Monday, January 24, 2005

Undiscovered Places

In a region like ours, where fast food outlets, big box stores, and shopping centers have long since wiped away the boundaries between communities and taken much of their distinctiveness with them, there are people (probably legions) who are continually looking for not just a sense of place but for a sense of the undiscovered.

“Undiscovered” of course is in the eye of the discoverer. Block Island seemed undiscovered to us when we first went there, in 1987, and even though it is mobbed on a summer weekend, and an extremely modest house costs $1 million, it’s kept a sense of the undiscovered, or at least of the unspoiled (perhaps because it has resisted franchises and strip development). I spent a few days in Providence last October, and to me it seemed undiscovered, even though 170,000 people live there. And in a few weeks, we’re going skiing in a place that is as yet undiscovered by Americans, and although I might blog about it, I probably won’t mention its name (it would lessen the experience if I ran into hundreds of Sphere readers there next year).

I learned today about a book that came out in the spring of 2004 that not only talks about an undiscovered place, but announces it as thus: The Last Undiscovered Place, by David K. Leff.

Leff, a deputy commissioner at the Connecticut DEP, settled in Collinsville, Connecticut, on the Farmington River, about 16 miles from Hartford. According to this description, Leff wanted an affordable fixer-upper with some historical character, pleasant neighbors, good schools, walkable streets, and attractive natural surroundings.”

He found a village where the physical layout influences relationships between people:The small lots and public spaces, the corner stores and local bank help to ensure that citizens see each other frequently and have plentiful opportunities to learn each other's concerns and ideas and to discuss community issues. For Leff, building patterns don't make a community, but they can reinforce it.”

I haven’t read Leff’s book yet, but it sounds as if he has hit on what makes a community, in the human and physical sense. I can’t help but be reminded of Anthony Bailey’s book about Stonington, Connecticut, In the Village, published in 1971 and still worth reading.


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