By Dom Nozzi
Sprawl erodes a sense of community and breeds loneliness.
I often make that point in my books, and in my speeches.
Cars play a powerful role in isolating us and extinguishing the crucially important experience of serendipity. Because humans are a social animal, I believe the isolation and lack of friends creates a deep sadness and emptiness in people. Bowling Alone, by Robert Putnam, is a fantastic book describing this sad state of affairs. Our species does not do well at all when we become loners, and the younger generation in particular are loners. We are becoming a NATION of loners. It does not bode well for our future, as loneliness breeds dysfunctional behavior.
Sprawl, of course, plays an important role in breeding loneliness. I often tell people that one of the top things I have always concerned myself with professionally is how to design communities or neighborhoods so that there is an increase in conviviality (a vanishing pleasure, and yet a pleasure that is so important to a fulfilling life). The auto-dependent American lifestyle is deadly to conviviality. We become suspicious of each other. Trust spirals downward (which breeds political conservativism, by the way). We lock our doors and further cocoon ourselves in a self-perpetuating loop.
I envy those who live in Western Europe, as a great many of their cities are vibrant with pedestrians, sense of community, and therefore conviviality. Such a life is infinitely more fulfilling and satisfying than that of a loner.
In the early part of 2006, I started talking with a friend about maybe starting what is known as a “conversation cafe.” A way to regularly meet with friends (and STRANGERS) to discuss anything at all in a non-threatening setting. We ended up hosting such an event for a number of months in Gainesville, Florida.
Such a planned socialization and conversation (in contrast to a more rewarding lifestyle and community, where such activity is more regular and more spontaneous) is necessary in a nation of loners. And not surprisingly, such planned events rarely happen.