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CREATING HUMAN COMMUNITY

By Christopher Alexander. Original text here. Published at P2P-Foundation on 4th April 2015.
IF ONE THING, MORE THAN ANY OTHER, distinguishes a real neighborhood from the corporate machine-architecture of the 20th-century developer, it is the fact that real people have — together — conceived it, planned it, and built it. It is this human reality which makes it worth living in, pleasant to be there, and valuable.
Själagårdsgatan Street at Gamla stan in Stockholm.

-Flickr.

This means that the entire adventure of building a neighborhood – whether rebuilding an existing one, or building an entirely new one from scratch – can only be done successfully by reversing the usual process. The corporate procedure is to build the houses first, and then fill them with people later. Those houses inevitably remain box-like because they were mass produced without human engagement. It is building a human community and the physical buildings gradually and, above all together, that produces a living neighborhood. As the buildings are thought of, planned, and built, so the involvement of the people who are going to inhabit them and use them – the community – is also thought of, and planned, and built. They are delicately and sensitively allowed to grow, so that buildings and people – or people and buildings – grow together.

We can only build thriving neighborhoods by first building the human community that will create them with inspiration, heart and passion. When people know that they will live in the physical environment they are making together, and it is being made to support their way of living, they invest themselves in a remarkable way, and the place they create becomes one of belonging. There is no shortcut to achieving this outcome. The process cannot be faked.

THE BENEFIT OF TAKING TIME

The capacity to generate life in a neighborhood, comes in part, from slowness. People need a chance to adapt to one another’s actions. This does not mean that it takes 100 years to build a neighborhood. We have done it effectively in two or three years, and in our experience that can allow enough time for some mutual adaptation to occur step by step.

But it does mean that it is important not to be obsessed by speed. The desire to build at once comes from issues of banking, interest rates, and the desire for profit. Surely these matters can be brought under control, so that they no longer interfere with the birth of community — a more significant issue.

PLANNING AND BUILDING TOGETHER AS A SOURCE OF FRIENDSHIP AND LIFE-ENHANCING COOPERATION

Our emotions are deeply rooted in our surroundings. Our social and personal connections to one another are connected to the shape and character of our environment and our individual relationships with the environment. When we create the physical substance of our environment, as a personal matter, we then become rooted in that world that we create, and in doing so we then become joined together with the fellows, friends, family and colleagues with whom we do it.

Thus, the environment cannot be regarded merely as an object. It is the manifestation of our love for the earth, of our desires, of our affection for one another, and of our understanding of the universe. Of course an abstract, developer-built neighborhood cannot do this for us. And indeed, we are now surrounded by buildings which cannot do it – and so, small wonder – the bond to the universe and to our fellows has been weakened.

To allow this inner essence of the world, to be reborn, we must both create the world, and do it together with our fellows.

When partners in a community engage in making a generative code, planning, and building together, they embrace a living process that brings with it the deepest kind of community building. They create both a social structure and a physical structure that holds the community together because, along with the contributions of all the people in various roles, the deeply held values and culture of the neighborhood are built into the physical form. The outcome – the physical form – serves to reinforce on a daily basis an appreciation for what can be built out of shared vision and commitment, an appreciation for one another, and the restoration of mental and emotional health in the inhabitants as well as the physical surroundings.

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