The Last Undiscovered Place, The University of Virgina Press
2004 | 240 pages | ISBN 978-0-8139-2694-0 | Purchase
Where is the last undiscovered Place?
It's wherever you live because our immediate surroundings are the last spots we search for anything worthwhile or intriguing. David explores his home town, offering a metaphor and methodology for your own discovery of the place where you live.
What's been said about the book?
With warmth and a keen eye for the nuances of history and place, David K. Leff offers this affectionate, insightful portrait of his adopted home of Collinsville, Connecticut, a village that looked perfectly ordinary until he fell prey to its rhythms and charm. The town taught him a new way of seeing his environment, and through this process he discovered what many Americans long for amid the suburban sprawl decried in James H. Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere and many other recent books: a sense of community.
Collins, which supplied the pikes for John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, went out of business in 1966, and Collinsville settled into the familiar decrepitude of many New England mill towns. In spite of its half-alive state, Leff found in its battered factory buildings and struggling main street an extraordinary place. Built before the restrictive zoning codes that today keep most Americans in their cars for hours on end, Collinsville's mixed-use center has been preserved by industrious residents and a hilly topography marked by the presence of the Farmington River, which once drove the mill. The landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. lived here at a time when Samuel Collins, the socially minded founder of the company, was laying out his ideal village for workers and managers.
Leff feels Olmsted's presence as he walks the village's uneven streets, often in the company of his children, musing on its history, politics, and architecture. Living at the center of Collins's creation years later, Leff has come to believe, like Olmsted, that human beings are deeply affected by their experience of landscape, and that local interaction—between parents and teachers, store owners and customers, bar regulars and volunteer firefighters—matters. The Last Undiscovered Place argues quietly but forcefully for looking at our landscapes more carefully, as Leff strives for a metaphorical Collinsville that can serve as a way to rediscover other places, those that already exist and those that are still on the drawing boards of developers and planners.
If we explore our communities we will find them more intriguing than we ever imagined. What we discover will connect us to people, objects, and phenomena that enrich our lives. We will hunger to learn more. The more familiar we become with the places we live, the more we will grow to appreciate, love them even. The more we love them, the more engaged we will become and the harder we will work to make them better.