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John M. Eger

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Nurturing a Smart and Sustainable Community

Posted: 03/21/11 06:19 PM ET

One of the more interesting paradoxes is that the more we live and work in cyberspace, the more important real place becomes, hence the growing concern with urban sprawl, coupled with the nostalgic yearning which the "new urbanism" movement represents.

Both are evidence of sweeping changes in public attitude toward physical space.

Indeed, cities of the future -- the smart, sustainable and creative communities built for the digital age -- will play a central role in the rebirth of civilization in the 21st century together with recognition of the vital role that art and architecture and culture play in enhancing economic development and, ultimately, defining a creative and innovative community

As the Internet revolution moves into full bloom there is every reason to believe it will have a dramatic impact on the architecture and landscape of communities throughout the world.

If we are to capitalize on this paradoxical shift by which telecommunications becomes a substitute for transportation, we must renew our sense of place and rethink our attitudes and our policies toward civic life, the village green, and the fundamental and historical reason for the city, to bring people together in harmony with one another and with their environment for economic gain and glory.

One of the more interesting and exciting aspects of this shift in thinking about physical space is that the next paradigm could well be the return to the close-knit community of small villages and towns with its village greens and mixed-use zoning. It could be a spiritual return to the kind of community enjoyed by the earliest Americans.

Tessie Naranjo of the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico, for example, defines community as "the human dwelling place." It is where the people meet the needs of survival and where they weave their webs of connections. Native communities are about connections because relationships form the whole. Each individual becomes part of the whole community, which includes not just the human population, but also the hills, mountains, rocks, trees and clouds.

Until recently, advances in telecommunications and transportation have contributed to our disconnectedness rather than cemented us as a people, atomized our sense of community rather than provided us a sense of place. Yet without a cultural center, a shared history or a commitment to neutral goals and visions, there is little to cement communities together.

Chief Sealth, for whom the city of Seattle is named, cautioned, "This we do know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."

As the World Wide Web becomes part of the web of life, perhaps mankind's technology will ultimately enhance and secure our connectedness to the physical world, preserving and protecting it for future generations.

 
 
 

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