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Kelly J. Cooper

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New Urbanism? [Jun. 17th, 2008|01:45 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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Anyone have any thoughts on how cell phones and virtual communities have impacted city communities? Or, perhaps, how they have or haven't impacted New Urbanism?

I'm working my way through The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs and I've found that it's definitely the entry point I've been seeking for a conversation about success and failure of city blocks as well as an internal launch point for thoughts about the nature of community and public discourse.
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[User Picture]From: lillibet
2008-06-17 05:59 am (UTC)
Oh, man--I could go on about this at great length. I've got a whole lot of "on the one hand" and "on the third tentacle" ideas in this space. But I'm already late for bed.

The one thing I will say is that the Arlington List has really changed my relationship to my geographical community. After years of defining my personal community almost exclusively electronically, having an electronic community that is rooted in my geographical location has given me a much deeper sense of belonging to the town in which I live.

And now to tag this post for follow-up tomorrow.
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[User Picture]From: roozle
2008-06-17 12:39 pm (UTC)
Off topic by quite a distance, what's your method for keeping track of LJ posts you want to return to? Do you just put them in a tab in your browser, or save the links somewhere or what? I've never come up with something I really like.

There's an interesting piece of research I read that ubiquitous text messaging was causing the population being studied (teenagers, mostly) to have fewer but more intense connections -- the people they were really close buddies with were effectively always at hand and therefore the network of more casual social connections became more attenuated. The world became more sharply divided into "my peeps" and "not-my-peeps". Undoubtedly I oversimplify a complex and nuanced phenomenon and my lack of a reference sucks. However. If that tendency is true, and if as I think is possibly true, the social fabric of a community based on geography is based on a large number of fairly loose links -- the guy with the collie on the corner, the woman who always takes the 10:10 bus at that corner, the new family with a couple of kids that asked you for directions to the garden store -- some of our technology tends to disrupt forming those loose connections. Just thinking.
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[User Picture]From: lillibet
2008-06-17 02:12 pm (UTC)
I just use the "tracking" feature available to paid accounts here. It sends me email with everyone's comments.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2008-06-20 08:20 am (UTC)
Hmm. That sounds like an interesting study... and a more positive spin on the "electronics makes us have fewer friends" phenomenon.

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[User Picture]From: kjc
2008-06-20 08:19 am (UTC)
I have somewhat similar, but less intense feelings about the davis_square LJ.

I would really like to create a mailing list for my neighborhood (a few square blocks), or even my street. I haven't quite figured out how to go about it. I mean, I could create a little flyer and put one on every door... or walk around and introduce myself... or close off part of the street, have a barbecue, and make sure there's a clipboard with a sign-up sheet (and also talk it up)...

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[User Picture]From: totient
2008-06-17 01:03 pm (UTC)
First, let me say that electronic communities are critical for uniting minorities, be they the disadvantaged (and I think electronic communities are particularly important for the LGBT poulation) or the merely eccentric. To the extent that this meant one did not have to relate to one's vanilla suburban neighbors I think this is terrific.

Lately some of these electronic communities have tried overlaying a physical community. These efforts range in scale from a small cohousing group to the Libertarians deciding to all move to New Hampshire. You and I both embody this idea, having moved to our neighborhood to be near the freaky friends we met online. But I don't think the existence of our online community has gotten in the way of the New Urbanist idea: we participate in geographically-based organizations like SOS or the Garden Club, we get involved in local politics, and we support new-urbanist infrastructure like Zipcar and the Dilboy Post. I shovel Anne Kelly's walk next door and trade contractor recommendations with Mike and Annie on the other side.

To my mind New Urbanism is an ecological and social-diversity movement; it seeks to undo the environmental and cultural damage inflicted by suburbia in the second half of the 20th century. Online communities are its ally.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2008-06-20 08:35 am (UTC)
I don't imagine that it's gotten in the way, per se. I generally see electronic communication as a really good thing, for the reasons you listed and more.

One particular point that brought this to mind - Jacobs talks about how community parks without local infrastructure (i.e., in a neighborhood without a store or three nearby nor a payphone) create an enforced intimacy. If you go to the park, you need a place to get coffee, use the bathroom, and make phone calls. The only place to do this is in the houses that immediately adjoin the park. Therefore, the people who successfully congregate at parks tend to be uniform (in her example, all middle class white women), willing to invite or be invited into each others homes, and extremely rude to anyone who uses the park but isn't in their demographic.

This enforced intimacy is in contrast to the standards of chosen intimacy versus fleeting (or street) intimacy. Chosen intimacy is of course with close friends and family. With street intimacy (in her example), you have a favorite shop keeper who holds keys for people in the neighborhood. If you want someone to be able to get into your apartment during the day while you're not there, you send that person to the butcher or the manager of the local convenience store, who has keys for many of the apartments in the neighborhood. But this "mayor" of the local area would never introduce two people from the neighborhood to each other, because it wouldn't be appropriate. Jacobs considers this a sort of unspoken intimacy boundary.

I'm not using Jacobs' words (or explaining this well) because the book is downstairs in the bedroom and the BF is asleep.

So, with cell phones and much greater portability of coffee, plus the increase of public facilities, I'm wondering whether the digital age has shifted things in, for instance, zones of enforced intimacy.

I'm also wondering if it's created new levels of public intimacy or lack thereof (I'm thinking of the very personal phone conversations people have on their porches or in the street as well as people just walking along or waiting for transportation also sharing these intimate details). Plus, we have people talking on their cell phones instead of saying hello to shop owners and fellow passengers.

I don't imagine to blame technology for the breakdown of these casual/intimate relationships (most shops aren't run by their owners anymore, for instance). Just wondering how people see it influencing changes within the New Urbanism/city life context.
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