07/08/2011 03:24 pm ET Updated Sep 07, 2011

Creating the Livable, Walkable Community

It isn't enough to wire your community with fiber optics anymore.

To be a truly smart community -- to be a creative community -- you need to have amenities and the policies to insure that the community has walkable, livable spaces.

According to author Charles Handy, we live in an Age of Paradox. The more high-tech our world becomes, the more high-touch we become. The more global the world becomes, the more intensely local our focus needs to be. The more competitive our market becomes, the more cooperation becomes a critical element in developing our business strategies.

One of the more interesting paradoxes is that the more we live and work in cyberspace, the more important real place becomes.

While this notion runs counter to much of today's popular literature, we are already seeing the knowledge worker and the high-tech, knowledge-sensitive industries migrating to highly livable communities -- communities with mountains or lakes, open spaces, clean air and water, and, as in the case of Portland, Ore. and other communities that have established urban growth boundaries, less reliance on the automobile as the primary mode of transportation.

According to Maureen Gardiner, Traffic Engineer from the Planning Division of the
City of San Diego, "The City of San Diego is committed to supporting walking as a form of mobility and recreation." Walking is the oldest and most basic form of transportation. At some point during the day, we are all pedestrians, whether walking to school, transit, a parked car, work or stores, or for exercise. As part of the City's long-term vision contained in the General Plan, the City supports the planning and development of pedestrian-friendly streets, development projects, communities and neighborhoods.

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.

If successful, the smart and sustainable community will dramatically reverse an adverse trend precipitated by the invention of the cotton gin and the industrial revolution that followed; by the automobile; by 50 years of untamed growth and land development; and, worse, by the advance of a rootless culture without a sense of place, and help lead us out of the spiritual and physical wasteland we have created.

This growing concern with urban sprawl, coupled with the nostalgic yearning that the "new urbanism" movement represents, are evidence of sweeping changes in public attitude toward physical space. As the Internet revolution moves into full bloom, however, there is every reason to believe that it will have a dramatic impact on the architecture and landscape of communities throughout the world.

No technology in human history is having, or is likely to have, such tremendous influence on life and work and play, and in the transforming process, on our physical space. While a "smart community" -- a community that makes a conscious decision to aggressively deploy technology as a catalyst to solving its social and business needs -- will undoubtedly focus on building its high-speed broadband infrastructures, the real opportunity is in rebuilding and renewing a sense of place and, in the process, a sense of civic pride.

One of the more interesting and exciting aspects of the "new urbanism" movement is that the next paradigm could well be much more than the return to the close-knit community of small villages and towns. 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.