Here is our first draft of a manifesto for a Slow Bay Region that affords urbanity and pleasure while still accommodating the growth in population that experts are projecting.

Create boundaries for density, not just growth

We need to cut through the current impasse by agreeing on what we mean by density in each and every area where development can still occur. Density is not just an abstraction; it has to serve communities and support their existing residents as well as new ones. There’s nothing wrong with establishing goals for density, but they have to contribute in clear and fundamental ways to the experiential qualities that make each place what it is(or what it could be).

Make urbanity count

We need a robust vision of the region’s urbanity that takes lessons from its rich culture of food and wine, not shrinking from creativity, experimentation, and the demotic element that challenges and changes tastes, and is unafraid of outside influences—knowing that the region will absorb them and make them its own. Then we need to put this vision first.

Restore the demotic; end the duopoly

The tendency of Bay Regional cities to politicize development at almost every scale, making owners and leaseholders jump through endless hoops, is depriving us of the spontaneous contributions of individuals, operating within rules that are broad enough to allow creative interpretation. It makes for a duopoly that favors large projects that are shaped by “global” assumptions about market preferences, and that attract only the biggest players. There are exceptions, but this is too much the norm.

See the region as a whole

Understanding the region holistically, especially as an ecosystem, would immediately put a halt to insanities like the current pressure to develop the Delta, one of California’s main sources of fresh water, as single-family housing. It would encourage us to invest much more in transit and much less in freeways, and to value open land like our first-born.

Honor our real traditions

The historic patterns of the region have favored a humane density in urban development coupled with the preservation of the natural landscape. They have always acted as a brake to heedless sprawl, and making them the law of the land would solve a lot of problems.

Put our money where our mouth is

Americans tend to wait until the future they dreaded arrives before dealing with it. We have to break this habit. The best way to do so is to fall in love again with a region that, for many of us, captured our hearts when we first set eyes on it, savored its delicious food and wine, and walked its captivating streets. Something this beautiful demands our indulgence, our generosity, and our commitment. We know how to treat it well, and yet we have so often failed to do so. It’s time to change.

Written with Richard Bender for the Forms in the City/Spaces in the Metropolis conference, Rome, 2-3 April 2007, and published in Rassegna di Architettura e Urbanistica no. 126, September–December 2007, pgs. 50–55.

Copyright: 2009 John J. Parman (unless otherwise noted)

Website: http://complace.j2parman.com

Contact: j2parman@yahoo.com

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