The Ideal Community Center

Imagine if every town had a community center that combined a senior center, a daycare center, and a no-kill animal shelter

I have an idea: what if we created a community center in every town that accommodated three public needs — a senior center, a daycare center for underprivileged kids (or any kid for that matter), and a no-kill animal shelter? They all share two things — a vital need for human connection and companionship, and an abundance of unstructured time.

Studies prove that animal companions can improve health and ease depression, that children require love and attention to thrive, and that seniors who feel connected or have a role in society live longer, happier lives. Less adoptable animals that might otherwise live their years out in a shelter, have a new community of animal lovers to share their days with. Kids love an audience as they play and run around. When they yell, “look at me!” someone might actually be watching, someone who might even acknowledge their amazing feats with praise. A lonely senior might actually enjoy a child’s long-winded story that others might otherwise brush off, and vice versa.

The synergy could impact the entire community.

Parents leaving their children in daycare all day would find comfort in knowing they are part of a community, getting the attention they need, when the parents aren’t around. Kids would bring home stories of things they learned from the seniors that might entertain or enlighten their parents. Most adults with elderly parents would be pleased to see them in a community where they could engaged with a range of people, and not exclusively other seniors. Such a center would benefit all the town’s residents through the positive, synergetic energy spread by the families of its users.

We build senior centers, daycare centers and animal shelters, why have we never thought of combining them? Forget liability issues, forget special needs, forget the issues of cost and politics, and anything else that could inevitably stall such a project — just make it happen! The determined soul finds solutions, whether through architectural design and technology; space layouts and security cameras; screened and properly trained staff and administration; educational or civic policy; soliciting, lobbying, and fundraising.

There’s an obvious cost savings in combining activities in a single structure — in terms of reduced square footage, avoiding duplication of amenities like toilet rooms, staff lounge, kitchenette, office space, reception area and common space. Energy, supplies and administrative and operational costs would all be reduced. There could be less parking, especially if there was a drive through drop-off, and if scheduling could circumvent rush hour overlaps. Parents living with extended family could drop seniors and children at same location before work.

The architecture could work to both foster connections and accommodate necessary separation of activities. Each group would need its own identity and activity areas, but the common areas could accommodate both structured and chance interactions, with park benches on the perimeter of the play area, or protected window over looks, shared TV lounges and dining areas with a variety of seating and tables. It could even include a community garden.

So, then, if there are major social, developmental, health and wellbeing benefits, and costs could be contained or even reduced from what we do now, isn’t it an idea worth exploring further?

Building for Life- book review

corinthian column symbolic of tree, projecting vertical strength and floral embellishment: truth, utility and beauty

Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection

by Steven Kellert

Book Review:

I tell people my greatest interest in architecture is when I can merge the inside and outside into a single flowing design. Building for Life does not go into length on this particular concept but supports it in general as a part of the love of nature continuum. He refers to this as Biophilia, a term coined by scientist E O Wilson that translates to “love of life.” The idea is that man is inherently attracted to nature, and is at a loss when nature is missing from his environment. This book explores ways of bringing nature back into our work places and personal surroundings. It provides scientific studies as proof of the need, and offers solutions that begin to remedy the problem by incorporating nature into architecture both directly and symbolically.

Kellert believes that it is especially important to expose children to nature, in whatever ways possible. Empathy and knowledge are really our best defense against environmental waste and destruction. I grew up spending a lot of time in the woods (my Dad was a forest ranger when he wasn’t teaching science), so his theory helped put my passion for nature into perspective. In nature we connect, we understand that we are not separate but part of a larger world. 

He also points out that if we don’t build places we love—that are beautiful, light filled, well built and unique in character—we will never put in the extra energy needed to preserve them longterm. And tearing down a building that is only a couple decades old is the worst affront to the conservation ideals of sustainability I can imagine. I’ll be watching to see how the ‘biophilia’ movement grows and transforms, and hopefully adding to it in some small way.

Shannon Scarlett

biodesign walk

Lowell Young and his wife Christie have lived in California’s Napa Valley for over 40 years. Mr. Young taught high school biology for nearly 40 years before he retired. The class that evolved into Biodesign was a creative, collaborative project where the roles of teacher and student were often reversed. It was well known by the students that although Mr. Young represented the physical nature of the class, Christie’s silent spiritual guidance was often felt in their classroom circles, as well as along the many miles of trails they walked. The Biodesign class may be the only one of its kind taught in a public high school in the country.
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true sustainability

Genius of Biome

This is what true sustainability is really about…

One image from an elegant report that clearly and graphically describes the nature and use of bimimicry

“intended to inspire exploration of how nature can inform or influence place-based design processes and solutions.”

prepared by Biomimicry 3.8 and HOK Group, Inc

Also check out a previous entry on biomimicry




art: the first line item to be cut from school budgets

role of the arts

There is a vital knowledge available to us—wisdom that illustrated for the ancients the inner workings of the universe—that can be utilized as a source or guide to rebuilding the negative aspects of our environment. But, for a culture focused on surface features, mechanics and instant gratification, its application will only happen as part of a broader paradigm shift.

In our contemporary progressive world, the intuitional abstract forms of art have become separated from their concrete functions. Over the generations, the creative occupations came to be viewed as essentially ‘unproductive.’ The work of musicians, painters, designers, choreographers, and even craftsmen were seen as a luxury, or a pastime, rather than a practical necessity.

This attitude has pushed creative thinking to the periphery of both our economical and educational systems. As mass production stripped ornament and minimized the detail on their products in order to streamline factory operations, education boards across the country were stripping elementary education of the arts.

Art is almost always the first line item to be cut from the school budget—as a society we came to believe that art was the least essential course in education. Music—another area of learning allegedly with limited practical benefit—was cut second, and when further pressed for funding, gym went next. 

Plato held a contrary opinion about the significance of the arts. He and the great administrators of ancient Greece—a land where beauty and formal precision were highly esteemed in all things—understood the true function of the arts.

Creative activities—sculpture, painting, singing or playing an instrument—exercise the right side of the brain, which is the realm where all new ideas originate. Plato even proposed that the arts, with few exceptions, were the most essential area of study.

“… the principle of every polity [is] the education of youth. For vines will never bear useful fruit, unless they are well cultivated…

The first legislators, however, as they could not render the middle class of mankind stable, adjoined [in their education] dancing and rhythm, which participate of motion alone and order; and besides these they added sports, some of which exhorted them to fellowship, but others to truth and mental acuteness.”

Gymnastics—organized physical activities designed to improve grace, physique and health of the body—along with art and music, were esteemed for their high educational merit. Subsequent and subordinate to these were the academic courses we consider to be primary—arithmetic, rhetoric, geometry and astronomy. 

A paradigm shift will be essential, if we want to restore the organizing principles—the traditions and tools, and the wisdom that accompanies them—that once gave buildings their strong sense of character, even soul.

To repair the broken links connecting the cosmos—components, symbols and patterns expressed in natural forms, cycles and timings—with modern daily life, it is vital that fundamental ancient beliefs are secured solidly to a rational scientific foundation. The ancient texts only become meaningful when the information is relevant and can be applied to a modern situation or condition.

Surviving wisdom texts contain knowledge that was always concealed from the masses in obscure wordings, sequences and symbols. From what we can begin to gather a great deal of information, while seemingly esoteric, in fact belongs soundly in the real world of human intellect and emotion.

Elegant and symbol-rich buildings from distant cultures still stand, but we can only speculate as to their full meaning and function. We stand in wonder at the extent of universal wisdom once shared among builders, how they once harnessed it and put it into operation, and how it ultimately augmented their works.

global oneness

We are responsible to each other, the earth, and future generations…. There are enough resources for us all, if we share…. Free exchanges of information allow for greater, collective creative potential…. Love, care and compassion have the power to transform the fabric of society…. We hope that by showing the diverse ways oneness is expressed—in the fields of sustainability, conflict resolution, spirituality, art, economics, indigenous culture, and social justice—others will be inspired to create solutions to personal and community challenges from their own lived understanding of oneness….. “The Global Oneness Project is a special project of Kalliopeia Foundation, a private grant-making foundation in northern California committed to honoring the unity at the heart of life’s rich diversity.”
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global shift

“Modern civilization is no longer sustainable: it either breaks down, or it transforms. The challenge is to transform it into a civilization where six-and-a-half billion or more people can live in dignity, and harmony with each other and nature. This civilization must be diverse yet unified. It must be an organic whole, the same as nature and the universe… It is in our own best interest to make sure that this much-prophesied watershed in human affairs is not a prelude to breakdown, but the springboard to an age of peace and sustainability.” excerpt from article, GLOBALSHIFT!: Why, How, and When, by Ervin Laszlo
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