Monday, December 26, 2011

Dad as a New Urbanist

It’s Boxing Day.  Hopefully, most of you have better things to do than reading a new post from me.  So I’ll try to be brief.

There are many different paths to new urbanism.

My late father lived a childhood that was short on resources but long on love.  His widowed-too-early mother was partners with her brother in a drugstore east of Los Angeles.  Her brother was the pharmacist while she ran the soda fountain.  For years, my father and his older brother spent their nights in a canvas lean-to at the back of the drugstore, listening to the men of the town staggering down the alley after over-imbibing on Prohibition-era beverages.  Eventually, his mother was able to purchase a small home, although amenities remained scarce.

But throughout his childhood, he felt the love and affection of his community.  He often joked that he couldn’t misbehave without several of the townspeople informing his mother at the soda fountain before he could return to tell his side of the story.  Many of the companions of his youth similarly benefited from the small town nurturing, going on to become successes in diverse arenas of life.

In his adulthood, Dad was a successful bridge engineer.  And with that success came fiscal rewards.  My sister and I were raised in suburban homes, with nary a want.

In his eighties, Dad wrote his memoirs, which became a priceless gift that he left for us.  For the first time, he grasped how important the small town of his youth had been to his life.  He and I were chatting one day during the final years of his life.  Suddenly, he apologized for not giving my sister and me the same type of upbringing that had meant so much to him.  I was touched that he’d thought about us in that way.

Of course, I told him that his apology was unnecessary.  He had given us fine childhoods.  Also, the small town life that he remembered so fondly didn’t really exist in the places where he could have pursued his career.

As he and I later talked about, much of what he cherished about his childhood can be provided by new urbanism.  The density so that the companions of childhood are readily at hand, the retail shops so that daily rhythms of life can be learned early, and the easy access to adults who provide both role models and extra eyes on youthful hijinks.

Dad tried to put the lessons of his youth to use in the public forum.  He sat on a citizens committee that was assisting with the General Plan update for the unincorporated area in which he and my mother lived.  He suggested that the new General Plan include provision for small grocery stores that could be inserted into existing residential neighborhoods.  He was disappointed when no one else saw his logic.

To conclude Dad’s life story, he finished his life full of honors for his professional and his athletic endeavors.  A bridge near Sacramento was recently designated as a memorial to him.  Late in life, he became a successful senior rower.  The wall behind me as I type this has a collection of medals he won in international crew competitions.  And two of the shells at his rowing club are named in his honor.  By any measure, he succeeded well in life.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

No comments:

Post a Comment