Letter from the Editor

My son Alex and his friend Morrine were just four years old when they decided to go on a “journey,” to find me at my office. I worked a good mile and a half from the cohousing community where we lived, and so the first obstacle the two encountered when they set out was a street. The kids knew they were not allowed to cross streets without holding someone's hand—so they held each others' hands.

But then came a bigger street with cars going 30 miles per hour. Instead of attempting a dangerous crossing, they turned the corner. Once they did that a few times, lo and behold, they were back at cohousing!

Terribly pleased with themselves for having found their way back, they resumed playing, and no one was the wiser—that is until I got home, and they proudly presented the bouquet of dandelions they had collected on their journey.

My kids were fortunate to grow up in a child-friendly community. In addition to 30 small homes clustered together, Winslow Cohousing has lots of great places for kids—a small forest, a play field, a recreation room complete with foosball and wrestling mats, a common dining room, chickens to feed, berries to snack on—all on 4.5 acres. Alex and his sister had to tolerate long meetings held by grown-ups as we were forming and building the community. But our family benefited from living in a great place. In our case, that meant a cohousing community located within a larger community that also prides itself on being children-friendly.

Why are great places getting so hard to find? What can we do to reclaim great places from traffic congestion, big-box stores, abandoned neighborhoods, polluted waterfronts,
vacant lots, and strip malls?

This issue of YES! shows how to create and preserve great places. In researching this issue, we found several distinct movements, each addressing a piece of the puzzle.
The smart-growth movement advocates community designs in which businesses and homes are clustered into walkable neighborhoods. When development is contained within cities and towns, rural land can be protected and fresh food, water, and open space are within reach. And it turns out sprawl isn't any better for our health than it is for the environment. People who live in pedestrian-friendly communities tend to have lower rates of obesity.

The regional-equity movement shows the link between the flight of the wealthy and white to the suburbs, the abandonment of urban neighborhoods, and the loss of open spaces. Urban neighborhoods could be attractive places to live and raise families if all communities had access to high-quality schools, jobs, and services, advocates say. Vibrant and diverse communities could replace segregated sprawl and impoverished cities.

The place-making movement focuses on public spaces that bring communities together for cultural happenings, pleasant scenery, and people watching. These are the qualities that make European cities so attractive to residents and visitors.

The green-cities movement is designing buildings and cities that function as healthy parts of eco-systems. Green roofs, reclaimed industrial sites, farmers' markets, and accessible waterfronts also make cities great places to live. Ecovillages are experimenting at the leading edge of green innovation in such areas as buildings, energy, and agriculture.

There are good reasons for all these shifts, but one may be especially urgent. As we reach the peak and then decline of oil production, community designs that rely on cars and cheap energy may become untenable. Whatever the motivation, though, a transition to more just, green, and beautiful communities could make life richer for everyone, young and old, wealthy and poor.
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