Beatley, Timothy. Native to Nowhere: Sustaining Home and Community in a Global Age.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: van Vliet, David
Pub Date: 06/22/2007
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2007 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2007 Source Volume: 16 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Native to Nowhere: Sustaining Home and Community in a Global Age (Book)
Persons: Reviewee: Beatley, Timothy
Accession Number: 179315109
Full Text: Beatley, Timothy.

Native to Nowhere: Sustaining Home and Community in a Global Age.

Washington D.C.: Island Press, 2004.

xiv + 392 pp.

ISBN: 1-55963-914-8

There is a long history of scholarship, research and writing about "place". Place is immediate, known and lived in; where we are directly involved. At their core places represent the landscapes, spaces and environments to which we attach meaning, as essential for a meaningful life. Creating sustainable places must acknowledge the many influences about place and bring these to the surface.

This book is about place as a counterbalance to forces of globalization and sameness, providing a practical examination of the concepts of place and place-building in contemporary life. The author, Timothy Beatley, is Professor of Sustainable Communities at the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia. This title builds in particular on two earlier works, Green Urbanism (2000) and the Ecology of Place (1997) (also from Island Press). Place making (or as the author prefers 'place building') is a process he believes we can--and should--all be engaged in.

The book is organized into thirteen chapters. The first two introduce the rationale--and need--for 'place', presenting a good summary of 'place' concepts and the literature on place and place building. Chapter three accounts for the importance of history and heritage in providing a sense of place. Chapter four ('Tackling Sprawl') confronts the predominant and persistent patterns of development, proposing alternative approaches to community design and relationships to sustainability and place.

The next seven chapters frame these approaches under distinct and diverse topics: chapter five focuses on the role of natural environments in relationship to place; chapter six looks at pedestrian places and the need for a cultural shift away from mobility; chapter seven considers the role of art and celebration in building place; chapter eight explains the need for experiential education about built environments, in schools, and about landscapes, infrastructure and buildings; chapter nine calls for ways and institutions of sharing, supporting interpersonal contact and reliance; chapter ten points out the need and benefits from multigenerational communities; chapter eleven considers the centrality of energy conservation and innovation in more sustainable community building; and chapter twelve shifts to consider the need for a 'new politics of place', that requires inclusion, collaboration and coalitions, leadership, global-local connections in communities, and citizenship. The final chapter calls for strengthening places through forming--and renewing--commitments to them.

As may be seen in the above summary, the book's organization is not self-evident or explained, and changes in chapter topics are abrupt. While Beatley's book is ambitious, covering a lot of territory and introducing the reader to many diverse issues and ideas, his approach is a very practical one, drawing from years of observation and documentation of innovative leading practices and strategies occurring in cities and communities in North America and Europe.

The thematically-arranged project summaries, are, by necessity, brief. He also refers to some of these practices more than once, drawing upon different dimensions to address a given theme as required. But they are not highly critical, and the reader must be willing to accept Beatley's quickly-stated findings as given. For example the BedZed project (near London) is referred to in four different places, but in none of these is its lower-than-expected performance mentioned. This requires the reader to piece together a portrait of a project from its various aspects as portrayed in different parts of the book. It is best the reader notate the examples of interest and follow up using other sources (some listed in the references) to learn more about the case and its particular relevance to situation at hand.

The American literature on sustainable community planning and design has tended to be myopic, but Beatley brings many international examples of practice to wider attention. While this draws from international sources, the comparisons that are made and recommendations are directed to the US audience. Three Canadian locales of innovative practice are referred to: Vancouver primarily for its Livable Region Plan and Downtown First housing at False Creek; Chemainus (Vancouver Island) for its mural celebration; and Toronto for lost river walks, chemical free program, transit, etc.

One important weakness of the book is that these examples are discussed largely in isolation of their political and financial contexts. While there are occasional references to explanatory factors--such as the requisite national programs for innovation, the context of regional planning, the tax basis for project financing, and the leadership by knowledgeable and committed politicians and officials--these are not emphasized.

Place making, community building and sustainability are presented here as essential, complimentary and reinforcing. The book is hopeful: it documents, describes and evaluates a wide variety of strategies and ideas that can help move us toward commitment to place. For Beatley, this implies a slowing down to know one's territory, and a reconception of our predominant notions of home. Individuals must recognize their broader ecological sphere and their responsibilities for direct participation in, and affirmation of, where they live.

Beatley's work recognizes the difficulties in redefining progress and cultural attitudes about what constitutes a good and meaningful life. Becoming a people culturally native to where we live, in the face of the seemingly unrelenting forces of sameness and generality is a daunting issue, but as Beatley ably points out, many small steps are certainly possible. In advocating structures and opportunities for meaningful participation, the need for community volunteering and community and political engagement, Beatley makes a valuable and accessible contribution to the literature on sustainability.

Recommended as a reader in courses on sustainable communities, and as a source book for examples of practice with which instructors and most students would not yet be familiar.

David van Vliet, PhD, MCIP

Department of City Planning

University of Manitoba
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.