Tag Archives: isolation

The Death of Celebration

By Dom Nozzi

April 20, 2018

A friend of mine held her annual New Year’s Eve party this past January. Sadly (and puzzling for her, given the large turnout she has had for her party in previous years), there was small turnout of partygoers to her house. To add insult to injury, many of this relatively small group left early.

The event was a relatively weak celebration due to a lack of collective effervescence or a critical mass of a sufficiently large number of attendees. This was not true in past years, where there WAS collective effervescence due to achieving a critical mass of attendees.

Why did this happen?

In my opinion, much of it can be explained by the fact that in places like Boulder, Colorado (where I live), there has been several decades of a societal worship of a low density spread of homes, rather than a compact living arrangement. The resulting geographical spreading out of our homes isolates us from each other, and makes it very difficult to celebrate.su

There are no main street parades anymore. Emblematically, the New York Islanders hockey team “celebrated” their championship a few decades ago by having their fans march pathetically around a shopping mall because there was no sense of place anymore. No main street for a parade. No there there.

Another outcome of our dispersed, low-density development patterns is that it is increasingly rare to find a crowded, happy celebration of friends.

I’ve lived in Boulder for eight years now, and have yet to find a reliably big, crowded, happy annual celebration.

We have, in short, become a Nation of Loners.

Many of us have become auto-bound nomads roaming around looking for the celebration in their low-density suburbs. More than any other event, New Years Eve parties are one of the very few events in our relatively isolated society where we can expect to find a happy social event attended by a great many of our community friends.

For many, it is our only opportunity to experience such collective joy with friends each year. Being so rare and precious, we find that many will engage in “shopping” for the biggest, best and most fun party. After all, we don’t want to blow our only annual chance for a big celebration by attending a “mediocre” party and missing out on THE New Years Eve party that “everyone who is someone” attended.

Many try in advance to assess which party will be “THE” party. “Will Tim have the best bash this year? Laurie? Frank?”

But this is less reliable than another perhaps more common strategy for finding the “best” New Years Eve celebration: Attending what is expected to be the “best,” and making an assessment at that event as to whether this party I am attending truly is turning out to be a great time.

If not, out the door we go to drive to ANOTHER New Years Eve party that is hoped to be great.

Hopefully arriving before the clock strikes 12!


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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Raising Kids to Become Environmental Conservationists


By Dom Nozzi

September 15, 2000

A friend of mine recently wrote an essay called “Diversity: A Breeding Ground for Conservation Biologists.” In it, he describes his explorations and experiences in natural “woodlot” areas when he was a child.

It reminds me of my childhood stomping grounds when I was a kid, reminds me of why I originally decided to become a planner, and reminds me of a study I heard of in the past: “What life history variable, out of a HUGE number that were tested, correlate with growing up to be committed, in adulthood, to environmental conservation?”

The one variable that stood out head and shoulders above the others was: “The child was able to engage in unstructured play in some form of natural area.”

My own childhood would have been horribly disadvantaged and deprived if I did not have nearby woods within which to play. I was always able to walk or bike to those woods on my own. It would be a tragedy for us all if our children lost that option.

street without on street parkingTragically, in our car-happy world, kids are much more isolated and unable to explore on their own. For nearly all American children, it has become too dangerous to bike or walk to a woodlot, because nearly always these days, doing so required the child to negotiate extremely hostile, dangerous, high-speed roads.


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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Walking

A Nation of Loners

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, vibrancy stroget stsense 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.

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