Did you notice that people’s New Year’s Resolutions rarely say things like: Drive faster, Eat more fast food, Spend more time on Facebook? In fact, what we often resolve for ourselves is to take care of our personal well-being and what makes us feel whole: Create more (write, build, etc), Exercise more, Eat healthy, Spend more time with others, Spend more time doing what we truly love (reading, music, dancing, cooking, etc.), Live our values. If these things truly make us happy, why does our built environment often de-emphasize these things? Why is convenience and speed placed above quality and slowing down?
With our work, we’ve found that a healthy community naturally manifests itself onto the physical environment. But what we fail to often measure and support is how people really feel in a place. Architect, Christopher Alexander, notes that a healthy building, bench, or anything made in the past took into consideration not only “its capacity to support life, but went into considerable depth about the way people really feel: what they experience as human beings, what they experience spiritually, what is worthwhile for them, not in monetary terms (their salaries), but in felt, human terms involving creativity, fellowship, the experience of being of service to the world, and the experience of love and affection.”
He goes on to state that “The connection between human feeling and the wholeness of the world is profound. The presence of profound feeling in the hearts of human observers is the most sensitive, most reliable measuring stick.”
Spend one hour in the Bishop Arts District in Dallas (a small, walkable environment filled with local businesses, murals, and old buildings) and notice how many people take their wedding photos there, are holding hands, or simply sitting on a park bench. People feel better in these environments, yet we have so few of them.
This is why the process for change, and the act of working together as a community to re-shape the built environment from a fear-based, convenience (read: auto-centric) focused form, to one that embraces human life and the shared human experience is so powerful when encountered. Whether it be watching a boarded up, abandoned home find a new owner and slowly come back to life, or seeing Times Square convert from a cold and pedestrian hostile environment, to a place that people can meet, linger, and gather, this process of embracing life is moving for anyone witnessing the transformation. It charges something inside of us, and the moving of the needle from fear to love ultimately improves the greater social health of a community (something which we noted in past articles is just as important as diet and exercise for our well-being).
The problems we face now are not understanding what makes us truly happy, but overcoming the obstacles to change, which are largely based on fears and concerns over hurdles to convenience. With this in mind, let’s resolve to educate others on the need to create places that support and uphold life, and commit to action immediately!