My title might sound like the beginning of a novel, or the end of a travelogue. Instead, I intend it to introduce an important and often greatly neglected principle or tool for promoting optimal architecture, community design, urban planning, and societal energy use – special care with how we think about, design, and thus must cover the final steps, say 100 or so, to reach our homes and other neighborhood buildings.
As a practical matter, and as a foundation for more conscious architecture and design, there are two basic ways we can take or cover our last steps home. First, we can take them ourselves, on foot, here including using bicycles and other personal mobility aids. Second, we can finish these final steps home in vehicles – in cars, motorcycles, and the like.
This idea might seem obvious, and yet almost no one thinks about it today, including many architects and planners, whereas we, and they, all should. Why? Because the way we take our final steps home significantly determines the basic design and character of our neighborhoods and surroundings – including their scale, their livability, their inherent healthiness, their initial cost, their ongoing resource demands, and their ecological impact.
As my photo above of Serthar Larung Gar in Tibet highlights, when communities are designed so that we take our last steps home on foot, this can greatly change the form and nature of our houses, neighborhoods, and larger communities, compared with designing for the option, or requirement, of covering this final distance in vehicles. Roadways can shrink to footpaths, large labor-intensive yards become superfluous, noise is appreciably reduced, and the natural intrusion and hazard of moving vehicles is eliminated.
Experientially, when the idea of walking our last steps home is part of neighborhood design, our houses and surroundings reliably become rehumanized and far more intimate. Fewer resource are required to create and maintain them. And the density of our neighborhoods can double or more, with no loss of indoor and outdoor living space per home – reducing sprawl, and the ecological harm and health risks associated with sprawl.
Our residential settings in turn become naturally healthier when they are pedestrian-focused – by requiring and thus encouraging adequate walking, by increasing social interaction, and by reducing anonymity and the resulting potential for both increased disaffection and crime.
But what about our vehicles? We still can have them, and of course still need them, directly or indirectly, to support modern living. But by leaving vehicles in small lots 100 steps or so from our homes, or otherwise relegating them to the edge of our neighborhoods, we can transform and greatly improve our communities and quality of life, and in category after category as I have suggested.
I’ve included two sets of photos contrasting pedestrian and vehicular-based neighborhoods to underscore these crucial points, and would encourage you to think more deeply, and more often, about our last steps home – as you plan, design, build, or choose the places where you and others will live. Let me know what you think in the comments section below.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of ArchaNatura.
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