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Historic American TownsSmall Coastal Atlantic Towns Offer Insight For Today's Town Planners And Architects

Dec. 8, 1999 -- Design that sustains community life is the thread that runs through more than 150 coastal towns from Canada to Southern Florida. That is one of the discoveries that a University of Virginia architecture professor made in research for a new book, "Historic American Towns Along the Atlantic Coast."

Warren Boeschenstein, a town planner and architect based at U.Va. examined nine of these small communities in depth: Castine and Kennebunkport in Maine; Edgartown, Mass.; Stonington, Conn.; Ocean Grove, N.J.; New Castle, Del.; Edenton, N.C.; Beaufort, S.C.; and Saint Augustine, Fla. These towns were restricted from growth by being bypassed by the transportation and industrial revolutions of the 19th century and today provide lessons in livable community design. Boeschenstein found that although each town has a different past, they all retain a human scale and pedestrian environment, and the natural landscape is incorporated in the town plan and is part of the town's environment.

Using more than 200 maps, drawings and photos in addition to interviews with community leaders, Boeschenstein chronicles the diversity of the physical and social characteristics of each town, looking at the changes in town planning and architecture over the past four centuries.

"While the towns' economics have changed, their physical patterns and relationships are still convenient and comprehensible," Boeschenstein said. "Their town plans connect home, work, public gathering places and natural environments, thereby offering a range of experiences and allow residents, often of different status, to encounter each other informally. These patterns, not as evident in many contemporary environments, contribute to the quality of community in these towns."

Many people are attracted to these towns as places to vacation and to live. The communities are not frozen in time but continue to be challenged by the threat of commercialization and the rising sea level. Traffic flow, parking, growth and development are constant issues. The competing economic and social forces foster different solutions in each town.

Beaufort, S.C. is one example of a successful solution. The town incorporated a waterfront park with diverse activities that reflect changing needs, including places to promenade, an outdoor theater and a marina.

Boeschenstein believes that town planners and architects have much to learn in the planning and design of new communities from the physical and cultural development of these towns.

"Historic American towns offer not a nostalgic and obsolete past, but time-honored traditions and perspectives from which to evaluate how we live," Boeschenstein said. "As new generations influence future development, they should continue to honor the wise concept of individuals living in human scaled communities in sympathy with the natural world.

For review copies of "Historic American Towns Along the Atlantic Coast" contact Mahinder Kingra at Johns Hopkins University Press at (410) 516-6939 or For interviews Boeschenstein may be reached at (804) 924-8921 or

Contact: Jane Ford, (804) 924-4298

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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