You can read yesterday’s part 1 here.
Modern architects and urban planners have recently been designing buildings and urban spaces promoting values reminiscent of Old Europe and other societies with similar values. These societies are often referred to as “matriarchal.” However, there is ongoing discussion among scholars about what to call them. For this post, we will use Heide Goettner-Abendroth’s lovely term “societies of peace.” To read more about these societies, modern desires to live in communities similar to these societies, and modern efforts to promote social interaction and beauty, please click here to read Part 1.
Connecting to Nature
Old Europe and other similar societies of peace frequently included well-used outdoor spaces, connecting residents to nature as they went about their daily life. Residents did weaving, baking, and other tasks in open courtyards. Public rituals were held in plazas and courtyards. Celts and those who lived in Britain before them held their religious ceremonies in groves of trees or in open spaces with standing stones or other monuments. Public art, such as frescoes in Crete, featuring plants and animals also indicates the value these societies gave to nature.
Urban planners have included traditional parks in cities for centuries. More recently parks also entice residents outside with areas for formal and informal social gatherings, education, art, performances and fairs, and more. One especially innovative park is New York City’s elevated Highline, which runs for almost two miles along a de-activated railway line. Along the way are small parks, gardens, food vendors, art and sound installations, and performances. Almost 30 similar infrastructure reuse projects are spread across the US and Mexico. Urban planners are also finding ways to bring wildlife like birds and animals into urban spaces not only for human pleasure both for public education and to mitigate habitat destruction.
Cherishing Equality and Meeting Everyone’s Basic Needs
Old Europe and similar societies of peace valued both income and gender equality and strove to meet the basic needs of all. Knossos in Crete had impressive public buildings for social, civic, and religious functions, but not royal residences. The Old European Greek Sesklo and Eastern European Cucuteni cultures also had no central buildings indicating social stratification. In Anatolia’s Catalhoyuk, egalitarianism is indicated by the lack of opulence in some dwellings compared to others. Public art such as frescoes, statues, and stone carvings featured both women and men.
Often 21st century planning and policy-making focuses on access to affordable housing to ensure those with lower incomes can live in housing alongside higher income residents. Federal and state governments provide subsidized rental housing, but there are often long waiting lists for these units. Mixed-use zoning can also be intended to encourage a community with a mix of income levels and enhance economic opportunity for all. Many cohousing communities are designed to ensure that those with lower incomes can purchase homes.
Bringing together many different people in the same building or outside space can also serve as a way to create greater openness and equality among people of varying backgrounds, income levels, genders and LGBTQ identification. Civic Commons projects offer informal and formal places for social interaction as people come for education and services or to attend community events. Public art including murals, statues, and other media featuring many kinds of people can create a sense that a community is welcoming to all.
Unfortunately, some of the designs meant to increase equality and interaction among different groups actually end up creating more inequality and separation. Mixed-use development too often does not result in truly affordable housing when the greater attractiveness of the neighborhood causes higher rents. Creating attractive green space and other neighborhood amenities can also cause gentrification, pushing out lower income residents. New York City’s Highline increased values of the closest housing by 35%. Current and future projects need to ensure equity through housing policies, commitment to maintaining small neighborhood businesses, community participation, and other means.
A lack of structures for elites in Old European and other societies of peace indicates a more consensus-driven model of decision-making. Modern village, town, and city architecture and planning decisions also tend to be made by consensus through volunteer planning boards, cultural committees, green committees, and housing commissions. Co-housing developments are also governed by residents. As in the ancient societies, modern consensus decision-making creates a sense of belonging and attachment to the community and ensures that the spaces meet real needs.
But Do These Designs Work?
Yes, research shows these designs do help create communities reflecting values similar to those of the societies of peace.
- Residents who perceive their community as more beautiful are more likely to interact with neighbors and more often participate in their communities if they have access to arts.
- Small actions like controlling litter, cleaning vacant lots, and adding art, seating, planters, and lighting create a sense that residents care about each other.
- Casual sidewalk encounters in central gathering places enhance trust among residents from differing groups.
- Residents of cities with diverse populations are more likely to have relationships with people different from themselves, creating greater trust and a sense of connectedness.
- People in diverse neighborhoods have greater access to opportunities and income equality.
- Being in “green” spaces has been shown to have many positive physical and mental health benefits. Being near trees and nature causes us to be more environmentally aware.
- Access to green space has been shown to increase social opportunities and social cohesion in neighborhoods as well as ecological awareness.
Many pathways exist to creating communities with values similar to those held by Old Europe and other societies of peace that nurture our bodies, minds, and souls. Architecture and urban planning may not be first on the list of what most people think of as tools to get there. However, I find it fascinating how closely some efforts discussed here model these older societies and are succeeding in creating more caring, beautiful, nature-focused, equitable, and consensus-driven values. What can we do to help? Local governments offer many ways to get involved and influence projects that can have an immediate impact. Volunteer to be on a cultural or housing committee, go to public forums and speak up about what you want, vote in local elections, run for a seat on your Planning Board, write letters to governmental officials and the editor of your local paper! Take a step outside your doorstep and help us all walk into a better future.
Carolyn Lee Boyd is a community-based public policy wonk, having worked for 35 years in state and local public service. She is also a writer. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in a variety of print magazines, internet sites, and book anthologies. She explores goddess-centered spirituality in everyday life and how we can all better live in local and global community. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com,where you can find her writings and music and some of her free e-books to download.
Sources: Sources are linked directly in the text. Unless otherwise noted, Information about Old Europe comes from Maria Gimbutas’s Civilization of the Goddess.
Knossos, Crete: Photograph by Jose Goncalves CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Stonehenge: Peter Trimming / Magical Stonehenge CC BY-SA 2.0
Highline: Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Cucuteni Trypillian Model House: Photo by Cristian Chirita Public Domain From Exhibit at the National Museum of Warsaw “Ukraine to the world. Treasures of Ukraine from the Platar collection”
6 thoughts on “Transforming the Streets of Past into the Cities of the Future, Part II by Carolyn Lee Boyd”
Excellent, Carolyn! Creatively conceived, well-developed ideas, and attractively presented. Thank you for writing this 2-part essay.
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Thank you, Esther! Over the past 20 years or so, as I was working on a variety of local government projects I just kept saying to myself “That is so “society of peace”!” I had fun pulling all those thoughts together to share with the FAR community.
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Yes yes yes–your report gives me hope! Hope that cities can be better places to live in. Hope that people will be able to live indoors (instead of on the street) and have friendly neighbors. Hope that governments can actually do some good for people. (Well, that’s pretty optimistic, even for me. Every time I read or watch the news I get discouraged again.) hope that all of us who live on our Blessed Mother Planet can be civilized and courteous again. I love Long Beach’s parks. I’d love to travel to New York to see the Highline parks.
Thanks for writing these two blogs and telling us some good news. Bright blessings to the city officials who are trying (whether consciously or unconsciously) to emulate the cities of the societies of peace. Maybe we can one day live peacefully! Yes, brightest blessings to everyone working in that direction.
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Thanks, Barbara! Yes, I think one reason why I tend to be optimistic about the future is that I was lucky enough to work on the local level either as a professional or volunteer almost my whole career. Even though I had profound disagreements on national and international politics, religion, etc with some of the people I worked with, I always found we were able to find common ground in our commitment to the people or project we were serving and even become friends (as long as we didn’t talk about politics, religion, etc!). I like to hope that can translate into how people relate to one another in general some day.
I know that I would like to live like this!
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Thanks, Sara, for reading and responding! Yes! I think it’s the little steps, over time, that we take right where we live that can make a big difference in creating places where we can live like this, no matter how small or large.
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