Give this a try. Ask someone what’s most important in life. Then listen to their response.

Most likely, they will talk about the people they love. They will mention their spouses, their kids, their parents, their friends and their neighbors. Many will focus on their role as providers or caretakers. They may talk about their jobs, their faith, or their health. Or, you’ll learn about their passion for art, or gardening, or the local sports team. Others will talk about community: their favorite charities, the problems they want to solve, or the people who have made a difference in their lives.

You can quickly see a trend. Our priorities tend to center around family, community, connection, health, purpose, and joy.

With that thought in mind, take a fresh look at the city you call home.

Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a historic neighborhood or a traditional downtown, you’ll quickly see a disconnect between our values and the way we build our cities and towns.

That’s because–for the past 60 years or so–we have failed to design our environment for the people we love. We have failed to prioritize family, community, connection, health, purpose and joy. Instead, we have focused almost entirely on the movement and storage of cars.
Don’t believe me? Look around. What are the defining characteristics of the city you call home?

Wide streets, giant parking lots, enormous signs, and huge buildings dominate the typical suburban landscape. They dwarf us.

Future archaeologists will scratch their heads in wonder, puzzling over what strange species called this place home. The greatest scientific minds will excavate our cities and determine that the average human was 17 feet long, 6 feet wide, 5 feet tall, and traveled at speeds between 45 and 80 MPH. They will conjecture about the strange religious customs that required us to segregate our activities–preventing us from working or shopping in the vicinity where we lived or raised our young. They will marvel at our ability to construct concrete edifices, but wonder about the geo-political threats that must have caused us to disperse so widely across our territory.

What else could explain this ridiculous thing we’ve created?

We have dedicated millions of acres of land to asphalt. In doing so, we’ve created places where it’s not safe, much less desirable, to walk. Instead of bringing people together, we have created barriers. Sadly, we have created places where you need a car to cross the street.

We seem to care more about cars than ourselves. We have robbed ourselves of the pleasure of physical activity. (Would you rather drive to the gym, or walk to dinner?) Meanwhile, we have engineered an epidemic of obesity and chronic disease by making it impossible to get from place to place on foot.

In doing so, we have robbed our children and our elders of their ability to live independently. Instead of enjoying a purposeful, connected life, those who can’t drive become prisoners in their own homes. Unable to work, socialize or shop without driving, many become isolated and disengaged from their communities.

Meanwhile, the ever-increasing cost of maintaining roads and providing police and fire services to far-flung areas depletes municipal budgets. The parks budget is inevitably the first thing cut. Again, we provide for automotive travel, but not safe, enriching places where our children can run and play and make new friends.

We have systematically engineered the least efficient, least sustainable, least logical, and most expensive transportation system imaginable—and then designed our homes, businesses, schools, churches and parks to support that design.

We’ve made a mistake.

It’s time we started thinking about this. It’s time we started asking questions and demanding more.

We can fix it, but it won’t easy to overcome the powerful inertia of the status quo. It’s going to take knowledge and passion and dedication. It’s going to take a lot of people engaging in the process of shaping their communities.

It’s taken us 60 years to get to this point, so transformation won’t happen overnight. But we’ve got to start somewhere. So why not here? Why not now?

It’s time.

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