THE EXPERIENCE OF PLACE by Tony Hiss

THE EXPERIENCE OF PLACE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Just as ""environment"" became a household word only when alarm over environmental deterioration became widespread, so our personal surroundings become an express concern only when some change makes us feel a sense of loss. Today more and more people have that feeling of loss, says Hiss (Laughing Last, 1977) in this felicitously conceived book on how people experience place and how a new conjunction of ""relevant professionals"" (planners, architects, psychologists, and others) is working to provide agreeable landscapes that foster ""connectedness"" in the context of inevitable development. Hiss takes readers through a slow-motion replay of three positive experiences of N.Y.C. places: navigating a bustling Grand Central Terminal concourse with its alert, efficiently moving crowd; following a certain path through a tunnel into Brooklyn's Prospect Park; and approaching the last remaining farm in Flushing, Queens, now reduced to two acres but still a prominent ""working landscape"" appreciated by its neighbors. The importance of such ""sweet spots,"" Hiss shows, is being confirmed by findings that people have a need for elements of rural landscape and that we work, learn, and heal better in pleasant and natural surroundings (for example, with a view of trees from a hospital window). Measures to address these needs can be as small as the placement of entrances to a vest-pocket urban park or as ambitious as establishing a regional network of parks, greenbelts, and farms adjacent to dense urban centers. Hiss is encouraged by a new regional focus in planning, and he cites strategies such as clumping new development to preserve public open space--the direct opposite of one-and-two-acre zoning that spreads out private units. Hiss' exclusive focus on solutions that accommodate all parties can be lulling, and his planners and public officials appear to have no agenda other than providing public views and tranquil landscapes. But he makes a point of naming programs and places, and--just by highlighting considerations now routinely dismissed in the rash for profit and promised revenue--he helps support and legitimatize these more human planning priorities.

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 1990
Publisher: Knopf