Our current built environment which was once meant for people and worked to integrate with nature doesn’t seem to be designed for people or nature anymore. Since the advent of the assembly line and the mass production of the automobile in 1913 the built environment in the United States has changed. These changes did not happen all at once; they have occurred over time in a subtle fashion. These changes have caused a shift in development practices that have moved away from people and nature.
The built environment that is often emitted is homogeneous, segregated, fragmented, and sprawling in nature. It often lacks character, meaning there is nothing specific enough to define one location from the next. It isolates human beings from the diversity of human culture by requiring same minded individuals to reside in compartmentalized and demographically similar neighborhoods.
We need to adjust; changes need to be made. The environment in which we now live needs to see a shift back towards balancing the built and natural environments. Developers need to learn to once again design and build neighborhoods and communities for the people that live, learn, work, shop, and play in them and incorporate the natural environment which it should be a part of.
As an admirer of great places within our built environment it has been a mission of mine, during my professional career, to be a contributor to placemaking rather than a detractor of such. This is not an easy task to undertake. As one studies how our built environment is assembled it can become very discouraging to realize that the current “DNA” emits environments that actually lack placemaking characteristics. The easy thing would be to continue using conventional land development practices of our recent past and present. The easy thing would be to simply live with the inconveniences and sprawl that conventional zoning favors no matter how unsustainable those practices might be. If this is the choice we make, what are we leaving behind? What is the legacy that will be left to our progenitors? We can do so much better. WE MUST DO BETTER!
A community is defined as a group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists. There are innate principles that all people would like to have as part of where they live. Where a person lives is part of who a person is, and because of this, where they live reflects and affects who they are.
As the built environment has changed, so have attitudes about and towards community. People have become more individually minded and tend to think of community as merely representative of where one lives. Community is far more than geographic location or proximity to others. Community should be about others. It should be about finding common characteristics that we all share with each other. A shift in mind set needs to take place so that people again believe that community is about the collective whole, rather than simply the individual. People need to project outward, rather than focusing inward. The built environment can play an important role in working towards this end.
A concerted effort is necessary in order to have a real effect on the built environment. A clear direction should be set. Definitive design and development practices must be established. A powerful standard must be worked for which focuses on being community-minded by contributing towards a legacy for our progenitors while simultaneously maintaining a responsible stewardship over the earth. Proactive planning is in order for a legacy to be left for future generations. We cannot leave it up to chance and simply hope that it will happen.
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature,
he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”