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Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-First Century, and Why We Live in Houses Anyway
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Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-First Century, and Why We Live in Houses Anyway

3.59  ·  Rating Details ·  306 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
In "Last Harvest," the award-winning author of "Home" and "A Clearing in the Distance" tells the compelling story of New Daleville, a brand-new residential subdivision in rural Pennsylvania. When Witold Rybczynski first heard about New Daleville, it was only a developer's idea, attached to ninety acres of cornfield an hour and a half west of Philadelphia. Over the course o ...more
Hardcover, 309 pages
Published April 17th 2007 by Scribner Book Company (first published 2007)
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Community Reviews

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Feb 02, 2009 Andrew rated it really liked it
Shelves: dunredalready
Forgive me while I geek out over the next few paragraphs...

This book is a pretty decent recounting of the development process from inception to completion. For anyone who assumes that real estate developers are heartless, soulless, gutless, phallicly-challenged, money-grubbing bastards, I recommend that you spend a long weekend and read this book. (By the way, we're not many, if any, of those things listed above.)

The book chronicles the full development process of a "neotraditional" development
Oct 08, 2008 Michael rated it it was ok
New Urbanism is a topic dear to my heart and also one I've been professionally involved in as a longtime member of and consultant for the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) and co-editor w/ my wife of the CNU charter book, Charter of the New Urbanism (McGraw-Hill, 2000). This book does not do justice to its topic. It focuses on one aspect of New Urbanism--the development of new suburbs that are more compact, diverse and walkable than typical master-planned, garage-dominated, cul-de-sac suburbia ...more
Nov 09, 2009 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: 2007
I've just finished Last Harvest by Witold Rybczynski, which is the story of how a piece of land in Pennsylvania was developed according to "neotraditional" principles.

I expected to like this book a lot, in part because of the familiar scenery ("The Arcadia offices are in a small but imposing granite building at the main crossroads of Wayne...") and in part because I'm interested in the design of towns. The book is well-written and the people he profiles are well-meaning, but in the end, not tha
Robert Wechsler
A valuable look at American suburban housing developments and the land use process they must go through. The chapters on the history of housing in the U.S. and on other general topics are excellent. The book’s biggest weakness is its following of one such development from start to finish, because the example does not appear to be very typical. Therefore, the details are of less interest than they might be. Also, it means that too much of the book consists of the sketching of individuals involved ...more
Jul 28, 2009 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Not too sure if everyone would find this book as interesting as I did...looks at the development of American suburbs, focusing on a new project just outside of Philidelphia. A bit of history, a bit of architecture, a bit of property development...
Dec 10, 2008 Brooks rated it it was amazing
History of housing development by following the development of a neotraditional subdivision in the exburbs in Chester County PA between Philadelphia and Wilmington. It follows the steps over three years to get from idea to the first houses built in a new subdivision. In the process, it gives a history of land speculation and suburban development. It does spend a lot of effort on neotraditional subdivisions. The first example is Seaside, a Florida vacation division developed by a husband and wife ...more
Feb 10, 2014 Shannon rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 10, 2014 Terri rated it it was amazing
"The modest single-family house is the glory of the suburban tradition."
"It offers its inhabitants a comprehensible image of independence and privacy while also accepting the responsibility of community."- Rober A.M. Stern

Andres Duany is harshly critical of conventional suburban planning, "The classic suburb is less a community than an agglomeration of houses, shops, and offices connected to one another by cars, not by the fabric of life."

But the developers of New Daleville have a dream: shared
Jul 13, 2014 Emily rated it really liked it
The incredible thing about Witold Rybczynski's Last Harvest:How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-First Century, and Why We Live in Houses Anyway is that it's not boring. Most of the action takes place in county planning meetings, where board members and property developers disagree on points of the proposed development plan— solutions to the items in question are submitted and will be discussed at subsequen ...more
Jul 30, 2007 Katy rated it liked it
This book was disapointing after the other Rybczynski book I've read, A Clearing in the Distance. That book took the unusual approach of imagining and reconstructing episodes in Frederick Law Olmstead's life, but was most interesting for how Olmstead thought about the social relevance of his work and really changed the way Americans think about and use public spaces. Last Harvest looked like it might aspire to the same levels (Why We Live in Houses Anyway) but in the end it's just a very thourou ...more
Jan 28, 2009 Jayme rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rybczynski's talent is telling a story about architecture, or in this case urban planning and real estate development, and mixing with that story aspects of history and policy. This is a great book for understanding the process of building a particular planned community, from permitting to constructing and selling houses. But I found errors and oversimplifications in Rybczynski's descriptions of certain viewpoints. For example, he blurs the lines between smart growth, new urbanism, and tradition ...more
May 30, 2010 Erica rated it liked it
A quarter way through the book, I decided to visit a local neotraditional development in Ashburn, VA. The houses were charming (albiet with a heavy dose of artificiality - the faux brick fronts, the nostalgic styles in modern, cheap materials). The neighborhood was pretty quiet: one person walking a dog, a whiff of barbeque - not quiet the thriving community atmosphere neotraditional developers make it out to be. It was certainly an improvement over the mcmansion and "contemporary" subdivisions, ...more
Mar 23, 2011 Danica rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It took me a very long time to read it mostly due to personal circumstances, but every time I picked it up I was able to plow through huge pieces of the book. It kept my interest and walked a neutral line between criticism and complement in the very contentious subject of subdivision development.

A few caveats: 1) in order to enjoy this book you probably should have some serious interest in residential development, urban planning, subdivisions, etc. 2) You should also
Sep 04, 2007 Wayne rated it really liked it
This John McPhee-like (McPhee-esque?) account of a the development of a piece of farmland in Pennsylvania reads nicely -- not quite a thriller, but with plenty of good narrative energy. And it tells the reader a lot -- how developments happen, why houses look like they do, and how some communities are trying to move away from the typical subdivision, often with uninspired results.

Last Harvest is an essential first read for anyone concerned about overdevelopment in their own community. My sense
Apr 26, 2009 Ryan rated it really liked it
An insightful and easy to read book about residential land development, from entitlement to home ownership. Written by an architect with experience in the land development process, the book provides an educated perspective on American's housing preferences and how the housing market works to meet our perceived housing demands. The most interesting aspect of this book is it follows one specific residential development project in suburban Philly and the author details the role and viewpoint of mos ...more
Sep 20, 2009 Matt rated it it was ok
I expected from the subtitle that this book would be about the driving forces behind suburban sprawl, and at least a little melancholy about the state of development in America today (well, that's the book I wanted to read, anyway). But it turned out to be more "An inside look at suburban sprawl from a developer's perspective" or something like that. Basically it just followed the process of turning a specific field in Pennsylvania ("the Wrigley tract") into a housing development ("New Daleville ...more
Jan 08, 2010 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
Last Harvest is a fascinating look at how one New Urbanism-style real estate development in Pennsylvania progressed from the initial seedling of an idea in a developer's mind, to when the first homeowners start moving in five years later. Mixed with the compelling narrative of the development of New Daleville is a rich and interesting history of real estate development in America in general from many points of view — the developer, the builders, the architects, the homebuyers, and the towns and ...more
Sunkist and Mango
Aug 24, 2012 Sunkist and Mango rated it it was amazing
I read this book as a requirement for a graduate art history course I took: American architectural home design.

It explains what goes in to creating a residential home development. It is an easy read that combines a little history and theory to help explain a personal story about designing and developing better neighborhoods. Rybczynski describes the rigorous process of developing communities that are not just streets and houses, but rather members of a complete community.

I have subscribed to hi
Oct 05, 2008 Davidoff rated it liked it
Not done with it yet. The author tends to get bogged down with the not-so-exciting tribulations of the developers as they seek approval from the township on housing architecture, street dimensions, and a zillion other things that housing developers need before they get to build. It's also written from the perspective of a obvious fan of small towns - the writer doesn't really get into infill development of city and suburban areas, which I think really is necessary when writing a book about neo-t ...more
Aug 30, 2011 Jeff rated it liked it
Although I'm not an architect, developer, town supervisor, etc, I felt this was an interesting book. Rybczynski details how a farm in Pennsylvania becomes a suburb and goes into the history of development, housing, permits along the way. While I felt that some drawings or pictures of the historic places he talked about would help a layman like myself understand the concepts better, I did learn some and have found myself looking at houses and developments in a different way. It's fairly dry and n ...more
Apr 21, 2010 Tony rated it it was ok
YOu have to be a pretty serious city planning/land planning geek to enjoy this one...which I confess to be...
However there is a literally-watching-the-grass-grow quality to this story that is tedious. That said, this replacing of a natural landscape with housing, no matter the density, is an important story about the cities and towns we are designing and building. I put this in my post-petro age category of books - ones that are either cautionary tales, or enlightened examples, of how the lansca
Peter Tillman
Jul 31, 2016 Peter Tillman rated it really liked it
An impressive piece of work, which I read at two sittings. The review you want to read is Penelope Green's, at the New York Times:

Rybczynski writes a very nice portrait of the contemporary subdivision planning and building process, with the focus on a particular exurb near his home in Philadelphia.
In the process, you'll learn a lot about the history of suburban living in America -- and perhaps unlearn some persistent misinformation from urban intellectual
Sep 20, 2009 Kevin rated it really liked it
This book was such an interesting insight to how the suburban development has become the standard home for Americans. The story follows a Neo-traditional community from inception by the developer through the moving in of the first families. It sounds dull, but it provides a very compelling story and raises questions about why, where, and how Americans live like they do. The book also highlights reasons for exurban flight, and architectural history and theory behind the styling of suburban design ...more
May 21, 2009 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I work with developers a lot, and this book takes the interesting tactic of following the building of a new subdivision from inception to move-in, largely by following the developer, but also a whole bunch of other people involved with it getting built. There's a lot of distance between the "new urbanist" ideals of the developer and the "new suburbanism" that results, and it's interesting to see how that happens. In the meantime, he tells a lot of important side stories about how the residential ...more
Beth Anne
Mar 02, 2008 Beth Anne rated it it was amazing
I never thought I could enjoy a book chronicling the development of a subdivision but thanks to this book, I now know it is possible. Rybczynski deftly describes a real estate development deal in Pennsylvania whose planners are trying to integrate elements of new urbanism into their design. The book is a delight to read, and managed to give me a new respect for the complications of building those neighborhoods of cookie cutter houses. Will I be moving into one any time soon? No. But I now have a ...more
Oct 03, 2010 John rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I generally like Rybczynski's books quite a lot. I was hoping this one would have more of a discussion of the theory behind New Urbanism. Instead, I got interviews with developers & planning commissioners, and the transformation from an idea to a very different reality. So some interesting information about how the modern business and politics of housing work, but that's not what I was looking for.
Jan 26, 2011 Eva rated it liked it
Interesting book about land use planning from the viewpoint of the developer. Unfortunately it's more about architecture than the consequences of a relatively high level of adjudicative power wielded by local government in rural Pennsylvania.

However it does pay more attention to this issue than other "smart growth" bandwagon books I've read, which is impressive. Hard to make local politics sound sexy.
Feb 25, 2008 Jeannen rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I went out and bought this book in hardcover as soon as I heard about it because I have loved most everything Rybczynski has written, but I didn’t love this book. This is one of those books that mixes information in with a story about something, and I liked the information, but got bored a bit with the story. I didn’t finish this, so it’s possible that it improves near the end. I’m not sure I will go back and finish it, though.
Feb 07, 2008 Liz rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who like an extra colon in their non-fiction titles
Recommended to Liz by: It caught my eye at the library
Who knew a book about an exurban housing development could be so interesting? It's a case study of a new development in rural Pennsylvania called 'new Daleville.' the author has an engaging style and weaves in discussions of sprawl, neotraditional development, and the origins of U.S. suburbs and 'garden suburbs.' I would recommend it, but with a caveat: skim the parts where he includes long block quotes about the permitting process and blow by blow accounts of permitting meetings.
Frank Stein
Jan 13, 2009 Frank Stein rated it really liked it
The subtitle is a tad grandiose, but the book actually focuses on the real nuts and bolts of constructing a fairly typical suburban subdivision. It highlights the perils of sewer permits and the drama (such as there may be) of contracts with a local water utility. Written just as the housing market was crashing and burning, it also gives hints as to why all those home builders just couldn't stop building.
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Witold Rybczynski was born in Edinburgh, of Polish parentage, raised in London, and attended Jesuit schools in England and Canada. He studied architecture at McGill University in Montreal, where he also taught for twenty years. He is currently the Martin and Margy Meyerson Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also co-edits the Wharton Real Estate Review. Rybczynski has ...more
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