1st Annual National Green Building Conference

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Perry Bigelow - Spirituality of Sustainability

HomeTown Neighborhood Development


Today I want you to experience some of the philosophical journey we've taken to arrive at HomeTown.

Then, I want to explain what we mean by cultural sustainability and why it's so important.

Then I'll describe our recipe for a modern Authentic Neighborhood.

Then we'll take a tour of HomeTown and describe it's major components.

Somewhere along the way we'll talk about profitability and marketing.

I. WHAT IS CULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY and Why is it so important?

Amory Lovins, the brilliant physicist and founder of RMI once asked me:
What kind of a house would the master carpenter, Jesus, build?

An equally good question is:
What kind of a city would God develop? Listen to the answer given in the Old Testament of the Bible in Zech. 8:4. Zech, the prophet, wrote down God's plan for the ultimate culturally sustainable city where people live in peace and comfort:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. The city will be filled with boys and girls playing in the streets.

Do you see the same picture I see? This is a city or town that works for children and old folks. Because the old folks and the children are using the streets together, the children are learning from the old folks the principles and values that will allow them to grow old and then teach the same principles and values to the next generation of children, and so forth.

When we talk of sustainability in nature we mean that the ecology of a place works in such a way that the plants and creatures of the place reproduce so that the ecological balance and health of the place is maintained and sustained.

A community that sustains and maintains itself in health and comfort can only happen when a community is designed for children, and the children are enculturated by the adults and old folks that they are safely interacting with all the time. The old folks respect and watch the children, and the children venerate and learn the communities' traditions and values from the adults.

Do you see the same picture I see? This culturally sustainable town has streets (not just the fenced in rear yards) that are totally safe for children to play in. Children can safely explore a world that is much larger and more diverse than their own yard. They can play safely in the streets with other neighborhood children without constant supervision.

Nature is ecologically sustainable because it is complex, diverse, interdependent, integrated, and decentrailzed. For our human culture to sustain itself, it must be founded on similar principles. Until the last 50 years, neighborhoods and communities had always incorporated these age-old natural values. They have been temporarily and inadvertently abandoned as we have accommodated ourselves to technology and the automobile. In HomeTown, the spheres of shared human activity are at once complex, diverse, interdependent, integrated, and decentralized within themselves and they bear these relationships to each other as each one relates with the other spheres of shared human activity.

Whether we want to or not we are designing and building homes in communities that become subcultures that either sustain themselves spiritually and relationally in health and comfort or they become places of social dis-ease and sickness. We have the power and wisdom to build safe, healthy communities in which children thrive and learn and grow and develop strong individual personalities within the context of mutual respect for everyone and everything in the community.


I have never had an original thought. Everything we do is based on wisdom and knowledge that has first been expressed by others. At best, we have taken the observations of others and combined them synergistically to create deeper, more profound reality.

Underlying our philosophy of design is the understanding from Christopher Alexander that the people of a place have a common design language consisting of design patterns embedded in their culture and in the culture or environment of the place. These design patterns are like words that by themselves mean very little but when you combine words carefully you can create a lot of meaning in a few words. Likewise when you combine the right design patterns thoughtfully and precisely you create what Alexander calls "dense space", space that is deeply comforting and nurturing to the human psyche, the Greek word for soul.

Robert Bellah is one of America's premier sociologists. Bellah's analysis of American culture at the end of the 20th century gave us the courage to take the risks to create communities that give people the opportunity to once again live more interdependently and interconnectedly.

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