How do you experience “family” when your nuclear family lives far away?

In modern America the idea of a nuclear family being your main source of community and belonging doesn’t work–yet so many of us desire a life of connection, and friendship that can last through conflict and hard times.

In his book “A Pattern Language,” Christopher Alexander describes an innate pattern of design-and-architecture that points to the importance of family and belonging (Pattern 75: THE FAMILY). He addresses the problem of finding this in the midst of a culture where families don’t stay together, which couldn’t be more true in my own life. My dad lives in Oregon, mom in New Mexico, little sister in Hawaii, and I live in Texas. We try to stay in touch over the phone and social media, but technology only goes so far. Like so many other families we’ve accepted this fact and made due. But even though my nuclear family is spread out I still desire a rich family life.

Similarly many friends of mine have enjoyed that quintessential college experience where family was built in to campus life. For four years they breathed a high level of learning and play only to graduate and suddenly find themselves disoriented and alone.

Christopher Alexander’s solution is for people to form extended families where they are. Instead of having one nuclear family you might have 10 to 20 families all interconnected and at different stages of life. He integrates the principle of “balance between privacy and communality” into a structure of habitation. It might be in a single dwelling, or it might be spread out among multiple dwellings. Since I live in a suburban style neighborhood I’m particularly interested in the latter.

2013-04-23 Pattern 75 The family edited

A sketch by the hand of Christopher Alexander “A Pattern Language”.

In America there doesn’t seem to be an established precedent modeling this on a mass level. I am interested in hearing your creative ideas, and what things have or haven’t worked for you.

Imagine an extended family of young couples, students, large and small families, retired folk, and single professionals all growing together with a high level of trust, and living in close proximity to each other. How might this look where you live? What possibilities could emerge that seem unthinkable in a typical neighborhood?

You can purchase a copy of A Pattern Language here. It’s a little pricy, but you get what you pay for.

Posted in A Pattern Language, Community Building

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