Posted by: jackslife | May 22, 2009

More on Meritocracy

Great follow up with Jeremy Beer’s post a while back on meritocracy.  This is from a letter that a surprisingly astute developer in New Orleans named Ken Bickford wrote.  It made me want to go live in the community that he is building, because it seems that he really gets it.

Human sizing things is a great place to start.  From the article –

I also wonder whether your critique of meritocracy is not so much the idea of it as it is the scale of it. Many things, including capitalism and socialism, tend to work fine on a human scale — say, a couple of hundred people — and all tend to weaken as the sorts of institutions to which their members can pledge allegiance when they become overlarge.

This is a somewhat lengthy clip where Mr. Bickford talks about rural to urban transects, which I’ll let the article explain –

I’ve been thinking about how we might solve some of these problems, and I must say I liked some of your suggestions for boosting local allegiance. As you know, I continue to move forward in the development of my town. We’ve decided to name it Chappapeela, after a creek which comes into the Tangipahoa River directly across from our settlement. It is a name familiar in our area, and it is one which I am confident an early settler would have given serious consideration in selecting a name for this place.

In this connection, I’ve been thinking about the Rural to Urban Transect. Architect Philip Bess contends here that the Urban Transect — going from unspoilt wilderness (Transect 1 or T1) to downtown Manhattan (Transect 6 or T6) — contains a rationally defensible moral authority. I would go Bess one better and say that no matter what part of the Urban Transect you find yourself in, it is a moral imperative that you should be within three miles of all previous transects.

Implicit in this view is the reasoning that the lower transects are always basic to — and therefore constitutive of — the higher transects. Wilderness can exist without Manhattan, but Manhattan cannot exist for even a second without wilderness, nor any of the other transects preceding it — be they farm, village, town or suburb.

My selection of three miles is not entirely arbitrary. Three miles is the distance from the horizon to a man whose eyes are six feet above the ground. And it is an eminently walkable distance, traversable within an hour or so to someone in good health. All of which means that everyone from a child to a healthy nonagenarian can have access to anything which can be taken in with an unobstructed glance. It encompasses 28 square miles.

It is the distance at which direct knowledge meets the Earth’s curvature. It is also a distance which encompassed every great city known to history before the twentieth century. If a man walked three miles in any direction from the Roman Forum, he would have found himself two miles past the city walls built by Aurelian — and well into the agricultural hinterlands which fed and watered the Eternal City.

So by this reasoning, if we take Nature as the starting point, all additional moves into greater density of population and variety of uses should never remove one farther than three miles from Nature. Meaning that whether we are on a farm, having coffee in a hamlet, selling insurance at our office in town, dining with friends in a suburb, or spending a weekend in a loft apartment in the middle of a city, we should be capable of encountering a complete human system — one which could be taken in with a glance from a lowly altitude.

Living in this way is moral in the sense that we are aware of our dependencies and our interdependencies. We can actually see the land which makes our own local society possible.

Basically, urban living is reliant on rural and open space to provide for a lot of its needs. This thinking states that development should be done in a way that keeps this fact in mind of the people living in urban areas, and thus ties everyone into the process in a way that current typical design patterns don’t.

Read the whole thing if you have time. BTW – be sure to click on the hidden “Page 2” link that follows the related links section.

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