12.2.12

Neighborhoods

If the family is the oldest human institution the local neighborhood community runs it a close second, corresponding as it does to the primitive band and to the ancient and medieval village.  What new sorts of neighborhoods become possible under our proposal?   How might they differ from the ones we grew up in?

One thing is for sure.  There will be many more adults up and about during the regular course of the day.  With half of their working lives centered around the home, you will see them tending their gardens, doing routine choirs around the house or engaged in some other useful pursuit. It could be something as simple as painting a porch swing or mending an appliance; or it could be something as complex as a major home improvement project, adding a new room, or building a shed.   

But whatever it might be the point is these neighborhoods will no longer be the “deserted villages” of the present in which adults typically get up in the morning, climb in their cars, and drive away to work for the rest of the day.

For the children this has certain obvious advantages.  They will be exposed to the adult world of work to a far greater extent than is possible in today’s society, where most real work is done away from home and out of sight of the children.  Being the naturally curious creatures they are, children in the neighborhood will inevitably be drawn into the world of work: at first by looking, then later by asking, and finally by helping -- and thus in the natural course of growing up will acquire a certain amount practical knowledge and a number useful skills, things which nowadays completely pass them by.
 
Another advantage is that those same adults who are out working in their yards will be in a position to keep a collective eye out on the children in the neighborhood as they run and play among the houses, warning them away from danger and keeping them out of mischief, thus providing a useful extension to the family itself.  Friendly faces in friendly places will make neighborhoods far safer and more congenial places in which to work or play.

Nor should we overlook other possibilities for sharing.  With so many adults at home during the day it becomes a simple matter of convenience to go next door to borrow a cup of sugar or to ask for a helping hand from the neighbor down the street.  Visiting and casual hospitality are sure to be more common occurrences as one’s friends and neighbors begin to avail themselves of some of their new-found leisure.

Or consider such a simple thing as a neighborhood post office instead of individual mailboxes in front of each house.  Not only would this save the postal service a good deal of  time and expense but it would provide a convenient spot where neighbors are likely to run into each other, exchange gossip, and pass along any news that might be of local interest.
 
Neighbors might even go in together in the purchase of a small neighborhood tractor, which they could share in the spring to turn over their gardens.  Or they might organize house-raising parties in the old Mid-Western barn-raising tradition: an effective as well as enjoyable way to get through the early phases of construction.  And of course there is the possibility of neighborhood picnics on the 4th of July, a sure way to create a sense of local feeling and village solidarity.

Let me say a few words on the subject of neighborhood planning.  What would be the best way to arrange the houses. supposing we intend to take maximum advantage of the new possibilities for sharing?  Here I think we have something to learn from the Traditional Neighborhood Movement, as it is sometimes called, which is already underway in a number of places around the United States.  

One opportunity in particular stands out. We could get away from the contemporary practice of arranging our houses along both sides of the street like so many beads on a string.  The alternative is to arrange them around a central open space -- a village green -- which would serve both as a neighborhood park and a playground for children. (see Figure 1)

Plan for a Hamlet from The Art of Building a Home, 1901.  This was the earliest suggestion of grouping various combinations of houses and a break in the building line.  It was intended to give a unified impression from the standpoint of a traditional village green, which was supposed to serve the same communal gathering purpose out-of-doors that the two story living room did for the family inside.  The thought was to draw people to a place so that favorable and positive things might begin to happen to them. 

As you can see from the figure, another habit we might get away from is placing our houses back from the street with large lawns in front.  Instead we could arrange our houses close to the street, facing the park, and give them front porches, as was commonly the practice before the age of the automobile.  This arrangement would make for easy line-of-sight communication between the house and the park, and between the porch and any pedestrians who might happen to be walking by on the sidewalk that runs in front of each house.

Of course if the houses are set forward like this it means the gardens will have to be located behind, in the long back yards that would stretch from the rear of each house, with the grandparents' quarters being located at the far end of the garden, but accessible by a small alleyway that runs across the back of each lot.  The advantage of this arrangement is that it would define a space -- bounded by the larger house in front and the smaller one behind -- of relative peace and quiet: a place not open to the street, where a person could sit and meditate, or think, or sing the baby to sleep, and not be bothered (see Figure 2).





Figure 2).

"It has been computed by some Political Arithmetician, that if every Man and Woman would work four Hours each Day on something useful, that Labour would produce sufficient to procure all the Necessaries and Comforts of Life, Want and Misery would be banished out of the World, and the rest of the 24 Hours might be Leisure and Pleasure. What occasions then so much Want and Misery?”                             
                                                       Benjamin Franklin



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