In his book The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander states that people should work where they live. I had some trouble with this at first as it’s pretty difficult to achieve. There aren’t all that many good jobs, and the chances of already living in the same area as the job are pretty low; what are you supposed to do? Move?

In spite of this, I did keep reading. And Alexander does expand on the idea some more.

The point is not to live in the exact same area as where you work, but to work in an area you could imagine living and, as important, live in an area you could imagine working. When you walk down the street you need to see all the parts of life happening: you need to dodge prams, see people eating and drinking, watch people in their offices as they watch people lounging around in a park. You need to see kids streaming home from school in the afternoon, you need to see the retired out doing their shopping during the day.

And you need all this both where you live, and where you work. You need to feel when you’re spending those 40 hours a week away from your home that you are still in a place that is someone’s home. Seeing those people and all the disparate things they do forms a connection between you and them. If the place you work and the place you live both have this, then you can easily transplant the connection from home to work and vice versa.

There is a name for all this: community. Community requires all parts of life: babies through to the elderly; workers, shops, services. And if you’re hiding away at work for 40 hours a week you tend to forget that not only this is all going on, but also that all these different kinds of people share your world with you.

This all comes down to graining. Think of it in terms of zoning. The zones of use form grains within an area. In older areas of a city, this graining will typically very fine. That is, you can walk a short distance down a single street and pass houses, offices, cafes, libraries, shops. In newer areas, the graining becomes larger, until you reach the 60’s ideal of a city composed of satellite towns: rings of suburbs with a shopping/office district at the centre.

And in there, a community dies. Communities need people to spend time with them to grow, if a significant chunk of a community’s demographic disappears for a big chunk of the day then it can’t really survive. Look for the fine graining, try to live and work there if you can, but always enjoy the graining.