Important Structure (Community Park):
The Community Park is the central communal structure of The New Neighborhood. It is designed so that all pathways from the residential district and all pathways from the agricultural district filter through the park. Because people’s pathways through the days flow through the park, it necessitates community interaction by design. The goal of the park is to provide a space wherein community members can intermingle while using the space entirely at their discretion, giving people the freedom to engage with the space as they wish.
The New Neighborhood
The goal of my utopia is to challenge American society’s approach to punishment and imprisonment. The logic of the modern prison system is that crime and deviance must be handled by isolating the people responsible from the rest of society. However, our process of isolating those we punish and labeling them as deviant results in a lack of reintegration back into society, leading to high recidivism rates in incarcerated populations.
The utopia I have designed, The New Neighborhood, is a community that takes a different approach to handling crime, punishment, and community members who violate standards. Rather than approaching these problems with an isolationist strategy, The New Neighborhood model is based upon the ideas of inclusion, cooperation, and interdependence in order to sustain community ties that are severed by the current criminal justice system. The community is designed as a self-sustaining neighborhood where people must work cooperatively and flow through different districts of the community in their daily lives. While the community is self sustainable via agriculture, fishing, and sustainable energy infrastructure, it forms a relationship with the outside world by traveling through nearby areas and selling excess produce, therefore fostering a positive relationship with outsiders. To be clear, the New Neighborhood is not a penal colony, it is a community of people who want to experiment with a new approach to handling issues of crime, punishment, and how we deal with these social problems.
The New Neighborhood is located on the banks of Eagle Lake, in the high desert of Northern California. The placement is partially because the high desert is decent land for agriculture, while having a lake nearby provides necessary natural resources. The placement is also in proximity to a town called Susanville, which is known for being a “prison town”.
The economy of Susanville originally revolved around agriculture, mining, and lumber. Today, it is one of many rural towns in America whose economy depends entirely on the state and federal prisons that have been established within the towns. The establishment of prisons within Susanville was intended as means to revitalize the economy, after Susanville suffered massive job losses when the fields of farming, mining, and lumber declined. Today, the Susanville economy revolves around prisons– in 2007, half of the adult population were employed by one of the three nearby correctional institutions. This trend still sustains today, as both the High Desert State Prison and the California Correctional Center employ approximately five-to-ten times the amount of people as most other employers in the area.
The statistics of employment in Susanville may sound shocking, but they are typical of many towns like it across America that have utilized prisons as economic stimulus. The meaning behind positioning my Utopia so close to Susanville is so that my challenge to the United States’ approach to punishment can function in dialogue with communities that are sustained by it. However, I do not intend for the communities to have a hostile relationship, which is why selling our produce and goods and fostering relationships with people in Susanville and other nearby communities.
The New Neighborhood is designed to work with the natural topography of its setting, while encouraging daily flow throughout all the districts of the community to promote optimal inclusion and engagement. Units for harvesting sustainable energy are positioned at the highest topographical level. Next down are the residential areas, which are single-family homes to mimic life outside of the community and to give residents a sense of privacy. Next are the community centers, parks, and schools. Finally, at the last topographical level is where the farming is done and where the docks for fishing on the lake are.
The community itself would be designed to handle punishment in an inclusive and unmarked way. In its beginnings, my model of a society would have to be relatively small, with about 1,000 members at the most. Overtime, if the model was working, it would be reasonable to increase the size. Another reason that I would like the society to start small is that I would like for my society to deal with deviance within a court system. However, massive court systems tend to produce one-size-fits-all punishments, such as mandatory minimum sentences. I would prefer for my court system to cater punishments to the individual and the specifics of the offense. I would also propose that trials remain private. Although I understand the rationale of opening trials to the public to ensure there are no abuses of power behind closed doors, the publicity of trials actually serve more as demonstrations of the state’s power over an individual serve to publicly label that citizen as deviant.
I would also hope to redefine what constitutes a crime worthy of punitive action. In my society, low-level, non-violent offenses would not be suitable for punitive action as dramatic as imprisonment. It would only be appropriate to excommunicate an individual if they committed an act of violence and endangered the freedom and welfare of other people in the community. Other crimes, such as theft, could be repaired by compulsory community service- however, it is not necessary for that service to be obvious. Community service should be kept discreet to avoid deviant labels being assigned to the people performing them.
Essentially, the community would operate similarly to a neighborhood, though the day’s work would be an inclusive effort. The only markable difference is the strategy with which punishment is handled — by encouraging the individual to be more included into the daily workings of the community, rather than excommunicated.
The best way to communicate with people who have grown up in a capitalist economy is to engage in that rhetoric so that the community ideas don’t seem so strange or threatening. For the broadside, I am inspired by advertisements encouraging suburban living from the post-war era. As such, the broadsides are brochures with the community manifesto included on the inside. These advertisements marketed newly-zoned suburban land as a means of building a family while being more in touch with community, and with the natural world. The rhetoric of these advertisements also approaches outsiders in a familiar language, rather than startling them with language that seems too radical or outside of the norm. I am also inspired by the concern that the New England Shaker communities had with presenting themselves as relevant, modern, and in-tune with the outside world in order to attract more participants. As such, the community is presented as a neighborhood that includes modern accommodations such as single-family homes and public school systems, so it does not seem too foreign for outsiders. These brochures will be distributed to recruit people when the group travels around the area to sell their produce. The rationale behind having traveling farm stands around the area is that it gives community members an opportunity to engage with outsiders in a fun, relaxed setting (also, it is a way of making a profit for the community).
The New Neighborhood would be open to anyone who wanted to join. The community would especially look to recruit people from Susanville or other prison towns–those who may feel that they need a break from a life revolving around the criminal justice system.
The rhythm of life would not be entirely dissimilar to a typical work day– adults go to work, children go to school. However, the types of industry that people would work out would be generally geared toward community bettering. Prominent places of work would be an environmental bettering agency, the school system, sustainable agriculture, fishing and consistent community upkeep. Community upkeep would generally be focused on keeping infrastructure updated and maintaining the sustainability plots within neighborhoods.
I would want for neighborhood units to be designed in a way that ensured everyone’s basic needs would be provided for. Central to each neighborhood would be a small community garden whose upkeep was a communal responsibility. The goal of making sure everyone’s needs are provided for and the focus on community upkeep in my society is to foster an overarching sense of inclusion. This sense of inclusion, I hope, would function against factors in American society that contribute to our impulse to isolate those who we see as criminal.
Manifesto and Broadside: