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The Last Landscape

By William H. Whyte. Foreword by Tony Hiss

Publication Year: 2012

The remaining corner of an old farm, unclaimed by developers. The brook squeezed between housing plans. Abandoned railroad lines. The stand of woods along an expanded highway. These are the outposts of what was once a larger pattern of forests and farms, the "last landscape." According to William H. Whyte, the place to work out the problems of our metropolitan areas is within those areas, not outside them. The age of unchecked expansion without consequence is over, but where there is waste and neglect there is opportunity. Our cities and suburbs are not jammed; they just look that way. There are in fact plenty of ways to use this existing space to the benefit of the community, and The Last Landscape provides a practical and timeless framework for making informed decisions about its use.

Called "the best study available on the problems of open space" by the New York Times when it first appeared in 1968, The Last Landscape introduced many cornerstone ideas for land conservation, urging all of us to make better use of the land that has survived amid suburban sprawl. Whyte's pioneering work on easements led to the passage of major open space statutes in many states, and his argument for using and linking green spaces, however small the areas may be, is a recommendation that has more currency today than ever before.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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p. 1-1

title page, copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xi

If you are approaching The Last Landscape for the first time, you are in for a treat and a revelation: It is, simply, the best book ever published about urban sprawl and how to make it a thing of the past. The Last Landscape is fresh, brimming with hope, and bristling with suggestions so practical you will want to start weaving them...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-14

This book is about the way our metropolitan areas look and the way they might look. Its thesis is that they are going to look much better, that they are going to be much better places to live in, and that one of the reasons they are is that a lot more people are going to be living in them. Many thoughtful observers believe the opposite is true. They hold that not only is the landscape...

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2. The Politics of Open Space

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pp. 15-32

The less of our landscape there is to save, I have argued, the better our chance of saving it. I want to amplify this point by giving a brief account of how the postwar mess became so horrendous, and the action the mess finally prompted I will follow this up with a look at some of the conflicting...


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pp. 33-47

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3· The Police Power

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pp. 35-53

Saving open space is only part of the job, but it is as good a way as any to come to grips with the basic problems of shaping metropolitan growth. For all the host of methods, the essential technical question boils down to this: To what degree can we use the police power to order better land use-and to what...

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4. The Fee Simple

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pp. 54-77

The best way to save land is to buy it outright-or in legal parlance, buy the fee simple. There are a lot of other ways to save land short of outright purchase, and later I am going to go into them in some detail-in particular the ancient device of the easement. It is obvious, however, that if there...

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5· Easements

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pp. 78-101

In discussing gifts and purchases of land, we have been talking largely of the fee-simple acquisition. This is the clearest and surest way to save land, but it can take us just so far. The number of landowners who can afford to give away their land is limited, and though more should be walked up the...

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6. The Tax Approach

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pp. 102-117

Many people believe that the real key to open-space preservation is not to be found in zoning or in buying land or rights in land. The best way to save open space, they believe, is to take some of the tax pressures off the people who own it. The approach they recommend is "preferential assessment" and...

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7. Defending Open Space

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pp. 118-132

Once land is secured, how can it be kept secured? Thanks to new federal and state programs, we are saving open space at a greater rate than ever before. Unfortunately, thanks to other state and federal programs, at an equally growing rate we are losing open space we already saved-to highways, cloverleafs, dams, sewage plants, post offices, commercial...


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pp. 133-147

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8. The Year 2000 plans

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pp. 135-151

I have been talldng about ways and means of saving open space. Now let me tum to the question of what open spaces should be saved and how the choosing of them should be done. One would think this would be the easy part. It is not. Planners now see open space as a key to the design of regions and the process of selection has become a technically formidable...

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9. The Green Belts

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pp. 152-162

The most ambitious eHort that has been made to apply the containment principle is the London Green Belt. How it has worked out is a matter of considerable relevance for us. Most of the regional designs now being worked up for our metropolitan areas borrow heavily from English theory. The New Town and green belt concepts were not only pioneered in England...

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10. Linkage

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pp. 163-181

To point out the dangers in the broad-brush approach to open space is not to argue for small spaces instead of big spaces. Both kinds are needed, and we certainly should try to get as many big open spaces as we can. I do not know of any local government that has acquired too much open space, and the danger that any will acquire too much seems rather remote. The danger is that we will not get...

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11. The Design of Nature

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pp. 182-196

Instead of laying down an arbitrary design for a region, I have been arguing, it might be in order to find the plan that nature has already laid down. One way would be to chart all of the physical resources of the region-especially its drainage network-and see what kind of picture emerges. The approach sounds ridiculously simple, but in the few instances where it has...


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pp. 197-211

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12. Cluster Development

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pp. 199-223

We have been considering ways of saving open space. Now let us turn to the question of how to develop it There is a conflict, to be sure, but you cannot grapple with one problem and not the other. People have to live somewhere, as it is so often said, and if there is to be any hope of having open space in the future, there is going to have to be a more efficient...

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13· The New Towns

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pp. 224-243

The next step, many people believe, should be the building of whole new towns. Better big subdivisions are not enough, they say; what we should do is carry the cluster concept to the ultimate; group not only homes, but industrial plants, hospitals, cultural centers, and create entirely new communities. These would not only be excellent places in their own right; together, they...

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14· The Project Look

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pp. 244-259

I have been arguing that the building of seH-contained new towns is not a very good way to expand the metropolis. This is not to argue against building more and better large-scale developments and "planned communities." We are going to get them in any event. The trend is unmistakably toward the large-scale approach in land assembly and development, and it is...

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15· Play Areas and Small Spaces

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pp. 260-270

In visiting various housing developments, I have been puzzled by a curious fact about children's play areas. The children seem to play somewhere else. Developers and architects have repeatedly assured me that this could not be so. Often they have pointed to awards given for the excellence of the design; they have shown me stacks of house photos of the play areas,...


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pp. 271-285

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16. The plan of the Landscape

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pp. 273-282

In the preceding chapters I have discussed two parts of the landscape- open space and developed space. Now I want to turn to the effect of the two together-the landscape as people perceive it. This is not to be comprehended by maps or models or tables of acreage figures. Open space, for example, and the effect of open space are not quite the same, and while the...

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17. Scenic Roads

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pp. 283-299

Since the landscape, for all practical purposes, is what we see from the road, it would seem to be good that the government has been considering a multibillion dollar program for a vast new system of scenic roads and parkways. Whether or not it will be passed is highly conjectural at the moment, and other programs that have recently passed are of more immediate consequence. Before taking these up, however, a hard look at...

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18. Roadsides

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pp. 300-315

The first thing is to get rid of billboards. There is no need to take up the various subsidiary arguments against them. They are a desecration to the landscape and that is reason to be done with them. What is of moment is that Americans have been coming around to this elemental view, and so have the courts. For years the courts used to advance all sorts of reasons but the basic one to uphold billboard regulations. Now the courts are...

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19· Townscape

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pp. 315-328

By now we should be approaching the entrance of the city. But where is it? The most frustrating part of U.S. cities is getting into them, or knowing when we have. Suburbia is behind us but the scene continues as before; used car lots, diners, borax furniture stores, gas stations, and gas stations, and gas stations. It is not just the blight but the interminability...

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pp. 329-343


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20. The Case for Crowding

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pp. 331-347

The net of what I have been saying about landscape action is that we are going to have to work with a much tighter pattern of spaces and development, and that our environment may be the better for it. This somewhat optimistic view rests on the premise that densities are going to increase and that it is not altogether a bad thing that they do. It is a premise many...

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21. The Last Landscape

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pp. 348-354

In putting the case for higher density, there is one argument I have not made: that by putting more people on developed land, more land will be left undeveloped, i.e., that we can have more people and more open space. It is a tempting proposition, and in theory it could be true. In practice the prospect seems quite unlikely. Let me be consistent: If we are to seek...


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pp. 355-363


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pp. 364-376

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208504
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812217995

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • City planning -- United States.
  • Metropolitan areas -- United States.
  • Greenbelts -- United States.
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