A Western Buddhist's Travels

Sightseeing & detours on the path of enlightenment

Urban living

Jane Jacobs in her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” first published in 1961 wrote about city planning. Not from how to build better buildings, but how to make more livable cities. The New York Times Book Review said “Perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning…a work of literature.” The book attacked the model of town planning based on processes, efficient movement of goods, and structured order though design. Instead she advocated walkable neighborhoods, local conveniences, stores where the clerks knew your name and your preferences. Design that encouraged interaction between neighbors. The knowing of who belongs in the area, also who the strangers are. Neighborhoods where children, their parents, and the elderly, mingled in the cafes, parks, and streets.  Instead of being segregated into their own enclave. A lot of what she calls desirable follows what the Buddha taught us 2600 years ago. The proper social interaction between sentient beings, without discrimination, brings out the best in us. Wall us off in our concrete cubicles and we lose the ability to socialize, and society starts its race to the lowest common acceptable standard. The coffee shop of only a generation ago, people played chess, conversed and caught up on what was going on around them. Today walk into a coffee shop and you will see a few conversations. However the number of people whose only interaction with those around them, was to order something or be in the same establishment is the greater number. The people talking on cell phones, possibly glaring at anyone who might be over hearing them? The netbook users surfing the web looking for social interaction, while avoiding eye contact with the dozen or so people around them. For those who live in an apartment or condo, can you not only name those on your floor, but know what they do for employment, and any personal details. For a lot of people it’s oh did you see who suite ### had leaving their place this morning, reducing us to a number based on location of where we reside. Or I wish suite ### would ease up on the perfume, as when they are in the elevator I can’t breathe. As Buddhists we should know who are neighbors are, and instead of talking about them, we should talk with them. When we see one of our elderly neighbors with arms loaded down with grocery bags, do we offer to help? Even if they say no thank you, they will probably appreciate the offer.


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