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r 7 c c M 39 Loo3 L Lcd l 5171414 its ilk l39tt JOHN BRINCKERHOFF JACKSON The Almost Perfect Townquot H 9amp3 3 2 Landscape 1952 This may be copyrighted material Editors39 introduction John Brinckerhoif Jackson 19094997 can best be described as a historian of landscapes as physical cultural and conceptual artifacts To Jackson the landscape was neither wilderness nor rural nature quotout therequot but the totality of natural and built environments that simuloaneously surround and infuse all forms of human actiVity Jacks n taught for many years in schools of landscape architecture at Harvard and the UniverSity of California Berkeley He was the founder of the influentialjournal Landscape and Its editor from 1951 to 1968 He may be regarded as an heir to the nineteenthcentury French and English landscape gardening traditions and to the pioneering work of Frederick Law Olmsted p 314 and the American parks movement What sets him clearly apart from those traditional roots however is that for Jackson the urban landscape is not just a city39s parks public gardens official buildings and treelined boulevards but its highways its shopping malls its rundown warehouse districts its standardrbullt two bedroom houses and its slums as well Jackson sees these many elements of the builtslandscape not Just as physical objects but as social constructs full of meaning and moral implication it is hardly surprising then thatJ B Jackson39s approximate version or urban utopia 7 his almost perfect place is the commonplace vernacular Main Street environment of a typical American small town in quotThe Almost Perfect Townquot Jackson describes a semivmythical Optimo City that is located in the American Southwest but could Just as easily have been found almost anywhere in North America Europe Australia and even parts of Asia and Africa beyond the margins of the great metropolitan regions it is important that Optimo IS a small place Jackson observes that the world of Optimo City is still complete precisely because 39the ties between country and town have not yet been broken quot it is also important that Optimo has a history however slender that can be read in its architecture in the layout of its streets and in its traditional rivalry with Apache Center twenty miles awa Jackson uses his lowng elegiac description of Optima City as a way of criticizing developments in city planning after World War ll that threatened to destroy local communities in t e name of economic progress He compares Optimo s unexceptional Courthouse Square to the Spanish plazas and the great public squares of the Baroque era in that they all serve as sociall unit in communal centers And he with gamma some of Op 5 business lead mma parking lot and to repIEEEVEh t h evgpi alquot WEWW WT quot W man town mat Fete Ldlttiulpc p 35 i and other architects associated with the quotnew urbanismquot seek to recapture in pedestrian pocketsquot and related neetraditional designs Jackson s Optimo City provides a revealing snapshot of small town America in the 19505 before mass 39 h39 quot L 39 It renter lack nn iiiini ilr1 1 rt r I also represents a way of thinking about urban space that is timeless THE ALMOST PERFECT TOWNquot J B Jackson s The Almost Perfect Townquot and the following selection by Witold Rybczynski p 170 make a nice pair Rybczynski picks up nearly half a century after Jackson with a description of the effects that quot mquot mnhi39 A h w39 j i another small American city Review Jane Jacobs s critique of rigid automobilerbased planning p 106 for another defense of nacul ryurban evolution Among the best of J B Jackson s booklength studies and collections of essays are Landscapes Amherst University of Massachusetts Press 1970 American Space New York Norton 1972 Discovering the Vernacular Landscape New Haven CT Yale University Press 1984 The Necessity for Ruins and Other Topics Amherst University of Massachusetts Press 1980 and A Sense of Place A Sense of Time New Haven CT Yale University Press 1994 Also see the journal Landscape for additional writings by J E Jackson himself and for a continuing outpouring of articles exploring the meaning of landscape by academics and the architects urban planners and landscape designers Jackson inspired Books by Jackson s student and his successor at Harvard John R Stllgoe are Common Landscape of America 1580 to l 45 New Haven CT Yale UniverSity Press 1986 and Outside Lies Magic Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places New York39 Walker and Co 1998 Other books on vernacular architecture include Robert Venturi Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour Learning from Las Vegas The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Farm Cambrid e MA MlT Press 1972 Dell Upton and John M Vlach Common Places Readings in American Vernacular Architecture Atlanta University of Georgia Press 1985 Ronald W IIaase Classic Cracker Florida s WoodvFrame Vernacular Architecture Sarasota FL Pineapple Press 1992 John A Kouwenhoven Made in America The Arts in Modern Civilization Garden City NY Doubleday 1948 Thomas Carter edt Ima es of an American Land Vernacular Architecture in t 6 Western United States Albuquerque University of New Mexico Press 199 Jirn Heimann California may Roadside Vernacular Architecture San Francisco Chronicle Books 1981 Colleen Josephine Sheehy The Flamingo in the Garden American Yard Art and the Vernacular Landscape London Garland 1998 Fred E H Schroeder Front Yard America The Evolution and Meanings 0 a Vernacular Domestic Landscape Bowling Green OH Bowling Green State University 1993 John Chase Glitter Stucco and Dumpster Diving Re ections on Building Production in the Vernacular City London Veiso 1998 Bernard Rudolsk Architecture Without Architects A Short Introduction to Nonpedigreed Architecture Albuquerque University of New Mexico Press 1987 and Paul Oliver ed Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World Cambridge Cambridge University Press 1998 hi hadonm A Optima City pop 10733 alt 2100 through a rolling countryside devoted to grain a smaii rLse overlooking th ft e crops and cattle raising Thus would the state guide dispose of Opttmo more spirited topic if as such existed Optima City how ever is not one town it is a hundred or more 5 2 a 39c 11 sc cred across the United States from the Alleghemes to the Pacific most numerous west of the Mississippi and e location of a state Insane uytu t a sorg um proci g39 m n overall factory Annual County Fair an39d Cow boy Roundup Sept 4 The highway now passes Iiumu mm 163 164 J B JACKSON south of the Platte When for instance you through homa and e E n Mi ouri Optimo City is the blur of lling stations and motels you occasionally pass the solitary traffic light the limpse up a side street 0 an elephantine courthouse surrounded by aims and sycamores the brief congestion of mudspattered pickup trucks that slows you down before you hit the open road once more And fty miles farther on Optimo City39s identical twin appears 9 horizon and a half dozen more Optimos metropolis with its n ousing developments and factories and the cluster of downtown skyscrapers Optima City then is actually a very familiar feature of the American landscape But since you have never stopped there except to buy gas it mig t be well to know it a little better What is there to see Not a great deal yet more than you would at first suspect Optima being after all an imaginary average 5 r 33 395 5 lt E E m m n e es wha claims is the ey the gate But on the Whole Optimo City is half century ago before anyone had the historical sense to La e down his story And when the county seat was located in the town the name connotation to Optima townspeople will tell you quotI hope for the bestquot in La in What Optima is really proud of even now is is identity as county seat Sheridan County and you will do well to remember that it w named after the notorious Union general but after Horace Sheridan an early member of he of its team has st 1 shall presently come back to the meaning of that boast To get on with the history of Optima THE INFLEXIBLE GRIDIRON Aided by the state and Army engineers the city laid out located a square or public place in the center of the town an even ally they built their courthouse in the mi le of the cans ever seen Stree from the center of each side of the square being r a tangle of alders and tottonwoods near the river a d get lost Strangely enough this in exibility in the plan ts South Maquot some very pleasan resu in Street which leads from the sq ar down he iver w steep in e o d days for heavily The blacksmith and welder the hay and grain uppiy and finally the auction ring and die es39 market found South am the best location in town for their purpose wh39ch purpose being primarily dealing with outof rs and ranchers And i H E m 9 m t 0 time built at the foot of South the grain elevator and the stockyards were built the railroad The railroad spur w m m lant for processing bout 150 1 o m Hispa flimsy little ey ave for themselves houses under the cottonwoods and i m it 8 E D will break out first 0 all l se Latino shacksquot But they have Clone noth39 g 5 ye about providing them with better houses and probably never W l DOWNTOWN AND UPTOWN Depot market factories warehouses slum 4 these features combined with the fascination of the river bank and Stockyards and the assorted public of railroaders and Latinos and occasional ranch h have all given South Main a very de nite character W m 1 n v I a little disreputable Boys on the Cougar football Worden to stay away from South Main but they don 39t Actually the whole of Optimo looks on the section with indulgence and makes the townspeople feel that they understand metropolitan problems when they e South Main with the New York orth Main up on the heights beyond the Courthouse Square and past the two or three blocks of retail stores is on the other hand the very nest part of Optima The northwestern section of town with its treeshaded streets its view over the river and the prairie its summer quotTHE ALMOST PERFECT TOWN breezes has always been identified with wealth and fashion as O Limo understands them Colonel Ephraim Powell Confederate Army Ret m a a m U m y s 3 n 3 8 as 5 a m 3 quot3 O E brightest claim to aristocratic heritage is this grandfather came out West for his health New lan have its M h quot image of the delicate young College arrived by rai wi h is law books his set of Dickens his taste for wine and many one night stands in now vanished opera houses A WORLD IN ITSELF Wickedness a or the suggestion of wickedness at one end of Main af uence and respectability at the other How about Sheridan Street running East and West That is where you39ll find most of the stores in the rst four or ve blocks on either side of the Courthouse S uare They form a commercial graces of chr and artful window display all of them ugly but all of them pretty uniform and so metica a business sec 165 166 J B JACKSON all to be sure um any corner and you are at once in a residential area He e there is block after block of onestory fame houses with trees in from a d s wa k shop 0 eones back yard dirt roadway an if you 0 road a few blocks more 7 s y to 10th Stre t after that there are no r r with wisps of freshly cut alfalfa sickle b T City farmers are that much part of the town And lhe glimpse of the tractor like the glimpse of a deer or a fox driven out of the him by a heavy winter restores for a moment a feeling for an old kinsh39p h emed to have been well be in many ways the world of Optimo City is still complete The center of this world is Courthouse Every house has a tin roof porch extending over the sidewalk a sort of permanent awni which protects incidental conceals the motley of store windows and signs To wal Street under a succession of these galleries or metal awnings crossing the strips of bright sunlight between the roofs of different height is one of the deligth of Optima one of its amenities in the English use of that word You begin to understand why the Courthouse Square is such a popular part of town SATURDAY NIGHTS BRIGHT LIGHTS Saturday of course is the best day for seeing the full tide of h sell a truckload of grapefruit so that he can buy a truckload of cinderblor s to se i somewhere else Dogs 10yearold cowboys ring cap pistols at each other The air is iuu of pigeons oating candy wrappers the at strong accent erroneously called Texan All these people are here in the center of Optima for many reasons for sociability first of all for news for the spending and making of r relaxation 39m rie and wife n t services are established Here are the rms under local control and ownership those devoted cl oct rs dentists lnsur e if s e public stenographer the Farm Bureau Downstairs are the bank the prescription drugstore th news e paper of ce and of course Slymaker39s Mercantile and the Ranch Cafe i f INFLUENCE OF THE COURTHOUSE Why have the chain stores not invaded this pan Thepeco ecorth responsible The traditional services want to be near the courthouse as ey can and real estate values are gh The courthouse itself ito 5 th t t down use the place for parking and build a new a somewhere else hey have already had an n w courthouse to go at the ar end of Main Street a chaste mo e for a new courthouse when the old one is still quite evidently adequate and in constant us 7 e If you enter the courthouse you will be azed by two thin the horrifying archi Commissioner the School Board e A ri cultural A ent the Extension Agent Sanitary Inspector and usua y a rou of Federal agenciesas quotTHE ALMOST PERFECT TOWNquot war memorials and dribbling fountains of an American city from an 39 with t r m 91 5 1 mm 2 a n a B i consciousness has been divorced from everyday life put in a special zone all by itself Optima City has its zones but they are organically related to one anothec D ub less the time will never come that the square is studied as a work of art Why should it be Th t 15 the on a very countri ed level Still such a square as this has dignity and even charm The c arm is cour ouse a 6 square and from its peculiarly national character COMMUNAL CENTER The practice of erecting a public building in the center of an open place is in fact pretty y ept ree of construc lon an dings 4 Churches and palaces and lawv these squares to hey ere w usual public bull courts were located to face mand them r 95 of governmentquot Even the p ahs of off ca re tlr ome ampl interference in private matters just I in same an the cou house in spite of all the talk about county consolidation is a more important place than ev er As it is the ugly old building has conferred upon Optima a blessing which many larger an vy a center for a cwrc activx and a l for civic pride ome ing as different from de v1 centerquot as is from night Contrast the array ofc os x 0 Waste space ean 9 e5 te n cities such as Philadelphia and Reading and Savannah and Washington always left the square or public place intact Spanish America of course provides the best illustrations of all the plaza nine times out of ten is surrounded by public buildings but it is left free Yet almost every American town laid out after say 1820 sides and always as conspicuous as possible Why Why did these pioneer city fathers go counter to the taste of the past in this matter 168 Jr Br JACKSON One guess is as good as another Perhaps they that an open space was imp contained some prominent freestanding object n obelisk or a statue or a Lriumphal arch gt mericans went Europe one better and put he largest building in town right in the center of the square us the square ceased to be thought of in nineteenthcentury b merica as a v nt s ace it A and which was rapidly tiring of rallying around the meetinghouse or church all at on d a new symbol local representative government or r A good deal of agwaving resulted as European travelers have always told us an a goo eal of very poor quotre re sentationalquot architecture but Optimo acquire something to be proud of something to moderate that American tendency to think of every town as existing entirely for moneyrrnaking purposes SYMBOL 0F INDEPENDENCE At this Juncture the protesting voice of the Chamber of Commerce is heard One moment Before you nish with our courthouse you had ai Street were widened Optimo could attract many ew inesses catering to tourists and other transients restaurants and motels and garages and all sorts of driveein establishments In the continues the Chamber of Commerce timo has grown by twelv hundred Twelve hundred At that rate we39ll still m be a small town of less than twenty thousand in 1999 But if we had new businesses we39 grow fast and have better schools and a new hospital ities Or do you expect 0 time to 0 on depen ing ew undred tightr sted farmers nd ranchers for its livelihoodquot e v i now aking h emotio adds something about quoteliminatingquot South a eans of e bankme a cover leaf and picnic gro d iss under the cottonwoods r e un s for tour t where the Latinos still res d These suggestions are very sensible ones on the whole Translate them into more general terms and wtta i39t ey amoun to E l we r We goth quotBreak quot ome as massages and at weir enTote you fihi li k such a program you cannot very well deny that it has been successful for a large number of American towns Think of the hayseed munities which have suddenly found themselves sources of income a in r in a few years It is true that these towns put all their eggs in one basket that they are totally at t their control Bu local environment think of the excitement and the money Given the same circumstances e and the Southwest is full of surprises still 7 why should Optimo not do the same fr edom fr A COMMON DESTINY Because there are many different kinds of towns as 3539 a m o abject communi as exam le ih its stocky ds and i he paved street and Its very limited responsibility to the county as 3 might well become a boometown and no one would be worse off Optlmo seems to have a different destiny For almost a hundred 39rne in this part of the world it ranches not from the overall factory or from The ban ers and merchan sca since much farm business takes place in the town itself Now if Optimo suddenly became a year round tourist resort or the overall capital of the Southwest what would happen to that relation 1 you s e lt w e ment Corporationquot or the Li rrLE TOWN El LCOME 300 tourist beds which when empty for one night out of three threaten bankruptcy to half the town As 0 the present ptimo remains pretty h as it has been for the last generation The Federal Highway still bypasses the center what a roadbloc symbolieal as well as actual that courthouse is so if you want to see Optima the wa ertower or na as called Fairview State Rest Home an hideous high fence around it torn down The dirt Les quotTHE ALMOST PERFECT TOWN road eventually becomes North Main The old 5 ymaker place is still intact The Powell mansion d n s to 39 monstro 5 use an a onu ent S 0 here You ll n nothing of interest in the stores and no ar own a side street oint them out The historical society largely In the hands of ladies thinks of antiquity in terms of antiques and art as anything that looks pretty on the mantelptece The weather is likely to be scorching hot and dry with a wild ineffectual breeze in the l 5 mo ear t em talk you39d think they owned the town That39s about all There s the market at the foot of South Main the Latino shacks around the overall factory a grove of cottonwoods and the Apache River North Branch trickling down a bed ten times too bi and then the open country You may be glad to have left Optima behind 0139 you may have liked it and found it pleasantly oldfashioned Perhaps it is but it is in begin With there 15 another pt miles farthe on The untry is covered With em 1 hey are so numerous that it n eed sometimes seems as if OpLimo and rural America were one and indivisible 159