TED Conversations

Ziska Childs

Freelancer, united scenic artists


This conversation is closed.

How do we get back the neighborhood?

Of course I'm referencing the 2012 TED prize The talk which inspired this question has been posted: Jen Pahlka talking about "Peace Corps for Geeks" aka- coding for government. One of the ideas in that talk which resonated for me was it's not about making the bureaucracy easier- it's about solving the problems. More often than not that means getting the bureaucracy out of the way and letting people be neighborly. "Adopt a fire hydrant"- shovel it out when there's a snow storm. That's pretty simple stuff and it promotes Community - with an upper case "C".

I've seen my own home town go from a place where I could walk to everything (the butcher the baker the candlestick maker) to one where there are 30,000 vehicle round trips a day. This is for a town of 6000 residents. The service providers drive in and out for work. The residents drive out and in to go to school, the hospital, the rec center and to find lower priced goods. Employee housing (also out of town-but closer) has resulted in a boost for the construction industry which increases the service trips in and out. Placing a transfer tax on real estate has favored flipping and cowboy development. I only mention this to emphasize that treating the symptom doesn't work and the unintended consequences can be devastating.

So, how do we get back the neighborhood? How do we get back the Community?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Mar 7 2012: I think this is such a good, apposite question Ziska. And framed exactly right - neighborhood. I read through the comments expecting to see people talk about how online communities play this role now. And they do fulfill part of this role, but there's a whole lot of it that they don't.

    I can't reference it right now, but I read somewhere that the size of extended circle of friends and acquaintances that we're most comfortable with is about 200.

    You can have neighborhoods within a city. Areas around universities often have many of the characteristics of a neighborhood, and I suppose that's related to the fact that they contains lots of students and academics and the university creates some sort of community.

    Perhaps a key thing is for people to work close to where they live - or even work from home. From an environmental perspective, cutting out commuting makes a lot of sense. I think the commute leads to a sort of compartmentalization of the different functions of a life that detracts from the sum of the whole. But how to achieve that ... I'm not sure. I think there are already some pressures in the right direction - the high cost of fuel, for instance. But when you're leading a more integrated life yourself, sometimes the neighborhood that you couldn't see before suddenly starts to emerge.
    • thumb
      Mar 8 2012: 'couldn't agree more (and not just because you used the word apposite although that makes me all melty inside). I intended the post above this to be a direct response. You've hit the nail on the head I think. The size of the neighborhood determines it's success. A density of 200 must be within walking distance of "necessities"- like coffee and a newspaper where they will be "forced" to interact on a daily basis.
    • thumb
      Mar 9 2012: From memory, I think it was Desmond Morris who made teh 200-persons estimate.
      He based that on the maximum size of tribal hunter-gatherer communities at the point that agriculture was invented.
      His assertion was that the agricultural revolution terminated Darwinian selection in the human species.
      I can't remember the whole book, but I suppose another form of selection has been operating since.
      I agree with Morris with some reservations - I haven't seen any good definitive studies on post agrarian selection - attempts to do so resulted in the horrors of the eugenics pseudo-science.
      I have great faith in human capacity to form-up into fully functional communities in a very short time.My faith is based on the folk festivals that I attend - these have comparatively loose organisation and run on volunteer contribution to produce an instant commmunity that lasts anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
      WIth numbers ranging from 1 to 100 thousand. THey are very functional and are a joy to participate in. If such communities had a need to remain functioning permanently, I am confident they would do OK - specially the smaller ones (1 to 5 thousand).
      I have a suspicion that the best way to bind a local community would be to bring essential supply back into walking distance. Back in the 90's when I was assisting development of online-shopping for a major supermarket, it was seen as a "competition only" development because the customers had a primary communal need which was satisfied by the natural meeting place of the bricks-and-mortar store.

      The next step after securing local supply is to develop local currency - then reclaim local governance at a level that fosters engagement.

      Although - I'd like to see the internet retained to keep localities aware of each other - this would help prevent too much divergence from broader commonality and allow for a healthy competition for the distribution of surpluses.
    • thumb
      Mar 20 2012: I read about the thresshold of about 200 that any one person can know well in Gladwell's book the Tipping Point. Is it not possible, even in a big city, to have pockets of familiar neighbours of about 200 each? The larger city can support the infrastructure, while people are better at making connections (given the opportunity, location, and tools).

      Jim Diers gives compelling evidence from two neighbourhoods in Chicago; one vibrant, one disconnected. Both were similar demographically. When a killer heat wave hit the city, no-one died in the vibrant community. Neighbours checked in on the vulnerable, because they knew where they were. It was not so fortunate in the disconnected community next door.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.