|Bastides: New Urbanism in 13th Century France|
Transcript of John Reps presentation to Council IV, Santa Fe, NM
Transcription by Jason Miller (independent)
October 18, 2002
[View the pdf]
“…Most people know 13th century France as the era of the great cathedrals…far fewer persons have heard of, and fewer still have seen… the new towns created in wholesale quantities in the southwestern part of the country.…”– John Reps
A small personal anecdote that I would like to introduce [John Reps] by: In 1972, after I finished my studies in architecture and urban planning at Princeton University, thoroughly confused, I headed west on a teaching job as a lecturer at the University of California. The last day I was on the east coast, and while my car was fully packed for a trip across the country, I ran into the Princeton University Store to buy a couple of books for the road and I ran across John Reps’ The Making of Urban America. A comprehensive, extraordinary book, it was too expensive for me to buy—I think it was $100 or $70—some prodigious amount of money in the early ’70s. But the copy I found was waterstained, and I was able to buy it for $10.
It changed my life. I became an urbanist someplace between the east coast and the west coast. Since then, John’s work has been a constant point of reference.
In a more generalized sense: As professionals we are children of divorce, of professions that are highly compartmentalized and atomized, but no profession has suffered worse than the profession of urbanism, which has virtually dissolved in our lifetime, principally because it was a profession that was composed, historically, of generalists. In our lifetime—I’m approaching the ripe old age of 60—in our lifetime, and probably for at least the last 50 years, the number of people who have carried on the cause of academic urbanism can be counted on the fingers of one hand. One can think of Jane Jacobs, of Scully, of William White, and John Reps stands proudly among this very, very small group of people. We’ve tried to have him be with us many times; I guess we pressured him long enough to decide to come! He is one of our heroes, as new urbanists. He is one of the people who, with his extraordinary number of books—more than 15, I would imagine—has addressed the process of urban growth and the representation of urban growth throughout the United States. He has made us aware of both the richness of the heritage, and the challenge of urban redevelopment that awaits us all. His style of writing and the extraordinary clarity of his work has been also a remarkable point of reference.
It is with great, great pleasure that I introduce John Reps to you. He speaks to us today on the bastides, but I hope that we can persuade him to come to every Council and to every Congress from this point on. Thank you, John, for coming.
Benjamin Disraeli, the British Prime Minister at one time, described the three degrees of falsehood: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Now, I would add to that dotcom business plans, university catalog course descriptions, and introductions of the kind you just heard!
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Before I talk about bastides, I’m going to contribute to this program running off-schedule a bit more. I was absolutely fascinated by the sessions this morning; let me tell you why. In a previous life—if you know me, you know me as a planning historian—but in a previous life, beginning 60 years ago, when I had my first planning job, I was deeply involved in regulations of land use. Fifty-five years ago, I drafted my first zoning ordinance. During that period, when I was both teaching at Cornell and also doing consulting, I suppose it was two dozen or more zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations, mobile home park regulations, and for 20 years I taught a course in planning law at Cornell University. You can all now say I’m one of the guys who caused you all the problems, I suppose.
But I want to tell you that I was one of the young Turks, because, starting about 35 years ago—well, starting well before then, there was a growing disillusionment on my part with the efficacy of zoning and other kinds of public regulations as devices for achieving plans. I used to use the metaphor that it’s like trying to drive a Greyhound bus with a Volkswagen engine.
In a paper that got widely reprinted and referred to—which you’re all too young to remember, or most of you are, or, if you’re old enough, you’ve forgotten about it—35 years ago, at a meeting of the American Society of Planning Officials (ASPO), the predecessor to APA, I gave the Pomeroy Memorial Lecture. The title of that was “Requiem for Zoning.” At the time, it was regarded as a very hard-hitting criticism of zoning, and the beginnings of a suggestion of some different kind of way of achieving plans.
Two years later, I did another paper at an ASPO conference, called “American Planning: Requiem or Renaissance?” in which I described a system rather different from the approach that you are taking, which I thought was a way of achieving plans—whether new or old urbanism—and it occurs to me that many of you may not have seen those. I would be glad to make copies available to the management, and if you wanted to distribute those, I would be delighted. And I would welcome your comments and criticisms about that.
Now let me get on to the subject that I’m talking about, which has very little to do with codes and ordinances, so we’ll bill this as an entertainment!
We’re meeting in a town, as you all know, that was planned to conform to the new urbanism of its day. There were hundreds of towns like this—not so many in the United States, but in Mexico, Central America, and South America—that were supposed to follow the town planning provisions of the Laws of the Indies, the laws proclaimed by King Philip II in 1573. And, like today’s codes and ordinances, which you’re here to discuss, these laws were rarely followed exactly. This is no exception: It was not followed exactly, but they did create a distinctive urban pattern that makes them readily distinguishable and identifiable throughout Latin America.
We are four centuries removed from the planning of Santa Fe, from the birth of this town. Roll back the hands of time to four centuries before Santa Fe, and you come to another period of wholesale town planning. This was taking place throughout Europe. There were thousands of new towns planned in the 12th and 13th and the first half of the 14th century, in Spain, France, Italy, England, Wales, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, and even in Transylvania, where I was surprised many years ago, and immensely pleased that one of these new towns is named “Reps.” So I guess I’m genetically programmed to deal with this kind of subject.
It’s the French contribution that I want to talk to you about. It is still ill-appreciated, but it’s an extraordinary period of rapid urbanization that I’ve been studying off and on since 1946, and quite intensively during the last five years.
Most people know 13th century France as the era of the great cathedrals: Chartres, Rouen, Reims, Paris—no one visiting Paris for the first or 50th time fails to get to one of these places or more, to visit them and to realize how much they testify to the religious faith of the population, the imagination of the master builders who designed them, and the craftsmanship of those generations of builders who actually made them into reality.
Far fewer persons have heard of, and fewer still have seen, another French achievement of the 13th century: These are the new towns created in wholesale quantities in the southwestern part of the country. Now there, it was not religion and fine craftsmanship—that played only a minor part. Instead, the founders and the builders of these towns were concerned with political and military power, with trade and commerce, with population growth, and with land values. It sounds very much like today. The builders of these towns were, in effect, the 13th century land developers. And as both cause and consequence of the interplay of these and other diverse forces, several hundred planned new towns came into existence in this rather small area of southwestern France. They were in that rather small area that you see outlined in red, and then the map on the right shows the locations of them by the symbols I’ve produced. Here is a red line; here is Bordeaux; here is Toulouse—so it’s this very small area in southwestern France.
There was an English scholar, some years ago, who wrote an article about the bastides. In the course of that article, [he said], “When you have sampled half a dozen or so bastides, you have no real need to pursue your travels any further, since they are all very much alike.”
Well, now, let’s look at these drawings. This seemed to me very much like saying that once you’ve heard one Mozart symphony, you don’t need to listen to another! There is a family resemblance, but look at the variety. It’s not the sameness of the bastides, it is the variety within a common framework. And each of these displays a distinctive combination of houses, shops, churches, market buildings.
To understand where and how they came into existence, look at these maps of France at the end of the 13th century. On the left, highlighted in yellow, is the very limited area that was controlled by the king of France. That’s the area where they owned the land and where they had control. The much larger territory, controlled by the English crown, that’s this whole area here; half of all France was under the control of the English at that time. There were also several French counts—such as the Count of Toulouse, who we’re going to be concerned with—who were far more powerful than the king of France. This was the center of civilization in France, not the French court up there in Paris. It was the court of the Count of Toulouse, down in the city of Toulouse.
There’s a peculiarity here about the English domain. Although it belonged to the English crown, the king of England was the Duke of Aquitaine, and as Duke, under feudal law, was a vassal of the king of France. Kind of an uneasy relationship, as you might imagine. But the French court was far away, and it was the English Dukes of Aquitaine and the counts of Toulouse who were contending for power in the region. And the boundaries for these two domains underwent all kinds of changes, as you see on that slide on the right: It got bigger; it got smaller; it got bigger; it got smaller.
This landscape—this political landscape—was changed by the Albigensian Crusade. That was a terrible event that began in 1208, when the Pope called on the king of France to stamp out Catharism, a heretical religion (according to the Roman Catholic Church) that was very widespread in southwestern France and was supported by the Count of Toulouse and the viscounts of this and that, in some of these “minor league” kingdoms down here, these smaller domains along the northern slopes of the Pyrenees.
That eventually brought a crusading army down from the north. It wasn’t just French; it was Germans and lots of other people, who listened to the Pope. This was really the first step in a campaign to secure royal control of the County of Toulouse, and, eventually—and they did succeed—totally remove the English from French soil.
The war ends; people were slaughtered; it was a bloody, bloody event. And it is still remembered in the southwest. Many people regard this as a sneaky device for the king of France to insert himself and his kingdom into the southwest. Indeed, that is exactly what happened.
So now, what has occurred, by a treaty in 1229 that brought that bloody war to a close, it brought a good part of the County of Toulouse directly under the French Crown—that’s this area in red. So the County of Toulouse is now much smaller; it doesn’t have direct access to the Mediterranean; and its former—I think this map is incorrect in that it shows it blobbing over the Rhone River; actually, that was a thing of the past, by this treaty—and there was another feature of this treaty. It specified that the daughter of the Count of Toulouse was to marry one of the king’s sons, and, therefore, would bring all of the County of Toulouse under the French Crown. So that, now, has changed the two-party balance of power. Now we have three parties down there. And the officials of these contending powers saw that creating new towns—the bastides—populated by prosperous residents, loyal to their founders, could become important weapons in the struggle for regional supremacy.
So bastides thus became a kind of pawns in a regional chess game. It was a chess game that involved real kings and queens and bishops and knights.
So now we have the new Count of Toulouse, Raymond II, left with a much-reduced domain, and wanting to develop it and find new sources of revenue. He made the first move when, in 1222, he founded this town, Cordes. You can see from the slide on the right what the derivation of this elliptical plan on the left is. This is a wonderful town; it is the first bastide I saw, in 1951. My wife and I were driving along this road, came through this valley, looked off to the right, and said, “Jesus Christ, what is that? Let’s go!”
So we went up there and we spent the night in a tiny little hotel. We came back many years later, for a night. By that time, Cordes had become an artists’ center; prices were way up there; every shop was—it’s Santa Fe, in France! But it is still a wonderful place to visit.
Here is a clear case of a bastide that was founded for military use. But I want to tell you that neither that purpose, nor its informal street plan, is typical in the bastides. This is kind of a “one off.” The hundreds of others—and estimates run to as much as 500; it’s safe to say 300; my guess is about 400 of these towns—were planned during that period.
The young count realized that these new towns could provide income. How did he get his income? From rents. From fines. From tolls. From taxes. And these would provide funds to rebuild and to help govern his devastated domain. So he created about two dozen of the bastides—the one you see on the dot map on the left. And in doing so, he pioneered site acquisition methods and ways to attract settlers that others would follow—I’ll explain that in a moment.
Then his successor as count, Alphonse de Poitiers, who was the brother of the French king—he had married Raymond’s daughter as that treaty had provided—he played a central role in founding bastides. You can see his work on the right: about 50 bastides during his 20-year reign.
Then, at his death in 1270, all of the county of Toulouse became part of the royal domain. Regional representatives of the French crown—officials known as seneschals—continued the Alphonsian program of wholesale town founding, and from 1270 to 1374, they dotted the region with these green dots that you see here: some 70 bastides. And then, on the right, we have another 70 bastides coming from the English Crown, chiefly in the reign of Edward I.
And that’s not all, because there were counts and viscounts of these smaller kingdoms down in the Pyrenees, who were also busy doing the same thing: developing land in order to get income. The rules of Foix and Béarn were especially active; they created 20 new communities. And at least six of these were sponsored by a woman, Marguerite-Mathilde, who was the Countess of Foix-Béarn. There were at least two other woman who were bastide creators: Eleanor of Provence and the Viscountess Constance de Marsan. And there are probably others that I don’t know about, but at least, I would say, a dozen of these were created by women rulers of these various domains.
You see the cumulative result of what is almost an orgy of new town founding during this period.
These founders were pursuing a number of objectives. All of them needed money; bastides offered a cheap and easy way of increasing revenues. They got rents, taxes, tolls, fines, charges for the use of seigneurial-built ovens or mills or, sometimes, a ferry or, very occasionally, a bridge toll. That provided a reliable income stream. And the development costs were very small, because, as I’m going to explain in a moment, there were other people who usually provided the land.
Further, by concentrating population, the counts and the kings increased land values as houses and shops were being built, the forests and wastelands were cleared; they became farms and vineyards. Property values were going up. And there were weekly markets and occasion fairs in each of these towns; these also brought in revenue. And finally, there was certainly the motivation that, from presumably happy and settled and prospering citizenry, the founding lord could expect a considerable measure of political loyalty and, perhaps, in case of military conflict, even some support.
The massive gates that you see over here, and walls of a bastide called Domme, that clearly identifies a bastide built like Cordes, for military purposes. There were some of these. But such bastides, contrary to what is, unfortunately, in a lot of literature, were in a minority. Initially, most bastides were protected only by a palisade and a ditch. If walls were built, they were usually less elaborate, like the ones on the right, and then, the fact that many bastides do have elaborate walls and gates and towers—that came much later, during the 100 Years War between France and England—and then, even later, the wars of religion. And at that time, massive walls and fortifications were, indeed, built at some of the bastides. But that was not the original plan. Most of them were primarily money-making, land-development operations.
There’s another thing: The three major powers of the region—king, duke, and count—were also using bastides to reduce the influence of local feudal lords. If they could build a bastide that would draw the population away from these local lords, that would reduce the power of this local feudal group. So it’s a move toward more centralization of power.
What were the steps in bastide creation? The obvious first requirement was the site. Some of them, like Cordes and Domme, were placed on mountaintops. But most of them can be found in less formidable locations, like you see on the left. Or, along rivers: Many of them were built along rivers or in valley lands—fertile land. And if, as was usual, the favored location belonged to another, the founding noble lord then sought an agreement with the owner. The owner could have been a local lord, either secular or religious, because much of the land in this area was owned by Cistercian abbeys, and the Cistercians were very active in wanting to increase bastide development, because that was a way that they could make some money and help support the abbey and the monasteries.
In exchange for the land that the landowner would provide, the lord—the powerful figure—would confer privileges and freedoms needed to attract the settlers and would guarantee protection for the new town. So that was the trade-off. The incentive for the landowner was usually a share—almost always half—of the expected revenues. That agreement was called a contrat de paréage—we’d call it a partnership or a joint venture, I suppose. That contract sometimes specified lot size and how land would be distributed. You can regard this as a code, if you like. Some of them defined the rents to be charged, stipulated how many house lots and farms and vineyards were to be created. Many charters established a time limit—usually one year—for the new settler to begin work on their dwelling and complete construction of at least the ground floor.
That contract was only the first step in bastide development. To create and promote a new bastide—how many of you can read medieval Latin? Hands? Let’s not see the same hands all the time!
You needed a charter of rights and privileges from the powerful lord. It was called a charte de coutumes, which gets translated, sometimes, as the “charter of customs”—well, that doesn’t mean much. It’s the “charter of rights and duties. The one you see on the right, strangely enough, is in the rare book library of Columbia University. I don’t know what archive in France got looted at what time, but anyway, it is there. That’s in medieval Latin—no one can read it—I picked that image off the Internet, so you know it can’t be read.
Here is the charte de coutumes. That required the founder to specify, often in considerable detail, the rights and privileges of life in the new town. It usually stated what taxes and rents and other charges would be levied, so that was known by prospective settlers. And it itemized all kinds of other regulations and restrictions. It almost always provided for the selection of a local council—really the first time, at least in rural areas, for a measure—not very powerful, but a measure—of local self-government, although subject to approval by the lord’s bailiff.
There was a very important section that exempted the residents from many or all feudal duties. Another clause authorized weekly markets and occasional fairs, established fees that outsiders would have to pay if they wanted to sell objects in the bastide marketplace. And some charters listed the improvements that the sponsors would build, such as a market shelter, or a bakehouse, or gates, or a bridge, perhaps (rather rarely), or a church. In some charters—here were are again on codes—define the width of various categories of streets, the size of town lots to be provided each resident; those charters almost always allowed residents—unlike any other feudal regulation—to bequeath property as they wished. It usually reduced or eliminated altogether obligations to perform military service. It listed the fines and other penalties for various kinds of crimes.
Most important, however, was the offer of a house lot, a kitchen garden, and a farm or a vineyard. The settlers had to pay an annual ground rent for the site, but the houses, the shops, the farm buildings that they built belonged to them. Here are serfs, working on some feudal domain, who now become homeowners with rights and privileges, participating in a local government.
With very few exceptions, almost all of the town lots were the same size, so everyone had an equal chance for success. You can see the kind of module, here; by the way, for new urbanists, these were all mixed-use dwellings. The shop was on the ground floor, residence on the second floor.
These provisions, these rights and privileges, were necessary to attract new residents in sufficient numbers to make the bastide a success. But there’s something of a paradox, here: These noble founders of bastides may not have fully realized the consequences of their actions, because in guaranteeing these rights and privileges, they were really hastening the end of the feudal system. Bastide development certainly speeded the change from a barter economy to a mercantile economy, because peasants and others without capital could now become independent farmers or shopkeepers or craftsmen. They could hold weekly markets: These occasional fairs allowed merchants and tradesmen to serve not only their fellow townspeople, but also to profit from transactions with customers elsewhere in the region.
With the site available and the charter ready to be conferred, it was time for surveyors to prepare the town plan. Who did this, and when and how it was done, is only hinted at by the very few surviving documents that touch on that point at all. There are no contemporary drawings whatsoever; there is no 13th or 14th century map of a bastide. But look, surveying could not have proceeded without some preconceived design, and the orderly and—I would argue—the rather sophisticated designs of most bastides clearly are not the result of chance or sudden, spontaneous decisions. We know the names of a very few people who may have served as planners; most of them were the equivalent of a lawyer, but we’re not sure they were the planners.
We do know, from one record, that experts in creating new towns did exist. In 1296, Edward I of England sent identical orders to 24 towns in England and Aquitaine, in France, and he directed town officials to send to a meeting “men from among your wisest and ablest, who know best how to devise, order, and array a new town to the greatest profit of ourselves and the merchants.”
That meeting must have been the first town-planning conference, perhaps—since the Romans, anyway!
How did a 13th century town planner “devise, order, and array” a bastide? Most of them used some variety of a grid street plan; that is, straight streets intersecting at right angles to create either square or rectangular blocks. On the left is a bastide called Lisle-sur-Tarn, [which is] a good example of such a design. However, at sites like Castillonés on the right, this is a spur, a sort of a ridge that makes a curve, so the grid plan is adapted a little bit to that site. Other grids were sometimes warped, like this rather strange one on the left of Mazéres; I have no explanation for that. Intoxicated surveyor with too much local wine? One doesn’t know.
The plan for one of the biggest of the bastides—it’s one of those that has prospered and become much larger; this is Villeneuve-sur-Lot—it combines both square and rectangular blocks so that you get various kinds of combinations in a different—as you move through there you get a different feeling. And, of course, other features in the bastides—such as difference in lot sizes, street widths, either the presence or absence of rear alleys or lanes—could also change from one place to another.
At or near the center of most bastides, the founders located a marketplace, usually square in plan, but sometimes elongated, like you see on the right—that’s Labastide d’Armagnac; the one on the left (which you can barely see; the slide’s pretty dark) is Sauveterre-de-Guyenne. That almost always was a public place located near the center of a grid street system. That seems to us so obvious! It’s surprising to learn, however, that from the time of Roman colonization to the middle of the 12th century, there was no town in all of France laid out on that pattern. Instead, you had irregular street alignments. There were markets, but the markets were usually held outside the town walls, or someplace where a street widened, or perhaps in front of a church or a cathedral.
The first such planned grid town in France, with a market square, was created during the reign of Alfonse-Jourdain, who was then count of Toulouse. That was Montauban, surveyed in 1144. You see the plan here and then on the right is a view of the town with its arcades, as they were reconstructed in the 16th century after they were destroyed during a war. A very distinguished French historian at the University of Bordeaux, called Montauban, used two words; he said, “It’s an innovation that must have seemed revolutionary.
For reasons I cannot explain, I, in my search of the French literature (there’s one superb book, one pretty good book, four or five so-so books, and then a lot of articles—I’ve read a lot of them and scanned the rest), French scholars don’t seem to have cared about where this idea came from. Where did Alfonse-Jourdain get this notion? Well, I have another talk about that, and if you invite me back sometime I’ll do that, but it’s just too long—it’s another hour, and we’re not going to go into that. But obviously, it seems to me, this is the source of the bastide plans that began to develop about 70 years later. And they began to develop under the great-grandson of Alfonse-Jourdain, who had founded Montauban. I think the link is pretty clear, and Montauban is right in the middle of the bastide country.
Over time, there were certain prototype town plans that developed. Here is the result of one team of French scholars. They have identified, with almost Teutonic thoroughness, 13 different kinds of categories and subcategories. I think there are so many exceptions that some of them don’t make a lot of sense, but there are four of them that seem to me to be very helpful.
The Aquitaine Model that you see on the left (these are my redrawings, so they’re diagrams) has the essentially square marketplace, a combination of square and rectangular blocks. And note the relationship of the church square to the marketplace: It is a diagonal relationship. You see over here one without too many examples, the Gimontois Model, where the church is some distance away. But the distinguishing feature there is the main street coming in and intersecting the market square at the midpoints of two of its sides. There aren’t very many of those.
The Gascon Model, on the left, is made up of square blocks. The church is almost always two blocks away from the market square.
And then finally we have the Quercimois Model, which is sometimes referred to as the “fishbone.” It has one main street and then a jillion little streets coming out, very much like the [skeleton] of a fish. And here are the four types, as I’ve redrawn them. And then look at that map. That shows those clusters of the different types.
What does that suggest? Well, was there a generic model, perhaps? Maybe there was. Or, maybe the founders and the planners simply took on an earlier bastide as a general guide, and modified it slightly to meet the special needs or to reflect topographic features of the site. Something like this also occurred with the contrat de paréage and the charte de coutumes, that tended to become more standardized with time—like a cut-and-paste zoning ordinance, where provisions of charters were repeated in subsequent towns.
In most bastides, like the one on the left, Labastide d’Armagnac, main streets run from 20 to 24 feet; cross streets about 12 to 16 feet; and on the right you see what is at least in one part of the bastide country, called a ruelle or ruette, which means “small street”—it’s a lane or an alley—and if they exist, they are no more than six to eight feet wide. In the example you see there, from Monflanquin, the ruelle is crossed by what is called a pontet, a little bridge that links two houses across; it’s a way of getting a little more dwelling space in a restricted site.
Town lots usually had a frontage of 22 to 24 feet. The length was either two to three times the width, commonly. There are exceptions to all of these. Farms and vineyards around the town were normally 12 to 15 acres in size. You might think of these dimensions as constituting a kind of primitive code governing land development.
After the plan was drawn and laid out on the site by surveyors, the final step was a public announcement that the bastide was open for business. So messengers were sent out—by drum and horn—to places in the vicinity, and, usually with the banner of the founding lord, and gathering at the marketplace of the new bastide, and there an official of the founders would recite the rights and privileges that would be granted, and specify the terms by which land would be occupied.
The first year of a bastide must have been pretty hectic. People were hurrying to build their houses—we don’t know what they looked like. Each family had to start from the beginning, to build something—a house and shop—and to clear and till land for crops. With all properties the same size, there would have been, probably, few differences in income or wealth, and it was only later, either through luck or persistence or ability, that would gradually determine who would prosper most.
We can only guess at what kind of temporary shelters were built at the beginning. It’s commonly believed—and now there is some doubt being cast on that—that the original dwellings were all half-timber structures. Now, there are some archaeological studies—Monpazier, among other places, Monflanquin, and some others—that indicate that the original buildings were of stone. Not just rough field stone, but dressed stone, with sometimes very elaborate moldings for windows and tracery—I’ll show you some of those in a moment.
But the half-timber construction was always present and always popular, and there’s a lot of it left. As incomes permitted, the owners sometimes replaced those half-timbered buildings—rather simple ones—with walls of stone or brick, although these half-timbered buildings, particularly with decorative bricking and filling like you see on the left, but with elaborate patterns of the half timbering on the right.
Just as occurred in Santa Fe and every other American frontier town, with wooden buildings, there must have been frequent fires. So the chances of finding any original timber building in a bastide is pretty remote, and I suspect there aren’t any at all. Remember, this area was fought over in two very long, vicious periods of warfare.
Some of the buildings were separated by what are called andrones; you see one here on the left, and there’s a drawing from one in Beaumont-du-Périgord. Those allowed rainwater to come off the roof so that you have peaked roofs facing the street—a gable end to the street—and that gave a nice little rhythm, I suppose, although I doubt very much whether they were thinking about that at the time. Rainwater, but it is also a place where sanitary wastes were dumped. These are latrines of two adjoining houses, face to face. This rainwater, sanitary waste, kitchen waste, dribbled into here and—one hoped!—then went backwards to the back of the house, rather than out here on the street. But who knows what indeed happened.
Some bastides adjoined or enveloped an existing small hamlet or village, or perhaps an isolated church. When you see an angled orientation with respect to the street system, like this at Villeréal—there, or Beaumont-du-Périgord—you can bet that the church existed first. And there are some records in the case of these two bastides, so we know that that was so. But in bastides on vacant sites, work was sooner begun on a permanent structure of stone. This is Labastide d’Armagnac; the church, a rather rare one that fronts on the market square. You find more of those down in the very southern part of this southwest area, but in both cases, here—and there are many other examples—you can look at that church as as much a fortress as a place of worship. Indeed, that’s the way they functioned: Many of them were hooked up with a small town wall or palisade and, as you see, they looked very—this is a place called Beaumarchés, on the right.
Now in most cases, as I’ve said, the church occupied a complete or a half city block. This is Garonne-sur-Garonne; this is a Gascon Model—marketplace, church two blocks away. This is an Aquitaine Model, Castillonnés: market square with the diagonal relationship of the church.
One of the things that shows is that these were commercial towns. It was the merchant group that dominated the town; these were not under the jurisdiction of the church. Rather different from most existing towns in that area before. Some of the most attractive of the bastide churches are those like the church at Gimont, here; it has this octagonal tower—the so-called Toulousian tower—there are many of those in the region. The interior of the churches: Almost all of them are single-aisle churches, with interior buttresses, the space in between the interior buttresses then forming chapels. On the outside, you see generally a fairly flat wall.
One of the most appealing features of the bastides are the roofed, but open-sided, market buildings, what in French is called la halle. These usually stand in the marketplace—less commonly they face it—but there are different variations. This one is the small market building at Domme. It has that wonderful wooden balcony supported by these circular stone columns. That’s not too old—it’s 18th century—but at Beaumont-de-Lomagne—which you see on the right—this huge, huge thing that covers the entire market square—that was authorized in 1345.
If you go inside these, you see these wonderful timber constructions—this is Mauvezin on the left; Villeréal on the right—probably not a single post or beam or brace is original, but they’ve all been replaced, one by one, over time, as rot occurred or whatever, and you can be pretty certain that this is the way they looked in the 14th and 15th century, when a number of them were built.
At Revel, which is on the left, like some of the other bastides, later on—I think in the 17th century—this structure was built through the center of the halle, and this provided the place for the local governing body to meet down below the stone structure was a jail, and then later on, this bit was added. You get all kinds of variety and all kinds of dates. That on the right is Monségur, a hall of cast iron and glass—the French were, early on, doing these for railroad stations and all kinds of other structures—and so that became very popular and just at the end of the 19th century, at Monségur, they built one of those.
Castillonnés adopted a different approach, and decided they were going to be sort of retro. This was a 19th century building, but looking something like a medieval castle. At St-Clar, on the right, they kept the old halle, but they built in the back—in the 18th century, I believe—that two-story building that provided for additional market space, toward the rear, and then above, a place for the council to meet.
One of the real charming features of the bastides, the one that [everyone falls in love with], are the arcades around the marketplace. Not all towns with arcaded marketplaces are bastides, not all bastides have arcades, and only a small minority can boast a complete set on all four sides of the market square. I tried to match in my photo the 19th century lithograph, but I didn’t get very close. But this bastide with this very, very long, rectangular market square, with the arcades all around it, looking very much—except for the absence of the halle, which was removed, unfortunately, some years ago. This is really a hallmark of the bastides. These are the arcades at Sauveterre-de-Rouergue, which are among the best-preserved in the region. It’s sort of off by itself; it isn’t visited a lot; it’s an absolute gem. If you drive through the back roads of France—the yellow lines on the Michelin maps, as some of you have followed—every eight or ten miles, you’ll come to a town that looks something like this, and you can be almost certain that it’s a bastide created by a contrat de paréage, and that some lord has conferred a charte de coutumes.
In many bastides, the four principal streets running under the arcades that bordered the marketplace, have now become pedestrian walkways. There is decorative pavement, which you see on the left—that’s a new feature, of course—originally, these were roadways. Carts, horses, pedestrians, all used them. And now, in many places, they are pedestrian ways; in some places, like Sauveterre de Guyenne, over here, you can look from the arcade around the market square, up one of the four major streets, to see one of the town gates, one that was built at some later time.
How did the arcades begin, and were they part of the original plan? No one quite knows that, and there’s a bit of controversy going on amongst French scholars. It may have started when some enterprising persons decided they wanted more room, and just poked out the second floor like this. There is a little bit of evidence that they are add-ons; in some places you can find external stairways to the upper floor, which suggest that they were a second thought.
Whether or not bordered by arcade buildings, the principal shops of a bastide almost always faced the market square, and merchants can bring their goods and merchandise out under the arcades, whatever the weather—whether it’s raining, hot, or cold. In effect, every bastide has a kind of junior-grade shopping mall at its center. But it’s on the weekly market days that the bastides are busiest. On the left is the marketplace at Libourne, which is one of the big, prosperous bastides; it’s a major wine-shipping port not far from Bordeaux, located on the Dordogne River. The impressive building in the background is a 16th century town hall.
At the right, you can buy almost anything that you want, that quacks or lays eggs. We have chickens, geese, ducks, rabbits, pigeons—and we have a woman here who doesn’t look very happy about sales, but this is in a wonderful market building—I don’t have a very good photograph of it—Garonne-sur-Garonne, which is one of the busiest that I saw.
By the middle of the 14th century, the impetus for new town creation had diminished, and the Hundred Years War—so much of which took place in this area—had brought an end, really, to the era of land development and bastide building. But most of these bastides have survived, and the changes that have occurred over the last seven centuries have not really altered their fundamental character or diminished their charm.
I’m going to give you a quick tour of four of these bastides, which will give you some idea of the variety and the main elements of the bastide landscape.
We’ll go first to a place called Cologne. It’s located in Armagnac. It has the Gascon plan, a central market square. We’re going to enter at this point, come through into the corner of the square and look this way at the arcaded buildings here, then go to the other side of the square and see what that looks like, then come back and examine the market building. So, rather dark on the left, I’m sorry, but we’re coming into the square—there’s the market building—we’ll go around the corner, and this is what we would see. You get a great variety of the arcades: Some of them are held up by wooden posts, some by stone, some by brick; sometimes the brick has been stuccoed and the stone has been stuccoed, so you have a good deal of variety, but you can see that same rhythm that you get in at least the smaller bastides like Cologne, that have not been changed.
This town really consists of nine squares. You all know the New Haven plan, well, that’s the plan of Cologne. I don’t say that New Haven was built on that, but here we are on the other side of the square, now, and you get some idea of these wonderful buildings. Cologne is very, very conscious of preserving this atmosphere. There’s the halle at Cologne, and there, as at Revel, here’s the building that got pushed up for a council chamber—this is half-timber, where the other one was of a different appearance. And this is early in the morning on a nonmarket day.
Now, we’re going to look at one quite different. There are a number of bastides similar to Cologne in many ways, but the one you’re going to see now, Villefrance-de-Rouergue, founded by Alphonse de Poitiers in 1256, is its own thing. There is no bastide that is like this at all. I’ve tilted the map so it’s oriented the same way as the photograph. We are going to start down here and look in this direction, come across the old bridge, and come up this main street. When you’re on that main street and you spread out your arms, you feel almost as though you’re touching the two walls; it’s a very narrow main street. And off of that are a great deal of minor streets. And then the andrones are quite different from the other bastides.
We’ll come up here to this giant church—it’s like a four-legged giant; it dominates this square—a superb building. We’ll look back down that road. So, we’re coming up this narrow main street, up here, we’ll stand under there and look back the way we came, and then I’ll show you another slide of that area when we start moving around.
The photograph on the left was taken from one of the worst hotels in all of France; my wife says she will divorce me if I ever take her back here, but it’s a great place to photograph the river and the old bridge that we’re going to cross. And when we get down there and look up, there is that gigantic collegial church that dominates this area.
These are dark slides, because no light ever gets down there. I’ve now been to this place three times, and I still can’t get a decent photo! Here we are, coming up this street. Then we’ll look sideways: Here are buildings that aren’t two-story, and not three, but they’re four-story. This is a very, very urban place indeed, with these very narrow streets. To get a photograph of it, you have to distort the character of the building.
We’re standing right here and we’re looking back down that street—you can see how steep it is—and here, then, we’ll step out into the square, look back at the church itself, this huge church with its wonderful tower, and here is the entry portal to that church, back there in the dark of that slide.
The market square, again, is quite different from any other bastide. With these enormous buildings—and this one, for example; I guess it’s five stories—this is on a slope; it helps to explain the orientation of the streets: for drainage, one thinks. But it is so steep that the market square has to have a terrace. So that’s about 12 to 14 feet above the level. We’re now standing on that terrace, looking back on the other side. And if we enter at that point, there is one of these little ruelles, or lanes, that’s this. And in this case, the pontet that spans it is two stories. You can see it from the back, and we’re looking back toward the market square, and this wonderful building with its turreted façade—there’s the market square and, of course, this is as much a social occasion as it is a time for trade. Villefranche de Rouergue does have two or three other major streets—if you can call them major; they’re still pretty narrow—where traditional merchandise is available.
We’re going to move on to Labastide Clairence. Depending on what source you read, it’s either the bastide founded by the Viscount of Béarn in 1314; or Louis I, king of Navarre, in 1312. This is the Gimontois Plan: the main street coming down and entering the midpoint of the square. I’ve produced this thinking, is that the model plan, perhaps? And is this what resulted, with an adjustment to the site?
We’re going to start up here at the top of the hill, at the church. We’ll look through the churchyard, then we’ll come down this street, look at the square, end up in the arcades around there, with a little side trip to the back. Here’s the churchyard, the graveyard of the church, and then we’ve stepped over to one end of it, looking at those buildings, we’ll come down this, and in this part of France you get this wonderful white stucco with this red half-timber; everything is very much the same, but you get a great deal of variety, and, particularly, these gabled ends add a nice feature to the street. The City Hall is here; there are arcades on this side of the square, not on the other. We’ll go off at right angles from the main street, up over the hump, we’re doing that here and now we’re looking back. So this was the kitchen garden. If you crossed this minor street that parallels the main one, you would have gone into the farm—the 12- or 13-acre farm of that house. And these are the arcades.
Now we’re going to end up with the bastide that everyone knows: Monpazier, a royal English bastide in Périgord, planned in 1285. Was this the ideal? This is what appears in every book, including, I’m ashamed to say, a couple of mine. Saying that this is the plan of Monpazier; it was an idealized plan that someone drew in the middle of the 19th century. This is the real plan of Monpazier, but was this the ideal? Perhaps.
We’re going to start here—north is up—we’ll start at the south end, look along a wall over here, and then go through—see this gate—come up here, take a ruelle over in this direction, have a look at the church with its diagonal relationship to the market square, and then eventually get back into the market square, which is one of the great achievements of bastide building.
So here are the exterior walls. In this case, there was a stone wall that was probably built by the French king, at his expense, at the time of founding. That was rather unusual, but apparently, this was regarded as a special place. You can’t see it here, but here’s a little family having a gathering and a picnic, and we’re looking at buildings that have no been built and incorporated a portion of the old wall. The gate that we’re going through is up in here, and here it is. We’ll walk up, frame the gate, up to the first arcade of the town square, and then we’re up there, looking back to the gate that we’ve just come through.
The second-worst hotel in France is right here!
Now, we’re in one of the ruelles—these little minor streets or lanes—and it also has a pontet: This one is quiet elegant; it’s made of cinderblock. I think that’s the same one here, but from a different direction, I’m not quite sure. Now, we get up to the beginning of the square. We’re on the outside of the square, which is over here. This is one of the east side arcades; here is a close-up of that. This photo I took in 1966. I think this is 1999. Pretty dim photo here, but we’re looking down from the north at another town gate—there are several of them that Monpazier has preserved—back to the church, which you see here; and then, the church interior, entry and interior—it’s another one of those single-aisle churches, with interior buttresses.
The we come to this feature. We’re going to enter the square and go through a feature that has not been preserved in many of the bastides. This is a corniere, a diagonal entry in. We’re at a corner of the arcade; this was an entryway—Monpazier, I guess, has all four of these—we’re looking through another one here at part of the halle. And here is the great square, the central square—let me give you some dimensions here. This is about 200 feet square. It is not huge. That’s fairly typical of a lot of bastides. There are some that are maybe 300 or 400 feet—well, they’re maybe not 400—350 feet. Most of them are in this area of 200 feet or so. So we’re looking at two sides of that, and we’re going to go look at this building and its elegant window with this tracery.
The archaeologists are telling me that this was an original 13th century building. I can’t believe that any peasant moving in there was a skilled stonemason, but all of these buildings around the square are of dressed stone, so where did this come from? Did the king or someone else provide a stonemason or stonemasons to do it? It’s an unanswered question; I have no clue as to what the answer is.
We’re inside the square, now; there’s the rather small halle, and here are the grain measures—these are pivoted iron buckets that would distribute the grain to a purchaser.
Those two slides were taken 50 years ago—the summer of 1951.The almost total absence of persons made me feel like a visitor to some uninhabited archaeological site. Well, that was then, and now, half a century later, we have a different Monpazier. The city has been pretty well preserved, and changed in many ways. This is an old postcard view, probably in the ’20s. That’s a rather poor slide of that same street, but it’s now full of lots of tourist shops.
Here is a mid-19th century engraving of the chapter house, belonging to the church. It was also the tithing house, where people brought one-tenth of their products. You can see it’s pretty much of a wreck. Early in the 20th century, we have a bakery, some of the buildings have been rebuilt, and so on. Here it is now: We have a very classy awning out here for the bakery; we have some elegant, high-priced shops here; we have flowerboxes and everything. It’s clear that Monpazier is booming.
So, now, more than seven centuries after its founding, Monpazier, like many of the other bastides, is thriving, and public officials and other community leaders, and the citizens, spurred on and helped by regional and national authorities and programs, have embraced heritage preservation, not only as a moral imperative, but as an economic necessity.
You all know that nothing can ruin a lovely place more quickly than excess success. So I think that Monpazier’s problem—and the other bastides—is no longer how to stop decay, but of guarding against excessive commercialism. There’s a danger that this quite wonderful place, and others, may become little more than medieval theme parks. But for the moment, at least, these towns, planned 700 years ago by the new urbanists of their day—the counts and kings of France and England—are places not to be missed by architects and planners.
So go to southwestern France. Visit and study the bastides. Then consider what the new urbanists of the 13th century may have to teach your generation in creating livable and attractive urban environments for the century that lies ahead.
Q & A:
I’d like to call the attention of the audience to a chapter in Professor Reps’ book, The Making of Urban America, which is about an episode that is very similar to this one, which occurred in the United States. It’s my favorite chapter of your book: It is the one on the Mormon town planners. And the Mormons—I’m probably mangling your statistics—but in a campaign between Salt Lake City and San Diego, laid out in very quick succession about 200 towns, all of which thrive today, despite the very high mortality rate that would occur with that kind of town foundation in the 19th century. And there are some interesting lessons there to be learned that are extremely American. This reminds me how rare it is among the meetings of the new urbanists that we actually have a historical presentation. It is so rare that I can’t remember the last one we had—if any. And you can see how much can be learned from this kind of thing, if only to spirit us ahead, move us ahead.
One other statement: When Stef(anos Polyzoides) presented the list of the five in one hand—professors and so forth who had actually maintained a notion of urbanism throughout the dark years—he forgot Colin Rowe. Now, Colin Rowe wrote only once on the New Urbanism; this was in the Harvard Architectural Review, before they found it more profitable to revile us, and it was a special issue on urbanism. Colin Rowe wrote about bastides. What he said was, ‘why don’t the new urbanists don’t just build bastides on top of parking garages, and get over with it?’
It’s an essay that I think is worth publishing, because very few people have seen it. And, of course, Colin Rowe is a great, illustrious professor. When I first read it, I thought it was a joke! I said, “How can Colin Rowe misunderstand the situation so completely?” But we have had occasion in our practice to work in places that are so insecure—for example, in Mexico—that it isn’t the sort of American problem of marketing—you know, the walled community, a sort of false feeling of security—there are places in this world, where, in fact, people’s throats are cut, are slit, if you actually live in an American typology. And we have had an occasion, more than once, to make bastide-like towns in Mexico. None of them will be built, but there is an interesting lesson.
Why is it that we dislike, as an organization, the walled communities? But when we look at bastides—and all medieval towns—we approve highly of them. The reason is not the security, the reason is that our walled communities are single-use: they’re single-function, single-income. They’re exclusive. While these bastides actually included all elements of society, from the duke to the stable boy. And I believe that we are called upon—particularly in the future, as things become more anarchic—to actually make more secure places, that we consider that this isn’t an archaic model, that in fact, it’s very, very useful, particularly, since you need, as we know, both the Internet prince and the delivery boy who will deliver the pizza at midnight. They need to be in the same community.
I think, when we see presentations like this, I urge you—the professor said, “Please learn from these,” not just as historical artifacts, but I think there is a future, actually—I really mean this, and I want to enter this as a typology within the new urbanist discourse. There is a future for bastides—and not unlike these.
A quick response to the first comment—about the Mormon towns. I did write a portion of a chapter in The Making of Urban America about Mormon town planning, along with some other religious groups. But there are two long chapters in a later book, called Cities in the American West, on Mormon planning. And it’s an even more impressive achievement than Andres mentioned. In the 30 years that Brigham Young was alive in the Great Basin—from 1847 to 1877, when he died—the Mormons planned 353 new towns within what is now the United States. They also planned some towns in Canada—very, very few in Mexico. By the end of the century, it was well over 500 new towns. And the way they went about it was quite fascinating. I tried to give the details about this in Cities in the American West—it included some lists of things you needed: the type of skills you needed, what persons were needed to found the new town—carpenters, blacksmiths, farmers, and so on. And then there’s another list of the equipment that every family ought to take with them as they moved out of Salt Lake to found one of these new towns.
There’s another example in the United States of mass town founding. That is the towns founded by the American railroads. In Cities in the American West, there are three chapters on railroad town founding. You can think whether they’re good examples or bad examples—I have my own opinion on many of them—but at least there’s another episode of mass town founding.
Let me suggest something that may not have occurred to some of you: There are 20 towns of this century that were built as walking communities—cities of 60,000 to 80,000. Those are the new towns built in Britain after World War II. Why do I call them “walking towns”? I spent a year studying that program in 1950-51. The thought was that these were going to be working-class communities, and no working-class person in England would ever be able to own a motor car. So they were designed as walking or bicycling communities, with a local bus system. I don’t know if any of the new urbanists have looked at those towns to see if they [have] any lessons that might be useful.
Professor, accolades, but I won’t waste time telling you how wonderful the lecture is. Quick question: I was struck by the similarities between the bastides and the Florentine new towns. Could you comment on the differences?
Well, the Florentine new towns came very slightly later. There were some other new towns that were very slightly earlier—in northern Spain—and, when I mentioned Alfonse-Jourdain and the plan of Montauban, I have now looked at those Spanish towns—it turns out that Alfonse made three pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. He passed through these towns—some of them newly planned—inhabited many of them by French, and others were Roman towns that were sort of brought back to life, where elements of a grid were clearly available for his inspection. His last pilgrimage was the same year—a fear months before—he planned Montauban. So that’s one link. The chronology seems to be: northern Spain, then the bastides in France, and the Florentine new towns; and about the same time you have siring of new towns in northern Switzerland and southern Bavaria. And Edward I, who was planning bastides in Aquitaine, was also planning towns along the Welsh and Scottish border. And one or two others. There were well over 1,000 towns that were built on the far eastern German border, in the Germanic lands. And the little town of Reps came a little bit later—I think that was about 1350.
With due respect to the Mormons, there is actually a more direct parallel right here in New Mexico. The history of the settlement of New Mexico is essentially as you’ve described it in the south of France. The Crown came up from Mexico and founded these strategically placed, often military towns, ruled by the Laws of the Indies. And largely populated, in part by Spanish settlers, but there just weren’t enough of those. So they would go to the pueblos [in a manner] much like you described, trying to pull the population away from smaller feudal lords, and bring people who were familiar with living in gridded, urban places, and just give them more rights and allow them to become citizens of the Crown. A very similar social dynamic.
There’s one interesting thing that’s always fascinated me about the Laws of the Indies. And that is that there are very, very few towns that were actually planned, that met all of the prescriptions. Particularly with respect to the way streets were to enter the plaza. Streets were to enter at the midpoints of all four sides, and also two streets at each corner. And the plaza was to be surrounded by arcades or portales, and the four main streets coming in at the midpoints of the sides were also to be arcaded. Find me one of those places! What is available on Los Angeles would seem to indicate that Governor de Neve, when he laid out Los Angeles, did make an attempt to follow the Laws. But all of these town founders, ignoring more portions of the Laws of the Indies, wrote solemn letters and reports back to the governor or the viceroy, saying, “I have laid out this town and I have followed the Laws of the Indies.” And they hadn’t.
First of all, a great presentation. I have some questions related to the population of the bastides. What are the numbers, on average, and where did the population come from? It was such an extraordinary expansion, so many new towns! At the time of the war—as you well know—in wars, people die! And what was the build-out time? In other words, what did it take for the towns to actually be completed?
On that last question, I can’t be certain—I can’t tell you with any certainty. If you didn’t build your house—at least get your first floor built within a year—you were subject to a fine. Sometimes those fines weren’t levied for another year or two or three. So the original buildings were built fairly quickly. Then some of them prospered. Some of them decayed. Some of them were very small—maybe 200 (people). Some of the bastides you find today are 300 or 400. Monpazier doesn’t have much of a population; I think it’s about 500 at the most. And then, some prospered and became—we’ll call them the equivalent of American county seats. And some became the chief place of a Dade Park mall. Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Libourne, Villefranche de Rouergue are the three largest of the bastides.
Where did the people come from? Strangely enough, despite the wars, and despite the devastation of the Albigensian Crusade, population was on the increase all through Europe at the time. There wasn’t exactly a population explosion, but it was a very rapid increase from a time when, for hundreds of years, population had either declined or remained stable. And all of a sudden, there’s a lot of—well, a lot of the population came from adjoining or nearby estates run by knights or local lords, and of course they hated this, because their laborers were being siphoned off. And so there were complaints at the French Crown or the seneschal—the representative—saying, look, this is a new town; they’re taking all my laborers! So, in some cases, the bastide founders would specify that anyone could come to this town except those who were on the estate of Lord Somebody or Other, or Sir Somebody or Other.
Professor Reps, I was particularly intrigued by your unmasking of town founding as not simply about defense or trade, but the real estate speculative aspect of these, which, I have to tell you, it never occurred to me before today. And so I’m wondering, if that was the case, there must have been more there. The code you presented is very, very simple: You have a time limit and not much else. Maybe a lot size. And I suspect, I have to believe, if there was a real estate speculation aspect to it, that the developer had to be able to do as much as they could to assure the value of their investment. And so in your research, have you uncovered anything that might speak to either some level of what we might call today the “town architect”? Some level of an individual or component to the town that would actually look at buildings as they were proposed or built, and assure their consistency with some idea? Even the notion that you could get an arcade around all four sides of a square, I mean, was that just some mass agreement? Or was there someone there actually making that happen?
You asked a question about the arcades that I can’t answer; the French scholars don’t seem to be able to answer it, either, because I think the general feeling is that the arcades were part of the original plan of at least the later bastides. After the first, let’s say, 50 or 100, arcades evidently became the popular way to do it. I have not encountered in the French literature, anything about a local architect. We had a bailiff who was responsible for a single bastide or perhaps a group of nearby bastides. He is the representative of the king or the duke or the count, but mainly he’s making sure that whatever fines are levied-he gets those and they get transmitted up the line. Or, that the proper tolls are being collected, that a person who comes in from the outside, is not a resident of the town and is selling merchandise at the weekly market—he has to pay an extra fee. And there are a lot of documents about that—about what they pay. You’re selling a horse, a cow, a pig, a whatever—a certain amount of tax was levied.
I mentioned this business about Monpazier. I’m really puzzled by this sophisticated stonework. And if the archaeologists say “that’s original,” there has to be someone there who is a master builder, who is directing that, and there has got to be a lot of stonemasons. This bastide is entirely of stone! But there are a lot of mysteries yet, and there are some documents still being translated. And there are a lot of documents that were translated and transcribed from medieval Latin or medieval Gascon or whatever, into French, that are now being looked at again, because there’s a feeling that the original transcriptions and translations were faulty. So that makes me feel a little bit shaky, because, who can keep up with all this stuff? Well, I’ve made an effort at least. And some of you will pursue that.
Again, bravo on a great presentation. But also bravo on a lifetime of scholarship, of studying all of these things exhaustively—it’s an absolute treasure for us to draw on.
Picking up on Andres’ comment about new urbanism in history: I think the last presentation, Andres, would be Richard Longstreth, at CNU I, in Alexandria, on the early origins of the shopping center, the kind of fork in the road from main street retail to off-street shopping, which I think he did his book on.
I guess what I’m thinking about here is the really big picture about the nature of the human brain, and the creation of our optimum habitat. When we look back—whether it be to the bastides or even streetcar suburbs—we marvel at the intelligence of people creating communities two or three generations ago that seems to be totally forgotten within a generation or two. We look back in absolute stupor at how good they were, and yet it all gets forgotten. And I think about an insect, a wasp, that in its tiny little brain knows how to create that species’ optimum habitat. You put that bug in a jar and you ship it off to some other place—or it’s born from an egg and it knows how to create the best kind of settlement. It knows how to create a hexagonal cell to hatch the eggs in.
And yet we humans have to relearn it every generation! It’s less a question than a musing. Why is it that we have the biggest brains of any species, yet when it comes to habitat-building, we’re clueless and we just keep forgetting it and have to relearn it? So people like you are especially important to us, because we have to play catch-up really fast if we are ever going to see the fruits of our labors in our lifetime, and be able to enjoy real community. Maybe our grandchildren will, we hope.
Thank you for that comment. All I can say is that I’ve had fun doing this. I am a narrative historian; I am not a deep thinker. You guys are the deep thinkers; you tell me what all of this means! And how it can be applied. I’m just telling the story. I’ve enjoyed doing that; it’s been a helluva good life.
I can’t find yet a publisher who will read my manuscript on bastides. I’ve got a lot of stuff—something like 2,000 color slides and maybe 600 or 800 black-and-white, going from 1951, 1966, 1971, 1999, 2001—and I’ve got a trip planned next year, unless something dreadful happens. I do have a few of the photographs here, by the way; if anyone wants to look at them, I brought a few along. It’s really been a pleasure to be here. I don’t know if there are any more comments, but time is beginning to—
There is one more comment, and I want to respond to Andres’ questions regarding the absence of presentations regarding architectural and urban history in events of the Congress.
Through a 10-year period, our efforts have begun from practice, essentially, and from rediscovering urbanism as an important discipline that has immediate, essential practical applications, whether they are economic or aesthetic or otherwise, but they are real and now, and in front of us. And we have generated a virtual market for services in bettering the world. We’ve moved from there in the direction of engaging all the professions and all of the codes that stand in the way of generating a life-supporting urbanism for this country, and we are moving from there toward the “automatic pilot” mechanisms that might free us from daily battles for engaging the other side on a project-by-project basis, and generate a faster and more effective way of changing, not so much by example, but by general process.
I think if you take the next step from this kind of stepping stone of discovery, we’ve discovered that the last one is actually the theory and history of urbanism. Because in fact, we are incapable of making profound design decisions—as architects and urbanists—without a clear understanding of the past, and without a clear understanding of the importance of the process by which regional growth occurred, and local patterns of development have affected growth over time. And I think one of the most fundamental problems with the way in which the new urbanism has been executed in the last years, is the way in which it is being treated relatively uniformly nationwide, without any clear examples of the profoundly different nature, history, and cultural need in individual places in the country.
Your work is inspirational to us, because it stands for that kind of clear differentiation through scholarship. And I would like to ask you whether you would help us in developing a research structure for the next 10 or 20 years, by which we can discern the deeper patterns that we all need to know about, when, by grace of God, somebody asks us to work in Santa Fe, but we haven’t ever been there.
Reps (stunned silence, then):
That’s a helluva question! I don’t know how to respond to that! Time’s getting a little short for me: I will hit 81 in a few weeks. And—
We assume you have at least 25 more years, professor!
It’s only with the help of a lot of cheap white wine over the years, that I’ve been able to get where I am! I’m also involved in a couple of projects: the bastide thing, and then one that’s quite different: the work of an artist in 1830 to 1846, who drew and painted a lot of stuff for cities—I’m working on an exhibit [for this] with the Missouri Historical Society. I want to get those finished.
And then, I’ve always wanted to write a book about Savannah. I know more about the Savannah plan than anyone, and I know where a plan of Savannah is that no one else knows where it is, and I’m not going to tell anyone! But I don’t want to go to my grave clutching that, so I do have that.
Well, I think we’ll wrap up the questions now. I think that maybe we can make an agreement that if we find a publisher for your book on bastides, you’ll show us the plan of Savannah!
You’ve got a deal!
I want to thank you very much.