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A sense of community is not all that it's cracked up to be

will alsop people

The nature of small- and medium-sized villages is often characterised by the word community. By and large it would be accurate to state that the majority of people regard this word with reverence.

We talk of a sense of community as a desirable sensation that will, or could, solve many of the problems we have in our society.

Inherent within this desire is an acceptance of nostalgic values, such as the fact that it never rained in the summer when you were young. We call many of our new developments urban villages in the hope that the romantic life is recreated.

If this lifestyle does emerge from these developments, I assume that we will also be pleased with the resultant gossip and bigoted views that emerge. Narrowmindedness, combined with an absolute confidence in the correctness of one's views and actions, characterise such developments.The whole idea of using the title 'community'as a driver towards new urban form is highly suspect and evidence of a certain lack of imagination.

I am writing this in Valencia, which appears not to be trapped into attempts to reinvent the past. It contains a vibrancy of life which permits anonymity combined with intimacy. They do not try to reinvent the past because they never forget it. This weekend the city sounds like a war zone as the relative peace is broken by explosions.

This celebration of the fires is a 24-hour affair and appears to be orchestrated with noise intended to keep the sleepy awake and the wakeful attentive. The festival has its origins from the period when the Arabs were in occupancy of the city. This continuum of tradition has been expanded and adapted over hundreds of years and reflects much of the fabric of the city itself.

The pattern of expansion from the Medieval through the Renaissance, to the dictatorial actions of Franco in the 20th century, builds on a sense of a freedom to escape the idea of fixed values without losing the best of the hopes of the past.

Tradition lives on in the form of the city's festivals but the built fabric responds as an organism to the shift in need, style, preference, fortune or misfortune of this urban melting pot. The size of the city is sufficiently large to avoid any fixed values that become apparently cast in stone, thus creating a climate that is averse to change.

London is often described as a city of connected villages, which is historically accurate. But history is no excuse to maintain this image. If we are to address the issues of capacity building in the interests of density, more mixed uses and a reduction in unnecessary travel distances, we need to move on from this outmoded image and confront the fact that within the M25 the city could house a population of 15-20 million folk. This could result in a better quality of life, assuming that infrastructure is improved and extended, as well as protection of our countryside in the South East, which is rapidly being eaten up.

These new 'estates' are the breeding ground for fixed values and bigotry, and as a result the direct and sensible thinking that makes good social and economic sense is denied by our society. To change, we must consider London, Birmingham, Manchester et al as the raft that will take us into a new era of thinking of ourselves as city dwellers who enjoy all the benefits that come with it.

To change our institutions, which have all the attributes of the village, they need to broaden their horizons.

WA, from a hotel in Valencia

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