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Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0743235969
ISBN-10: 0743235967
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Architecture critic Rybczynski spent four and a half years observing the progress of New Daleville, a residential subdivision designed by one of his former students in a "neotraditional" style that builds houses close together on smaller-than-usual lots in order to foster a stronger sense of community. He is there to witness every stage of development, from the purchase of a large tract of land in rural Pennsylvania through meetings with local community leaders to get planning approval, to the moment when a family moves into one of the first completed units. The account is forthright about the difficulties New Daleville's creators face in making the project work, but Rybczynski (A Clearing in the Distance, etc.) remains optimistic that "the small lots [and] narrow streets... will all make sense" in the future. Occasionally, he provides historical and cultural perspective in a style reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell, debunking the myth of urban sprawl and explaining American homeowners' preference for single-family dwellings. But Rybczynski also excels at the "close-up," John McPhee's method of reporting, where every interview reads like an intimate conversation, and a simple walk down neighborhood sidewalks can reveal a wealth of history. This charming mixture of reportage and social criticism fits comfortably on the shelf next to David Brooks's On Paradise Drive. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Residential real estate development seems like an unlikely topic for a gripping read, and certainly Rybczynski can't be said to have produced a page-turner. But the author of The Perfect House (2002), among other books, and an architecture critic, most recently for Slate, brings considerable stores of knowledge, curiosity, and writing skill to this readable and at times even suspenseful book about a developer's process of building an exurban subdivision in rural Pennsylvania. In a style that is both digressive (he reviews land development patterns as far back as George Washington's day) and leisurely (including long quotes from sources in the manner of Tracy Kidder), Rybczynski follows the project through its conceptual stages, the politically tricky zoning permits process, and community approvals, to, finally, its finished state as a neotraditional "village" community. Along the way, we learn how land gets developed in the era of the new urbanism and pro- and anti-growth debates, and why so many Americans choose to live in suburbs (as opposed to denser city centers) despite often lengthy commutes. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (April 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743235967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743235969
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #811,826 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"The last harvest" refers to farmers who sell, and jealously covet their right to sell, portions of their farms to developers for housing developments. In his book Rybczynski, as the book's long subtitle makes clear, gives the reader a behind-the-scenes look at how one such tract of land became a neo-traditional rural development, New Daleville, Pennsylvania. Rybczynski writes in a level-headed style without any sense of alarm. There is no good guys/bad guys polarity here, just a lot of people trying to make a living (or find a decent and affordable place to live) in unpredictable economic situations without sacrificing the things they value most in community. If Rybczynski has a point of view other than that of an intelligent, informed social observer who has been writing about architecture and urban development for decades, he keeps it well in check. For readers looking for ammunition, this may be a disappointing read.

Many players are introduced--local farmers looking to sell their land, land developers, zoning boards, building contractors, banking and public officials, sanitation specialists, nearby residents, and potential buyers--but no personal profile dominates the story. They merely come in and out of view like passers-by on the much coveted sidewalks of the "village core" in one of the neotraditional garden exurbs Rybczynski describes. This superficiality made the book a little less interesting to me than his earlier books, like CITY LIFE and WAITING FOR THE WEEKEND, in which extensive historical background were provided, and left me craving more data. This kind of information is in the book (like a four page digression into the post-WWII Levittown phenomenon), it's just not as plentiful as this reader wanted.
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Format: Paperback
An impressive piece of work, which I read at two sittings. The review you want to read is Penelope Green's, at the New York Times -- I'll put the link in a comment, as Amazon won't allow outside links in their reviews.

Rybczynski writes a very nice portrait of the contemporary subdivision planning and building process, with the focus on a particular exurb near his home in Philadelphia. In the process, you'll learn a lot about the history of suburban living in America -- and perhaps unlearn some persistent misinformation from urban intellectuals who don't like the suburbs. Highly recommended.

Happy reading--
Peter D. Tillman
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Format: Hardcover
When this book focuses on the story of one development in Chester County (a suburb of Philadelphia), it is quite good. It is a breezy, easy-to-read story of how one developer views the zoning process.

Some of the things I got from this book:

*Chester County's suburbanites want to limit development as much as possible. As the author notes, "New houses mean extra cars, extra traffic at rush hour, more kids in the schools, and in the long run, higher taxes."

*As a result, Chester County's zoning board tends to favor low density development; the size of an average lot in Chester County increased from half an acre in the 1960s to an acre and a half in the 1990s.

*One reason housing prices are so high is that developers have to bribe local residents to get new development approved. For example, the developer profiled in this book had to buy neighbors' support by giving away 12,500 square feet of open space.

*In Chester County, the price of land has become a greater percentage than ever of housing prices, due to (according to the developer profiled in this book) zoning-induced scarcity. In 1976, the cost of a lot represented only 15% of a Chester County house's selling price- today, the cost of land represents 30% of the sale price.

*Contrary to conventional wisdom among property rights types, homeowners' associations and the restrictive covenants they enforce are not a result of free choice among consumers. According to the developer of New Daleville, "all our projects include community associations. The local municipal governments insist on it" so that the associations (rather than municipalities) will be responsible for the costs of street maintenance.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is good summer reading. Not junk, but not too taxing for the beach. Far more interesting than it sounds, it is a peek behind the scenes of the usually opaque world of land deals and zoning variances, with some American history and acrhitectural appreciation through in for good measure. It explains a lot about suburban why subdivisions are usually so grim and lifeless, and provides some hope that the future doesn't have to be just more of the same.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you work in a field related to real estate development, this is a great book to read. The author tracks the development of a small subdivision from initial planning to government permitting to final sales. All the while, he provides insight into the evolution of residential real estate sales in the US, and the varying perspectives of the main characters in the process. This is a great read for urban (and not-so-urban) planners. I highly recommend the book.
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