Have you ever wondered what happened to the sense of community we had in our neighborhoods? Do you remember the feelings that were evoked in a time when you could sit on your front porch and see the entire neighborhood? Where the kids would play in the street, and when you could hear from down the block a mother call out “car!” and the children would all step on to the side of the road and wave as the vehicle passed by. Do you remember when you would invite your neighbors over on a cool summer evening and sit out on the front porch together enjoying a beverage?
I believe we have put so much emphasis lately on sustainability and being environmentally friendly with the systems and materials we are using, but in the process, we have lost focus on the community aspect. What if we cared for our neighbors and the communities we lived in? I believe we have stopped caring, and I think I know when that point was… it was when we traded our front porch for a private back patio.
So what do we do now? We spend our time in our own individual fenced-in yards, with our own personal families, and we occasionally shout across the street to say “Hi” to our neighbors. Builders began to create false porches as a way to create the illusion of community so that we may appear welcoming to those around us. In all reality, how often do we use that little four foot deep porch tacked onto the front of our dream homes covered in vinyl siding? I would venture a guess that we don’t do much on it, that is except for the few minutes we might greet a stranger when they come to knock on our door.
So what is the solution? Is there a solution? Does adding an extra two feet to the slab we pour in front of our homes count as getting back the front pouch we lost? Does an extra two or three feet instantly generate a sense of community, or does it create more impervious surfaces in the world and wasted space we never use? I don’t think just adding a few more feet will create any real change. We as architects have the ability to impact and change the way individuals engage the built environment. We can educate our clients and we can help them to understand what they are buying into when they select model homes and what they thought was the “American dream” of white picket fences and those two cars in the drive way. How much longer can that way of life be sustained? I, for one, would be happy to trade the car for a bike, and the large home for a modest walk up. I know that this is only my perspective and I don’t have a family to raise or any of those concerns, I am simply a young adult alone in the city that can make the statements because these are simply my reflections on the future I can see ahead.
So what has to change to make that all possible? How do we begin to create environments that cater to the public? What if we began creating communities and neighborhoods again that allowed us to walk to our destination, or get on our bike and ride to a friend’s place or the local market? What happens when we stop complaining about the price of gas and start to buy into a sustainable public transportation system that could run efficiently? When will we begin creating spaces that promote mixed use on a regular basis, environments that aren’t restrictive in zoning, and communities that encourage growth? I can see the glimmers of hope on the horizon and the sparks of the ideas taking hold and it leaves me excited for the future, but I hope to see more of this continue.