13 February 2011


Italy, September 2007 093
The Procession Home / photo by Doug Joyce

Going home. Two very evocative words. We usually think of this phrase as applying to a return to a lost place we left long ago in a place far away. The words have a longing attached to them, evoking a deep desire to return to the nurturing fundamentals of life.

I’d like to narrow down this evocation, to a more daily pastime that is still filled with meaning. It's related to the larger notion; it's the small but meaningful event of returning back to where one lives after the public events of the day.  A routine pastime to be sure, but surly it is a pastime that is deeply important to most.

Our cumulative experience of the days of returning home plays a large role in how we see our lives. The physical journey itself is from what is what consumes us, our daily occupation, our livelihoods, our public lives, back to our place of refuge, our private place.  As we travel back to that private place, two things happen. We reflect on the day, and the sequence of events, the sensory progression allows us to make a transition to our home life. This is a journey that plays an important part in how we see the value of each of our days.

In my own going home experience, I’ve walked, I've driven, and I've taken public conveyances, along with the occasional watercraft or airplane. Every type of journey has it's contributory virtues in its own way. No matter how you get home, if the series of events experienced is pleasurable, and it is pleasurable over one day, through the week, and year by year, I believe it has an effect on our lives.

What makes getting home pleasurable and ultimately wonderful is that it allows for a satisfying transitional experience. It could be an experience that allows one to slip deep in one's thoughts, and reflect on the day. Or it could be a process that fulfills our need to be a part of the larger world, allowing us a 'third place', where we interact with those we do business with, with friends and acquaintances.  It is an experience that takes an appropriate amount of time. It provides a sequence of events give a sense of well being.  If it is something that is less satisfactory, if it doesn’t help us make the transition properly, then we lose an important element of our personal well being.

I don't think for many of us the experience for many of us is less then satisfactory.  For many, the going home experience grossly time consuming, and sometimes it is daunting and anxiety producing. We patch it over with over with a nice car for the ride, or with good tunes or other cocooning entertainment.  Those of us who ride transit, pedal a bike, or walk can also face a dreary journey; there is no form of conveyance that can’t be ruined by bad choices or bad design.

It can be pointed out that improving these experiences might be considered as a byproduct of almost any overall worthwhile urban plan. The stock solutions add a bit of landscaping here, a few storefronts there, and a transit line down the middle. But this doesn’t represent any real thought about an event that happens in most of our lives, nearly every day of our lives. Here is what I think: I believe that part of making good public places is to understand the quality of the procession, especially that one that takes us back home from work or school.


The final approach to where you live, and the very act of passing through that portal from the public to the private is the most important part of that whole transition. Seeing that walkway, that red door, the house on the hill; it means something to most of us. If it gives us pleasure, it can make up for a lot of the difficulty we have had in making our way. This satisfaction can be arrived at from something that is fairly humble. The simple doorway on a village street flanked by a beloved plan can make for the finest of arrivals. The poorly conceived expensive residence, requiring its owner to arrive through the entrance of a large vehicle storage facility is ultimately disheartening, though that same owner may not realize it.

These final series of events, seeing home from down the street, moving through from the public to the private, entering one’s own private sanctuary should be a cleansing experience for us. This place, occupied by our loved ones, or filled with the things that give us comfort (both the physical and the spiritual!), is the place that gives us what we need to take on the challenges of the outside world.

If the transitional experience of arriving at home is unpleasant, if even though what is inside is satisfactory, then the act of arriving is a discouraging one, deprived of beauty and the senses, and ultimately a detrimental lifestyle. Think of concrete driveways lined with nothing but blank garage doors. Think of long and threadbare corridors in unkept apartment buildings. Think of what many years of coming home in this way does to someones outlook. Yet someone ‘designed’ those places.

It shocks me how many times the processional experience is left out of the design process, how the act getting inside or through a building is sublimated to things like vehicle access, floor plan efficiencies, rubber stamping zoning practices, or accessibility, all of which may be used to make a place without a soul. The tree-lined approach, the welcoming portal, the dappled light in the entrance courtyard, the glimpse of the warm light inside should be a part of everyone’s world. It’s not a mental cure-all, but it is a start. It’s also an essential part of building a great city.

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