Communities of Experience

This article in today’s Times touches on a couple of recent memes: First, that in the pursuit of happiness, memorable experiences are a better investment than mere possessions; and, second, that people are seeking to find these kinds of experiences closer to home.  In a discussion of the retail economy, Ms. Rosenbloom writes:

Once upon a time, with roots that go back to medieval marketplaces featuring stalls that functioned as stores, shopping offered a way to connect socially, as Ms. Liebmann and others have pointed out. But over the last decade, retailing came to be about one thing: unbridled acquisition, epitomized by big-box stores where the mantra was “stack ’em high and let ’em fly” and online transactions that required no social interaction at all — you didn’t even have to leave your home.

The recession, however, may force retailers to become reacquainted with shopping’s historical roots.  “I think there’s a real opportunity in retail to be able to romance the experience again,” says Ms. Liebmann. “Retailers are going to have to work very hard to create that emotional feeling again. And it can’t just be ‘Here’s another thing to buy.’ It has to have a real sense of experience to it.”

We’ll have to wait and see whether the economic behavioral patterns that are now a reaction to bad times become abiding priorities that transcend the recession.  But the value of experience to individual happiness seems to be borne out by a fair amount of psychological research.  And there’s hardly a more important context for experiences than where one lives.  So, what are the implications of these realizations for town planning?  Is a neighborhood something that fosters experiences, or is it simply a collection of houses and apartments?