Still towing the line…150 years later.

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Driving southward on Pennsylvania State Route 134, one encounters a run-of-the-mill rural intersection, indicated by the streetlight in the distance of the photo below.Doesn’t look like much, does it? If you get a little closer, it turns out it’s one of the most candid indicators of what may be the country’s most culturally significant interior …Read more…

An oasis and a bean-counter.

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The climate of the American high plains may not be completely desert-like, but the similarities are uncanny: relatively little rain or moisture in the air, a temperature that plunges at night throughout the year, considerable variation between summer and winter, but fiercely hot in the former. Many of these characteristics incidentally bespeak high altitudes more …Read more…

Electric neglected.

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On a serene stretch of Interstate 70 in western Maryland—west of Hagerstown but not yet to the point where the freeway veers sharply northward into Pennsylvania—it’s still possible in mid April to see some antiquated power lines that parallel the road, even as dusk approaches. The foliage isn’t yet thick enough, so there they are. …Read more…

Helping downtowns meet demand and save face.

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The façadectomy fan club hasn’t earned a lot of love over the years. Historic preservationists deride it because it cynically assumes that the only true value to a historic structure is the often three-foot-thick façade, while the remaining 99% of the building (not to mention everything that took place within it) is left to the …Read more…

Getting back from the groove.

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Sometimes the most well-intentioned and carefully planned initiatives still yield unexpected and undesirable results. I deliberately didn’t put too much thought into the above sentence; I wanted it to emerge as spontaneously and organically as possible, then to judge it afterward. In hindsight, I would only change one word: sometimes. Replace it with “usually”. (But …Read more…

When a street is not a road.

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My year and a half in Afghanistan working under the US Air Force confronted me with a new acronym almost every day. One of the bases for which I wrote a comprehensive plan required a “Glossary of Acronyms” in order to sort them all out, ballooning to several pages in length. It was exhausting. And …Read more…

A chip off the old bulb.

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Seven months after the announcement, it still seems like the largest municipal bankruptcy filing (at least up to this point) is the stuff of legend—the culminating event, after successive blunders.  The apex.  Or the nadir.  No doubt those of us living here are guilty of a degree of chauvinism as we experience how it plays …Read more…

A time of the signs.

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It should go without saying that a clear indicator of an effective sign is its ability to communicate its intended message.  Whether the sign’s intent is to advertise, to inform, or to admonish, it loses most of its power if its capacity to denote doesn’t come easily or quickly (and quickly nearly always translates to …Read more…

Not a fork in the road as much as a spoon.

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While it’s easy to derisively brand American suburbia as homogenous and essentially unchanging since it emerged as the preferred settlement pattern for the majority of Americans fifty years ago, we hardly need an intense study to see how much they’ve evolved since the postwar housing boom that began in the late 1940s.  In fact, this …Read more…