Roadless Communities   

To visualize roadless communities roll your imagination back to before there were cars, or wagons, or even wheels.  People lived in gatherings of homes along streams, in clearings in the woods, and in villages perched on hillsides.  Those who have traveled to rustic areas can recall the quiet charm of such places.

Anthropologists tell us our ancestors descended from the trees and started walking around upright and using tools a millon or so years ago.  At first we lived in small bands and huddled in caves.  Somewhere around 10,000 years ago we started living in villages.   Towns and cities grew up only relatively recently.  Genetically, in our natures, in ways we do not consciously appreciate, we are still villagers.  We like our surroundings on a human scale.  Witness the popularity of malls and downtown closed-to-traffic walking streets.

In modern life the basic sound background is the internal combustion engine, tire noise, the siren, and the 4 wheel boom box.  We sometimes only realize how grating it is in its absence.  In contrast, in “primitive” villages one is often impressed by the peace and quiet.  Birds, crickets, frogs and other natural sounds form the background.

In traditional villages the children run around.  Nobody seems particularly worried.  Reflect upon the relaxed nonchalance of those parents versus our own modern parental paranoia.  We have built our residential environment inside a web of hurtling metal boxes.  Their roads take up lots of space.  They are noisy, smelly, and, most seriously, potentially fatal to children and pets.

Now imagine all the roads put below, in tunnels.  The surface would be much more quiet and amenable.  And that would change our quality of life.  In this scenario, everyone would have cars just as they do now but they would come and go below.  The surface would be residential with homes connected by paths for walking and bikes.  Children would be safer and could get themselves to school.  

So, what we mean by “roadless communities” is apparently roadless communities.  The roads are there, below, in tunnels.  The cars operating in these tunnels would have to be non-polluting, be they electric, fuel cell, or what–have-you.  Because non-polluting cars would be prerequisite to living in roadless communities the two developments would be mutually reinforcing.

It is hard to overestimate the degree to which our communities have been shaped by the automobile.  Commensurately, it may be hard to appreciate how putting cars underground might enhance our enjoyment and appreciation of our community.

Most importantly would be the effects on children and their parents.  Kids could run around, bike themselves to school and lessons and generally grow up more independently and naturally.  Parents would be relieved of their chauffeuring duties and that portion of their paranoia related to motor vehicle tragedy.  Families living in roadless communities would be more in harmony with nature.

It is interesting to think about the effects tunneled roads would have on residential architecture and community planning.  If roads were underground, physically, our communities could be free of the limitations imposed by topography.  Each home could be located on esthetic considerations.  We would not be carving up the neighborhood with driveways but living in nature.  It would also make sense to say goodbye to the grid.  Property lines could be set to surficial landmarks, whatever makes immediate sense locally. Underground roads would be accompanied by underground parking.  There need be no trenching since all utilities would be brought through the tunnels.  

Homes might be often served by elevators and that could invite a vertical architecture taking advantage of the view.  A modern home with all amenities could easily be supported on a single 12 foot diameter elevator shaft coming up from underground parking.  Or, two pillars could support a single level home wrapping around the mountainside.  Other possibilities abound.

The single development that would make roadless communities practical is cheaper tunneling.  If tunneling was cheap enough the market for tunneling would multiply manifold.  If only it was cheaper.  How can we get it cheaper?  That is the continuing focus of this column.  Contributions invited.

Life not lived around hurtling metal boxes would be better.  Our neighborhoods would be quieter and our kids would be safer.  At the interface between the roadless community and the rest of the world, on Saturday mornings, there could be a community carwash, polishing, and caressing.  Oh, we love our cars.  But we don’t need them hurtling about in our residential midst.