Work in progress

Top-Down/Bottom-Up: Rebuilding the Landscape of Community

Since 1984, I have organized much of my research and teaching around issues of poverty, race, and environmental quality.

My students and I have worked in real neighborhoods with real people to build real projects, we have had successes and failures and have made surprising discoveries. Now I plan to write Top-Down/Bottom-Up: Rebuilding the Landscape of Community, a book that describes this research-in-action, sets that work within the context of broader urban and environmental policy, and draws lessons for the theory and practice of city design and development. (I use the word landscape in its original sense in Old English and Nordic languages – the mutual shaping of people and place – to encompass both the population of a place and its physical features: its topography, water flow, and plant life; its infrastructure of streets and sewers; its land uses, buildings, and open spaces.)

When I meet someone who has heard me speak about the West Philadelphia Landscape Project, years later, it is the stories they remember. Often they will retell one of my stories and then describe what they took away from it and how they applied it in their own work. Stories will be at the heart of Top-Down/Bottom-Up. To prepare for writing, I compiled and sorted stories drawn from two decades. The book’s structure is emerging from the themes of these stories and the relationships among them.

In 2008, I received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to start writing this book.

To read an essay describing the West Philadelphia Landscape Project, see “Restoring Mill Creek: Landscape Literacy, Environmental Justice, and City Planning and Design.”

To see a video on the project, see below “You Just Don’t Leave Family”

To learn more, see wwww.wplp.net


The Eye Is a Door: Photography and the Art of Visual Thinking

To see is the linguistic root of idea; for me, it is the seed.

Photography is to seeing what poetry is to writing: a way of thinking, a disciplined practice that may produce insight, a condensed telling. Through photography, I try to discover what is there, hidden and real, to understand why and how things come about and to imagine what they might become. I want to inspire others to see the extraordinary in the everyday, to pause and look deeply at the surface of things, and also beyond that surface to the stories landscapes tell, to the processes that shape human lives and communities, the earth, and the universe and all who dwell there. That is what I hope to accomplish with the book. I’ve been working on it for almost ten years, alternating between photographing and writing, drawing out a narrative of images and words, and it is now just about done.

To look at photographs, see Anne Whiston Spirn, Photographer


For more works in progress, see my Field Notes.