From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Sprawl. There are some words in the English language that are immediately self-defining. Sprawl is one. It instantly creates an image of careless growth with little regard for the integrity of the environ­ment, whether historic or natural.

Pennsylvania is now, unfortunately, considered one of the nation’s most spectacular examples of suburban sprawl. The cover story of a recent issue of Historic Preservation features a cornfield in Lehigh County being hemmed in by tract houses under construction. A proposal to build five superstores in Lancaster and Berks Counties has attracted national attention. In other areas experiencing rampant growth and development – among them Adams County, the Poconos and, of course, the suburban Philadelphia counties – the competing goals of promot­ing economic development and preserving open space are in sharp conflict.

Two new books offer thoughtful perspectives on the pressing problem of sprawl and its impact on the endangered environment.

Preservation Pennsylvania has sponsored Save Our Land, Save Our Towns: A Plan for Pennsylvania by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Thomas Hylton of Pottstown. A gifted journalist, Hylton has produced a concise and cogent analysis of the consequences of sprawl and offers well-reasoned approaches to address this complicated issue.

The second book is a definitive biography, J. Horace McFarland: A Thorn for Beauty, written by Ernest Morrison, and recently published by our agency. J. Horace McFarland (1859-1948) was often overshadowed by reformers of his day and generally has been neglected by historians. However, he is given well­-deserved credit for his role as a founder of the City Beautiful movement and advocate of the National Park Service (see “Bookshelf” in the winter 1996 edition).

Thomas Hylton knows, as did J.Horace McFarland, that solutions to the problems of unbridled and unmanaged growth are complex. Stronger legislation could allow local governments to establish land use plans and guidelines that would protect critical resources. The marketplace itself might provide some relief as home buyers seek out communi­ties with open space, dean air, historic architecture, biking trails, and hiking paths. McFarland once noted, “Where beauty is sacrificed the value of property is lost, the pride of a town is injured.”

Perhaps it is not too late.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director