Frank Lloyd Wright once commented
that he could design a house that
would cause a married couple to
divorce within a matter of weeks. By the same logic it is possible to create buildings and cities so badly as to cause a culture to disintegrate socially and come unhinged from nature.
We claim to love our children, and I believe that most of us
do. But we have, sheep like, acquiesced in the design of a society that dilutes
the expression of genuine love. The result is a growing mistrust of our children
that easily turns to fear and dislike. In a recent survey, for example, only
one-third of adults believed that today's young people "will eventually make this country a better place".
Instead, we find them "rude" and "irresponsible." And often
We find them overly materialistic and unconcerned about politics,
values, and improving society. Not infrequently they are verbally and physically
violent, fully adapted to a society that is saturated with drugs and violence.
Why are the very children that we profess to cherish becoming
less than likable and sometimes less than human? Without intending to do so, we
have created a society that cannot love its children, indeed one in which the
expression of real love is increasingly difficult.
"No society that loved its
children would create places like the typical shopping
No society that loved its children would put them in front of
television for 4 hours each day. No society that loved its children would make
more parking spaces and less cycling paths. No society that loved its children
would think that stopping for its children crossing roads was a problem. No
society that loved its children would throw garbage on streets that their
children play in. No society that loved its children would build more shopping
malls than high schools. No society that loved its children would leave behind
such a legacy of ugliness( poverty/abuse/neglect) and biotic impoverishment.
Of course we do all of these things in the belief that they are
the necessary price of creating a better world for our children. But at some
level the children understand that such arguments are phoney. This awareness
explains what often appears to be their unfocused anger. Our children often
mirror the larger incivility and rudeness that we inflict on them. They mirror
the larger self-indulgence of a society organized around machines, instant
gratification, and excessive individualism. They
understand intuitively that the real curriculum is not what's taught in schools,
but what's written on the face of the land.
It is remarkable, in fact, that they are not
How do we design a ‘childhood’’
for our children?
The starting point is the child itself and its need for joy,
safety, play, and the opportunity to safely explore the wider world. Childhood is the "point of intersection between
biology and cosmology, where the structuring of our worldviews and our
philosophies of human purpose takes place." It is this
‘scripting’ that enables societies to have a nostalgia for the future.
Conversely, the child's sense of connection to the world can be damaged by
impoverished surroundings and also by too much affluence.
It can be destroyed, in other words, when ugliness, both human
and ecological, becomes the norm.
Increasingly, our children imitate the
values they perceive in us with characteristic juvenile exaggeration and wonder
why we get upset by this display of ‘ignorance’ and ‘arrogance’.
Assuming that we can muster the
good sense to solve the problem, what would/should we do?
A city organized for the convenience of the automobile and
trivial consumption tells young people more about our real values than anything
taught in school. Worse, it deflects and distorts their intelligence at a
critical point in life.
It is possible, however, to organize cities to teach
usefulness, social responsibility, ecological skill, the values of good work,
and the higher possibilities of adulthood.
Design, in this larger sense, is not simply the making of
things but rather a striving for wholeness. At its best, responsible design is
the ultimate manifestation of love--a gift of
life, harmony, and beauty to our children and to
‘childhood’. When these responses from the city and with
its citizens are made ‘visible’ for all its stakeholders to see and learn from,
then the message that we transfer, helps to transform.