Upon Being Asked to Reflect: Pattern Language, Salingaros Article and Permaculture Design

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Language has always been my favorite past time. I have been a writer from the moment I could hold a crayon.  Conversely, mathematics destroyed me through most of my education…until graduate statistical analysis. I still remember being terrified by the thought that I had to get a passing grade in statistics. But more clearly I remember the moment the switch between my right and left brain was properly placed. Statistics IS language. I completed qualitative analysis and four statistics courses with A grades.

So it is with heavy heart that I have to turn the pattern language sacred cow into creamed chipped beef.  I do not remember the last time I read anything so pretentious.  Architecture has always struggled with the mixture of engineering and art, most often referred to as “design”.  Is it applied science? If so, then give us practical methods of successful application. If it is art, then lift us up (Personally, I’m a FL Wright fan).  I think there is a useful tool here but it was covered in Piled higher and Deeper, steaming  LANGUAGE.

I do not have a Master’s Degree.  I left the Master’s program in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences when I was offered two contracts to coordinate multi-million dollar programs to restore coastal fisheries in Northern California. To quote my thesis advisor “Why are you wasting time and money on a degree that you think you need to do the job you are now doing?” So, without the degree, here is what I know: Quote from Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander:  “Vast parking lots wreck the land for people.”

Reality:  Vast parking lots irritate people by forcing them to park far from their destination and create an environment in which people forget where they parked their vehicle. Well, that is what people wandering around the Walmart parking lot will tell you. Well, they tell me that even though I never ask.   But what might outweigh these irritations (walking is necessary for human life – circulation of blood and lymph, and all that rot – and personally, I bent the antenna on the roof of my truck so that I could see it across the largest parking lots; no architect necessary)?

Another pattern language phrase outweighs the sloth: Safe Travel.  Mr. Niko Salingaros, in his article (The Structure of Pattern Language, June 2005) reiterating Mr. Alexander’s book (Pattern Language, 1977), suggests that parking lots should be designed for five to seven cars, surrounded by gardens, trees and hedges. And here is what I know: Parking lots so designed: will create an environment where safe backing of vehicles will be impacted by lack of visibility, increasing negative emotions and insurance premiums; owners of large vehicles will avoid shopping there and they are usually people with money; will cause a marked increase in auto tampering and burglary; and the sheltered rows will increase the probability of strong-arm robberies.  Oh how I would love the small shops of locally-owned businesses, with close parking and friendly alert shop owners!  Yes, I have some serious reservations about Walmart’s impact on the planet, economy and human health (let’s not even go into the role of China.) But when I walk out to my vehicle at 9pm I know that:  there will be lights; there will be lots of human beings around; there are cameras watching me get to my truck; and an employee to take the cart back for me.

But the truth is that government regulation and taxation are horribly unsupportive of small business. There is a pattern for you: On scale, if the Federal government creates tax and regulatory challenges to small business, and local governments create zoning, construction and marketing challenges, the businesses that will have the financial wherewithal to setup and maintain a successful operation will be those that can afford to comply with all the challenges. Ouch.  Pattern language: Environment in Which to Make a Living.

I am much more interested in the webs that evolve to overcome challenges to the survival of each element, structure and system on all scales in several categories – government, business, my nursery, each type of plant in the nursery, the combination of plants in the nursery into hedges, and the elements that feed these: money, water, suppliers, supplies, and oh yes those poor people wandering around the Walmart parking lot who last year came over to my trailer and asked if the beautiful plants in it were for sale…opening the opportunity for language opening the door for new experiences opening the certainty that I will carry the plants while helping them look for their car. Pattern Language: Success.

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