I often ask myself if a particular choice, experience or task has value. And then I consider the value in the context of time.
When I graduated from high school, I looked around at the few who had dropped out before graduation to get a well-paying job in the interest of buying a new car, clothes and enjoying "the good life."Then there were those who felt high school was enough and upon graduation set out to make their mark on the world.
When I decided to continue my education, I knew it was a major commitment of time and energy but expected the end result would prepare me to make a better contribution to society, to a family and to myself. I took the long view.
The leaders in a small city recently undertook the responsibility of building a new civic center. The initial proposal was to transport from a neighboring city an apartment complex converted to an office. The building was close to the desired size, and one or two of the city leaders thought it "felt appropriate." The building was cheap and the land was cheap; the city took the short view.
I asked myself, my associates and the city what this decision meant. Isn't there more to good planning and architecture? Should a city take the path of least resistance?
In all successful architecture and planning, someone insists on the long view. People care enough about their future to take the time and energy to achieve the long-view result.
When I went to my 30-year reunion last year, I perceived that for those who continued their education, the long view paid off.
That theory does not make the decision any easier. The city, like the high school student, is concerned about cost, time and convenience as well as the popularity of sticking one's neck out.
The book "Principles and Practice of Urban Planning" by William I. Goodman, professor and chairman of the Department of Urban Planning at the University of Illinois, and Eric C. Freund, associate professor of the Bureau of Community Planning at the University of Illinois, elaborated in detail.
Under the subject of city design and city appearance, the first question asked is "whether the appearance of an environment is of any importance to its inhabitant." The authors point out that sensations like temperature, noise and smell are obvious sources of comfort or discomfort. They go on to say that aesthetics of planning and architecture are more difficult to judge, but that the "look of our surroundings is obviously crucial to the aesthetic experience, the joy of sensing the world immediately and intensely, which is an experience not confined to the gifted few."
The authors elaborate by listing criteria that can be useful in making design choices:
1. Sensations should be within the range of comfort and not interfere with the activities that people wish to pursue: not too hot, noisy, bright, cold, silent, loaded or empty of information, too steep, dirty or clean.
2. A diversity of sensation and setting is required to give the inhabitants a choice of environment.
3. Places in the environment should have a clear identity: recognizable, memorable.
4. Identifiable parts should be so arranged that a normal observer can mentally relate one to another and understand his or her pattern in time and space.
5. The environment should be meaningful - that is, it should be related to other aspects of life: the natural site and its ecology, functional activity, social structure, economic and political patterns, human values and aspirations.
6. The environment should play a role in fostering the intellectual, emotional and physical development of the individual, particularly in childhood, but also in later years.
In conclusion, what will be said of us 50 years from now? Did we develop cities based on sound planning and architecture? Did we care enough to be tough on these issues and leave behind environments that enhance the health, safety and aesthetic values of future generations? Did we take the long view?