Moving from Urban Sprawl To True Community Living

Pathways, Spring 2001

Douglas E. Morris

 

Each of us has the power to change the world, one person at a time; but if we are unable to connect with one another in genuine communities, much of that power dissipates. Genuine communities are what connect people physically and spiritually, and are a necessary ingredient for a healthy and safe society. But since sprawl emerged in 1945, the possibility for community development has been almost completely eliminated.

 

The physical landscape of sprawl alienates people from the rest of society and eliminates the potential for genuine, livable communities to develop; and because of this, incivility and violence are now commonplace. At the extreme, we now have children killing children in schools, drive-by shootings, and other unspeakable acts of random violence that did not exist 20 years ago.

 

Sprawl has also made loneliness pervasive in our society. One-fourth of US adults reports feeling extremely lonely at least once in the previous two weeks. Suicides are also increasing, and are now the third leading cause of death for children aged 15-19. But sprawl's major impact is that many people no longer interact with one another in a polite, civil manner. Nurturing and supportive communities have been missing in America for more than fifty years and we are left with a general feeling of alienation and a deep sense of spiritual isolation.

 

In every country in the developed world people continue to live in vibrant, community-oriented settings. The rest of the world has preserved the structure of their urban landscapes; and as a result that feeling of an intuitive connection to others, of tapping into the seventh chakra and renewing one's soul, still exists everywhere in the Western world except for America.

 

Try it sometime. Go overseas. Sit in an outside cafe, a park, or piazza. Tap into that intuitive connection to others. It is everywhere and available to everyone, not just those who have attained a high level of spiritual consciousness.

 

Genuine communities are what make a country livable and spiritually sound. Communities are designed with every function of life in mind. The physical layout is designed to accommodate humans -- not automobiles. Sidewalks abound that encourage easy access to shops, restaurants, schools, residences, libraries, and businesses.

 

Communities are made up of people, but the physical layout, and how well it connects people to the rest of the urban space, helps to develop the sense of belonging that is shared by each resident. Genuine communities are not just places on a map, but are more importantly, places in the heart. Physical landscape in and of itself does not create community, but the urban space greatly impacts whether the inclusive spirit of community can develop.

 

Genuine communities are made up of a supportive structure of citizens who are nurturing but not intrusive. A community is filled with intangible social assets such as mutual recognition, easy participation, a sense of belonging, and an identity rooted in a sense of place.

 

We don't have to put up with sprawl, and we don't have to wait for the government to do something about it. Each of can begin to make our lives more fulfilling, rewarding and spiritually meaningful today.

 

We can use public transport, bike to work, shop at local shops instead of driving to a huge mega-store. We can unplug from the media and focus on interpersonal relationships. We can volunteer and interact with like-minded people. And we can vote. By actively participating in the electoral process, we will have a profound impact on local, regional and national decisions. But the biggest step of all is to move out of sprawl into an inner suburb like Takoma Park, Old Greenbelt, Mt. Ranier, or Old Town Alexandria; or back into a city neighborhood like Mt. Pleasant, Adams Morgan or Dupont Circle.

 

Our journey towards community development and spiritual rebirth will take time, but change is in the air. There is no better time than now, and no better people than we to take the first steps towards a sustainable and spiritual future.

 

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Douglas E. Morris

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