Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pattern 57

Imagine a path, or system of paths...

Safe enough for kids to explore on their own (or in small groups)

In the book A Pattern Language, Towns, Buildings, Construction by Alexander, Ishikawa, and Silverstein, Pattern 57 is called Children in the City. This chapter begins by suggesting that children need to explore the world independently to learn about it as an essential component of the journey to adulthood, but recognizes that large modern cities are fraught with (real and perceived) dangers which limit this critical, independent exploration. Their approach to addressing this is built on the foundation of Pattern 56, Bike Paths and Racks (a JRA@OSG favorite, of course), and entails developing a subset of paths among the larger system of bike and pedestrian paths which are extra safe, extra fun, and yet offer as full access as possible to the different, key features of the city.  This path in their scheme is a separate bike path, away from cars, and protected from traffic and other threats. An excerpt is in order:

"And most important, the great beauty of this path is that it passes along and even through those functions and parts of a town which are normally out of reach: the place where newspapers are printed, the place where milk arrives from the countryside and is bottled, the pier, the garage where people make doors and windows, the alley behind restaurant row, the cemetery." -A Pattern Language, Pattern 57

I grew up in another time when we did all those things without special paths. I was curious about such things, and also the Farmers' Cooperative, the junkyard, and the College's Chemistry Lab that was being remodeled, but that's another story for another post. I learned volumes of self-directed knowledge while riding my bicycle around as a kid. Here and now, in Phoenix and other cities of similar size, and I gather in many even smaller cities and towns, Pattern 57's problem statement is very accurate, at least in the way that we parents feel that we must protect our children from the threats of the city by disallowing independent exploration. But imagine, if some of the ideas of Pattern 57 were implemented. I think of some of the awesome, child-oriented museums we've taken our kids to--Exploratorium in San Francisco, the Arizona Science Center, the Discovery Center Museum in Rockford, the Staten Island Children's Museum, Liberty Science Center, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago--and imagine educational "exhibits", except experienced in the actual world of the city, stretched out along a trail set up just for that purpose. Beneath an open sky. In the free air. Explored independently, on a bicycle. I don't know of a place where Pattern 57 has actually been implemented. Anyone seen something similar? Pattern 57: a place set aside for kids out bicycling in the world, safely expanding their inner worlds. Imagine. Get up. Go ride.


  1. Two observations: the paths described are away from cars and cool sounding while the photos are simply paint on a street. When we were growing up there were neither. How did we survive?

  2. OTOH, growing up, riding on the gravel paths in Seattle's Ravenna Park was great - and where I also had my most spectacular ever bike crash. Hmm...

  3. Steve I didn't have any "special" paths set aside when I was a kid either--more like, the whole neighborhood and surrounding area were a lot closer to a Pattern 57-like situation than kids today (like in the photos) have. We rode everywhere, including down by the river waaaaayy far from home to find better fishing spots in the flood ponds before the muskrats ate them all. Kids riding to school like these pics are rare around here--less than 5% as far as I can tell, and almost no exploratory, on their own, don't know where the kids are now but figure they'll be home in time for dinner rides. Play dates driven in the SUV to the mall don't count--kids, even small ones, need to explore. I want mine to see their own ways thru life soon as they can, possibly soon after getting off training wheels. Something like Pattern 57 seems to offer that opportunity, these days.

  4. Someone else who has read one of "my" books! Pattern 57 is one of the best. U of Oregon (where Alexander did some of the designing) does have a green area from stadium to community gardens and the rest of campus that resembles this Pattern. But the children are mostly 18 and up. And it's not quite winding enough.

  5. Emma J, the dust jacket mentions Volume 3 "The Oregon Experiment" which describes how the pattern language was used in the planning process at UoO...makes me want to read that and volume 1 which I haven't done yet. I admire their high standards which are probably beyond the capabilities of America 2010. But when I catch glimpses of built things which make the larger world more coherent in one place (theme mentioned in the introduction), well my vision narrows down to them and shuts out the strip malls etc.

  6. kids+bikes = happy city
    a safe city should have these things all around
    nice post

  7. meli - yes! "livable city" should include "parents not terrified if kids go for an exploratory bike ride". We need that.


Please feel free to comment here, almost anything goes, except for obvious spam or blatantly illegal or objectionable material. Spammers may be subject to public ridicule, scorn, or outright shaming, and the companies represented in spam shall earn disrepute and ire for each occurrence.