Friday, June 17, 2022

What is a Livable City?

 Answering Kennedy’s Call

Chapter Twelve

I and several others living in Santa Barbara and the Goleta Valley were interested in a more ecologically friendly and less auto-dependent community. Drs. Susanne Lennard, architect, and her husband, child psychologist Henry Lennard, were two disciples of “livable cities”. They influenced our thinking.

The Lennards founded the Making Livable Cities organization in 1986. It began holding Livable Cities conferences, hosting mayors and urban planners from throughout the world.

In one of those conferences that I attended, the Dean of Urban Planning from Venice, Italy, extolled the virtues of pedestrian-friendly Venice and Venice’s many public spaces that created its close-knit community. He even offered his listeners a personal tour of Venice, should we decide to visit him one day!

Mayors and planners from as far away as India, South America, and Singapore attended and presented papers—all wanting to show off their cities’ people-friendly plans that had evolved over centuries of traditional living.

Central to their ideas was that communities had to be safe from crime, with sustainable economic growth that did little environmental damage. This was achieved by creating town centers built around squares, or plazas that became central community meeting places.

The Greeks and Romans had their public forums and amphitheaters that served their communities. Traditional European cities have open squares or plazas surrounded by shops and apartments from which families can watch their children while doing their own work.

The safety of children must be paramount. Its website,, states:

To be sustainable, a neighborhood, town or city must SUSTAIN ITS CHILDREN [their emphasis]. It must provide a physical environment that ensures children’s health, develops their faculties, and fosters their love for community, and for nature. In this way, children grow up to become agents of sustainability.

It is a messianic statement, but saving cities from themselves is a messianic endeavor. These conferences were tremendously exciting for those interested in building sustainable communities that combined good jobs with a human-scale environment. Dr.

Henry Lennard had developed the concept of child-centered communities where children are able to roam and explore their neighborhoods on their own. They could get to school on streets safe for children without being ferried around by a soccer mom, or anyone in a car that prevented them from exploring their surroundings, creating a sense of autonomy and personal responsibility so important for success in later life.

Many Goleta residents were idealistic former UC Santa Barbara students opposed to anything that hinted at urban; that might disturb the largest Monarch Butterfly Preserve in the west coast, for example. Their vision had to be included in a community plan. Similarly, Goleta and the South Coast in general was becoming another Silicon Valley with major tech startups like Mentor and Citrix corporations located there.

Goleta had also been a major aerospace center in the 1970s and 1980s with Raytheon, General Motor’s Delco and other defense contractors. UC Santa Barbara’s technical expertise was nearby, as was Vandenberg Air Force Base where spy and weather satellites were launched into north-south polar trajectories.

How could we accommodate all this diversity in a well- functioning city?

Harlan Green © 2022

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