1/15/15 City planner marvels at details of our Main Line communities

Main Line Times Column: Places We Love – City planner marvels at details of our Main Line Communities

It is an honor for me to write as a guest this week as the new Board Chair of the Lower Merion Conservancy. Usually, this is a spot for our Executive Director, Patty Thompson, to stimulate a conversation about just what makes the Main Line a special place worthy of our care. This week, I’d like to offer my thoughts on that, and on why the work done by the Conservancy and organizations like it is important to our community.

When I and my family relocated from Manhattan 12 years ago, this community won our attention because of the quality of the schools and its easy access to Center City via regional rail. In that way we were no different from many people who came before us, and many who will come after.

It wasn’t long, however, before the Main Line’s special charms won our hearts — particularly the walkable, town-like feel of places like Ardmore, Bryn Mawr and Narberth (where we finally settled); the hushed landscapes of our stream valleys; and the legacy of care and imagination visible in the architecture, landscape and ornamental elements that define the neighborhoods, campuses and estates visible from our roadways.

As a professional city planner, I can look at where I live and see a pretty good diagram of what planners are still trying to achieve: a series of compact, walkable villages, organized along a transit line, highlighted with civic architecture and shop-lined streets, and punctuated by green spaces that are generally related to streams and remnants of forests and farms.

But rarely a day goes by that, during my walks around Narberth or my drives around the communities that surround it, that I don’t marvel at the details that I see. Who labored over that stone wall, that ornamental gate, or that sculptural pilaster? What happened in that mill? How was that garden organized so beautifully? Who did that, and why? The cultural landscape that surrounds us is redolent with meaning and resonant with the traces of endeavor that make this a place that I never tire of looking at, thinking about and learning from.

One might think that this rich landscape makes our community unique, but that’s not my point. What’s important that we have been blessed with something special, and we are charged with shepherding its future, and acting with thoughtful intention. It’s a responsibility that falls to all of us who benefit from this inheritance.

The challenge for any community is how to balance the forces of conservation and transformation; how to shape growth and change in a way that will serve not only the immediate interests of individuals, but also the long-term interests of the community at large. The challenge for any community is to recognize the interconnection between its cultural and its environmental landscapes, and between its past and its future.

To me, there is a fundamental link between our stream corridors and our village streetscapes, between healthy, walkable neighborhoods and healthy, life-sustaining habitat. There is a symbiotic relationship between places we need to protect, and places where we need to manage change wisely.

The Conservancy has attracted my energy and commitment because it has placed itself squarely in the middle of these dichotomies. The Conservancy is dedicated to revealing the assets of our community, fostering understanding of them, and advocating for their wise stewardship.

As I work with Patty, our staff and my fellow board members to lead the Conservancy in the coming years, I hope the first thing that you will see is that we are even more visible in the conversations that are taking place about the future of Lower Merion and Narberth. These conversations will involve issues that have been near to the Conservancy’s heart since its founding: balancing the preservation of our built fabric with new development that supports sustainable community patterns; preserving open space and managing our stream corridors.

I also hope you will see that we are even more engaged with shaping the playing field of public policy related to environmental management, land use, infrastructure and cultural resources. Whether it is the new types of form-based zoning that are being considered in various places, alternative approaches to stormwater management, environmentally sensitive strategies for landscape management, or better approaches to managing our historic resource inventory, the Conservancy intends to redouble its efforts at making sure that we have the tools we need for the sustainable management of our community.

This year will mark the beginning of the Conservancy’s 20th anniversary celebration. We are looking forward to building on our track record of connecting people with the places we love, built and natural, in our community. We are looking forward to leading the discussion about how we can adapt our policies, shepherd our resources and manage our activities in a way that allows for future generations to benefit from the great inheritance that surrounds us. We have gotten to this point with broad community support; I hope you will join us we begin our next twenty years of collaboration and leadership.

Todd Bressi is the new Board Chairman of the Lower Merion Conservancy and can be reached atTodd@lmconservancy.org.