So, I love to dream about making things better. And one of the things that I think about a lot is how poorly our neighborhoods are designed.
I hate the stress of trying to walk my dog down the street while pushing a stroller as cars whizz by, but there are no sidewalks in my neighborhood. I hate that my front door opens to a driveway where my car is parked, and that everyone in my neighborhood has houses that face streets, and front yards that they never use.
I feel lucky that I have met all of my neighbors, and that my neighborhood is fairly safe and friendly. Not many people have that in America. But that's not good enough.
Why do we keep building these sad, uncomfortable neighborhoods? We just keep plopping down squares on grids of roads, dooming people to live isolated lives, separated from one another by their cars. These aren't conducive to community, and as a result many people feel alienated and lonely. While they are completely surrounded by buildings and cars, they don't have access to nature or a feeling of connection with each other.
Lately I've been inspired by circles and spirals and flowers. So I created this dream community in the shape of a flower.
The roads are on the outside of the community, with plenty of parking. There is parking on the curbs of the roads and parking lots in the edges between the petals and the center circle. Houses each have their own parking area in the back along with private back and side yards. The front door of each house opens onto front porches. The "front yard" is a wide open space of parks and fields. Pedestrian pathways lead to the center circle.
The center circle is where all of the more "urban" stuff is located like a gym, health center, bed and breakfast, library, museum, market, shops, schools, theater, restaurants, bars and cafes. The more urban types of housing - apartments and tiny house villages - are located close to the circle and the accompanying larger parking areas.
In between each "block", or in this case petal, are swaths of nature or horse pastures. There are trails leading through these swaths for people to walk, bike and ride horses.
At the outer edge of each petal are buildings related to the theme of the petal. In the farm or agriculture petals the edges hold barns and mills. In the parks and recreation petals, the edges hold multi-use infant and senior daycare centers that also are utilized for music, arts, science and technology play spaces, spiritual centers or sports centers. Obviously some homes are more "country living" and others are more "family" or "recreational", but all would have easy pedestrian access to both nature and community.
There would never be any reason to have to walk next to a car as all of the roads are completely separated from the pedestrian areas, and there are bridges over the pedestrian areas leading from the petal to the center circle.
Of course there should also be a cooperative element to this community. Each person would contribute something like 4 hours a week of service in exchange for room and board. Every hour worked beyond 4 hours a week would be paid $25, regardless of the occupation.
This would allow people to spend more time doing things they enjoy and free them from having to do so many things they don't like to do.
For instance, I would happily work a few extra hours at something I enjoy like writing or teaching if it meant that I could pay someone else to do some of the things I don't enjoy, like cleaning the house and doing the laundry.
And with our basic survival needs easily met, there would be much more time for enjoying life's finer things like good food, good company, music, art, and education. (At least, these are the things I would enjoy more of, for others it might be something totally different, like more time to play sports or spend tinkering on projects.)
What would you do with the extra time?
I've spent a lot of time dreaming about this imaginary community. How safe I would feel. How much more connected.
I sometimes feel ashamed of these dreams that I have, and have kept these thoughts mostly to myself for a long time. But I think that I'm not alone in feeling that our communities are not serving us.
I think everyone craves more time in nature at the same time that they crave more of a social connection. If our neighborhoods were built differently it would be possible to have both.
Since becoming a mom to a little boy with Trisomy 21 I have written a lot about Down syndrome and disabilities. I am a storyteller, wife and mom to a teen and a toddler. Life is busy!