The Working Landscape: Founding, Preservation, and the Politics of Place

In his new book, “The Working Landscape: Founding, Preservation, and the Politics of Place” (MIT Press), Visiting Assistant Professor of Government Peter F. Cannavò focuses on the displacement and transformation of our landscape, the “crisis of place facing the United States.” He points out that “rampant development, unsustainable exploitation of resources, environmental degradation, and the commodification of places are ruining built and natural landscapes, disconnecting people from their surroundings and threatening individuals’ fundamental sense of place. Meanwhile, preservationists often respond with a counterproductive stance that rejects virtually any change in the landscape.”

According to the publisher, “Cannavò identifies this zero-sum conflict between development and preservation as a major factor behind our contemporary crisis of place. Cannavò offers practical and theoretical alternatives to this deadlocked, polarized politics of place by proposing an approach that embraces both change and stability and unifies democratic and ecological values, creating a ‘working landscape.’

“Place, Cannavò argues, is not just an object but an essential human practice that involves the physical and conceptual organization of our surroundings into a coherent, enduring landscape. This practice must balance development (which he calls ‘founding’) and preservation. Three case studies illustrate the polarizing development-preservation conflict: the debate over the logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest; the problem of urban sprawl; and the redevelopment of the former site of the World Trade Center in New York City. Cannavò suggests that regional, democratic governance is the best framework for integrating development and preservation, and he presents specific policy recommendations that aim to create a ‘working landscape’ in rural, suburban, and urban areas. A postscript on the mass exile, displacement, and homelessness caused by Hurricane Katrina considers the implications of future climate change for the practice of place.”


"As our impact on the land increases, we seem to be faced with a dilemma: to continue to found new landscapes and settlements, or to preserve old ones. In this far-reaching book, threaded through with illuminating and challenging case studies, Peter Cannavò shows us what a mistake it is to come down on one side or the other of this debate. Instead he makes a persuasive case for democratic engagement as the route to the effective integration of founding and preservation. This is how to create a truly working landscape."
Andrew Dobson, Professor of Politics, International Relations, and Environment, Keele University (U.K.)

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