Monday, May 23, 2005

Ideal community at my age

Ideal community at my age

Chapel Hill, North Carolina --- I am 57 years old. Never imagined that I would be writing that number next to my name.

But here I am, and where do I want to live at this young age?

(I must confess right up front that my wife and I have been blessed, so far, to be able to divide our time between two of the places that rank highest on our list - Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Nice, France. We have modest homes in both places, a little larger in North Carolina and a little smaller in France.)

Jane JACOBS, the Canadian sociologist/urban planning critic probably influenced me more than anyone else along the way. I was at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island when I first read Death and Life of Great American Cities. That would have been in the late 1960s. I remember looking at the historic neighborhood around Brown's campus and seeing dead buildings, many dying, and a few upstarts that somehow did not look like they quite belonged. But there was and is a heart to College Hill in Providence and subsequent leaders of that city have shown us better than almost any other place how a city can nearly die and come back to an amazing new life.So, for me, being at the center of that is critical.

I want to see things happening around me. Sure, that includes nature and quiet, but I also want to see human interaction and change. My ideal location needs to be a place where I can walk everywhere I need to go, where the car is not a necessity but a rainy day option. So the transportation system needs to be excellent. But the shops and bigger stores need to be first rate and responsive my interests as well.

That's not to say that my ideal place has to have my name on it, or that most of what is in this place needs to be something of interest to me. Quite the contrary. I seek only a minimal level of convenience and satisfaction. On top of that, I wand to see as much diveristy and difference as possible.

Culture needs to be as diverse as the people. All points of the compass, all shades of color, all points of view.I just want there to be some basic rules and understandings to help guide how we live. It does not have to be paint color charts for all the houses, although there is much to be said for that. It does mean some common acceptance of very low speeds for cars and trucks, those that are necessary. It means helping everyone in the community present the exterior of there homes in a way that we all are happy to look at them. That's really not such a hard standard when one gets right down to it.

Having spent as much time as we now have in places like Washington (for 30 years), 20 years+ in Nice and 6 here in Chapel Hill, a few more things stand out:

+ I want to be close to some water.

+ I want the buses to be free and frequent.

+ There needs to be a seat of considerable learning nearby.

+ An airport is essential.

+ People of all ages are part of that needed diversity.

+ The people need to be dedicated to getting out and talking and getting to know the neighbors.

+ There need to be plenty of reasons to walk ranging from exercise and good conversation to places to shop and to visit.

We have gone through a many generations of planned communities in the US and some overseas. We still don't have it right. I hope we can respect both Jane JACOBS, who urged us never to tear down a whole community to rebuild it, and all the good things that have come out of communities like Southern Village in Chapel Hill where we live and all the rich traditions of the villages of Europe and the US which seem to perpetuate themselves despite heavy odds against this happening.

It is possible to get there from here and I think it is worth the effort to arrive!

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