenhouses, buildings, and gardens; we must enrich our cultural lives rather than degrade them; we must achieve a level of community where skills sharing and youth mentoring become cultural assets; we must conceive a new way of government where neighborhood associations can become profitable businesses; and, most importantly, we must create beautiful compact communities of purpose where neighbors feel safe, where buildings are designed to promote the welfare of the community, and where our ultimate freedoms are respected and acknowledged; in short, places of dignity and reason.
Compact communities should rescue us from our addiction to gasoline while providing a viable solution to the general ailments of our current consumerist society. The production of walkable neighborhoods should be the central organizing principle of our civilization and the catalyst of design change for the next generation of Americans.