Earlier this year, former Planning Commissioner Jane McWilliams asked me for good books on community planning and I opened the request to the Northfield blogosphere. Several people joined in the discussion. Kiffi Summa suggested Witold Rybczynski’s “Last Harvest”.
I had read his “City Life”, a history of American cities, and “A Clearing in the Distance”, a biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, and heard him lecture on his “Home”, a collection of essays on human comfort within built spaces. The other day Kiffi loaned me “Last Harvest” and I put on top of my “To-Read” list.
It was a worthwhile move. Rybczynski is an excellent author and he does an entertaining job of illustrating the dynamics between out-of-town developers and local citizens in the planning process. He is understanding, sympathetic, and, sometimes, gently critical of both sides of the equation: developer need for profit + citizen desire for standards = project built on compromise.
His comment about the power of the phrase “small town” in our country reminded me of the discussion coming out of the Public Input Gathering during the Comp Plan Revision Process. “In the United States the small town embodies a particular ideal of neighborly democracy, self-sufficiency, and independence.” Two-dimensional Land Use Maps just don’t adequately capture the values that shape the goals of citizen-based community planning for us Americans.
Tracy, you’d really get a kick out of the book. Here’s just one little teaser…
Tim Cassidy, a Planning Commissioner in Londonderry, Pennsylvania, speaking about new subdivision proposals: “We discuss environmental issues, runoff, the percentage of impervious cover, and other technical questions, but basically, nobody likes the way these new things look. Our half-baked solution is to insist that developers build landscaped berms around their projects, so we won’t have to look at them.”
The conversation continues. Tuesday night, September 18th, 7 to 9 pm, at the Armory.