Compact Communities–a better way

The automobile killed the small town and the city neighborhood. Small local stores closed when people chose to driver farther so they could shop in bigger stores. Zoning laws effectively prohibited businesses from being interspersed with housing. I know of one medium-sized city where it seems that all the churches were built in a row along the highway, each with its own parking lot. New schools tend to be built out of town, while the old school buildings crumble. People drive for an hour to go to work and for an hour to drive home, even at the cost of ten hours a week spent in traffic and not with their families.
To reduce our dependence on cars, we need to change our way of living. We need to return to urban neighborhoods and small towns with homes and schools and stores and churches gathered together rather than widely distributed. This might sound like a program that only a large government department could initiate, regulate, and finance, but it is not. Aside from possible tax relief on the part of local governments, no government agency needs to be part of this change. In fact, some compact communities have already been established in the United States.
Begin with a few dozen families who want to exist and thrive without owning and operating automobiles. Find a company or two that needs a new facility—light manufacturing, perhaps, or administration of an on-line business. Find a town or an urban neighborhood needing to be revitalized. Some construction may be necessary to have the school and the stores and the churches centrally located. Most families would have an electric cart, like a golf cart, for times when walking is inconvenient (such as a shopping trip in town). Many families would own bicycles. The main employer might operate a small fleet of vans—either electric or run on natural gas—to bring workers to work and back home again. Many more jobs would be created in the school, in the stores, and in other public services.
Instead of a new and used car lot, a car rental agency or two could operate on the edge of town. When a family needed a car for a trip out of town, they would rent the car they needed. The rental agency would maintain the cars, providing a few more jobs. The town might need a few vehicles—a police car, a fire engine, an ambulance, a garbage truck—but the streets generally would be quiet. People walking or bicycling from place to place would greet each other, not with angry diatribes about the traffic but with pleasant exchanges.
I’m not suggesting that this town would become a utopia. Crime would still exist, and people would still do bad things to each other. Employment would not be guaranteed. Prices would fluctuate according to the national economy. Without the burden of cars and all their expenses, people would have more money to handle the hard times. They would also have more time to do what they wanted to do, without having to factor in a long drive to and from work.
In the twentieth century, retirement villages were designed and built with similar ideas of a compact community. Developers found investors who expected a return on their initial outlay. They would select a piece of land, build a model home or two, and invite potential customers to inspect the property. Those who were interested would buy a share in the company, and gradually the villages arose. Amenities were added as the population grew, because businesses want to be located where customers can find them.
The same kind of compact communities for working families can be funded in this way. It will not require government investment to make these towns happen; it will only require developers and investors who understand the dream and approve of it. Some corporations may take an interest in helping to get these towns built. WalMart probably would not be interested*, but Walgreens is known for its neighborhood stores. Lowes and Home Depot may not care about such towns, but Ace Hardware might want to be involved. Surely some restaurant chains would be interested in designing a store without a drive-through window or a parking lot. Urban hospitals might provide branch clinics for such compact towns and neighborhoods. I can imagine a large school district with elementary and high schools in each compact town or neighborhood, using twenty-first century technology to provide the kind of advanced and diverse classes that smaller school districts cannot afford.
These carless communities are not impossible, nor are they overly expensive to achieve. The result would be attractive, friendly communities, free from the cost and nuisance of cars. Let the investors know: “If you build it, they will come.” J.
* I have reconsidered WalMart. Since customers already order from WalMart online and pick up their deliveries at the nearest store, WalMart might consider sub-stores in compact communities, dedicated only to distribution of items ordered online.
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12 thoughts on “Compact Communities–a better way

  1. When I see all the plastic bottles littering everything I also, think about how as a kid we used to collect pop bottles and turn them in for a deposit. Returning to reusable glass would be a good thing. We never seem to go that direction though and so much of what is touted as green really doesn’t do much good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those plastic bottles are supposed to be recyclable. Some states put a refundable five or ten cent fee on each bottle, but even that does not seem to stop the littering. I wish there were easy answers–at least we all should do what we can to take care of the planet. J.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Right now ten states have deposit laws. Some are five cents and some are ten cents. I quite agree about plastic shopping bags, although I find them useful as garbage bag liners and for carrying stuff from the cats’ litter boxes to the garbage can in the garage. J.

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  2. Ah, I have a lot of feelings about this, not necessarily organized feelings at all. 🙂 I sort of live in one of those areas, at least not far from here we are big on non motorized transportation. Ha! It is not utopia, I call it the 9th circuit of hell. We have golf carts, electric cars, bicycles, and also the city council forever trying to figure out how to tax such things, how much more money they now need to build bike lanes and public access trails. Also, this is kind of the middle of nowhere, so no Walmarts or anything to supply your needs at all as we ban all big corporations. Sure people buy things online, but what we really do is pile into our cars, drive 30 miles away, and spend our money elsewhere. We have many lovely art galleries here, but it’s nearly impossible to buy a pair of socks.

    So, not wanting to discourage you at all because I do live close to the grocery store and I do believe in the local church and the sense of community that we all used to have, it’s just that these issues that always seem so easily fixed, in the hands of humans, well, we can really make a mess of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I used to live in a town that had very few decent stores to shop from and—I have to add—nobody wants to walk during a wind storm or in the dead heat of summer when it’s 115 and dry as a bone. Most of us shopped out of town just so we could get decent products. Many of the business that were there ripped people off because they felt they had the town captive. I do like the idea of a more community-based atmosphere, but I think it could only survive if people were honest and also somewhat exclusive.

      I like your thoughts IB and Salvageable! Food for thought!

      Liked by 2 people

      • You make some good points, Elihu. Having at least two stores ought to provide some competition to keep prices reasonable (unless they act as a cartel!), but smaller stores probably have to charge more than superstores. The point is, maintaining a car just to drive to superstores probably costs more than paying a little more at the small local stores. J.

        Liked by 1 person

    • @insanitybytes22 and Salvageable

      There is an alternative transportation system that could easily replace the automobile. It goes by the name Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). I blogged about it years ago => https://citizentom.com/2008/07/14/the-transportation-problem/

      I believe the problem you describe arises from too much government, not the car. What motivates us to leave the places and the people we grew up with. Well, there is the requirement to find work, but there is also the fact we have let our leaders fracture and splinter our communities. Whenever we replace a private health, educational, or social social program with a government program, we have less reason to rely upon and serve our neighbors. In fact, because of our government-run schools, we don’t even know how to organize communities the way the people who founded this nation once did. We would have to relearn what they once learned at home, in their churches, in their schools, and with groups of volunteers.

      As it is, the average American now spends relatively little time talking to or working with his or her neighbors. What is there to talk about that they would organize to do something about? Nope. They watch TV so that when they go to work they can talk about their favorite show.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is a great deal of truth in what you say. The car, television and the internet, air conditioning–they all have isolated us from our actual neighbors. But government replacement of genuine neighborhood activities and causes is also part of the problem. J.

        Liked by 1 person

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