America’s First Great Town Planners…

Stunning Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff

Gorgeous stonework that blends into the natural sandstone at Wukoki Pueblo

…were not William Penn (Philadelphia), Pierre Charles L’Enfant (Washington, DC), James Oglethorpe (Savannah), nor other post-Columbian examples. No, America’s first great town planners were the Native American Indians. Whether they were the builders of magnificent cliff dwellings and mesa-topped pueblos in the Southwest, or earthen mounds in the Midwest and South, their accomplishments should be an inspiration to any modern planner for a variety of reasons identified below:

Lomaki Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff

  • Use of local materials for construction.
  • Designs that are properly suited to the geography, geology, topography, and climate of the region.
  • Communal design features that promote and enhance communication, public engagement, and shared purpose.
  • Innovative construction and design methods.
  • Functionality and durability
  • Mix of uses
  • Sustainability and self-sufficiency
  • Creation of a sense of “place”

Having recently visited several pueblo, cliff dwelling, and pit-house communities back in February and last week in Arizona, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that these marvelous communities exemplify what we as planners are constantly striving for, but rarely seem to achieve – the establishment of “place.” Whether it’s the community circles and kivas; the mixed and/or communal nature of the designs; the inspirational, as well as functional and durable architecture; or the breathtaking scenery, these ancient communities are not just historical, archaeological, or cultural artifacts, but are examples of great town planning techniques we need to observe, learn from, and apply to our modern world.

Small Kiva at the Tusayan Ruin in Grand Canyon National Park

Much too often, the formative planning foundations we are/were taught in school tend to focus on Euro-centric paradigms, while, in reality, some of the very best theories and examples of inspired town planning lie right before us, at our very doorstep. All we have to do is walk through the entry and be amazed by what we see and what we can learn.

Elden Pueblo near Flagstaff

This planner hopes that future planning curriculum and training sessions will put greater focus on the pre-Columbian town planning that took place on the North American continent. To truly adapt to and coexist peacefully with our natural environment, we must first learn from it, as well as from those who coexisted with nature for so many years before us. In this time of ongoing climate change, living in a symbiotic relationship with Mother Earth sounds like a win-win proposition!

Impressive Casa Grande National Monument between Tucson and Phoenix

If these magnificent structures and communities interest you as much as they do me, here is a helpful  resource available on Amazon for more information.


*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using this link to Amazon.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

This entry was posted in archaeology, architecture, art, cities, civics, culture, education, environment, geography, Geology, historic preservation, history, humanity, land use, Native Americans, placemaking, planning, spatial design, topography, tourism, Travel, urban planning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to America’s First Great Town Planners…

  1. says:

    What a wonderful, significant article. THANK YOU!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Benson Munger, PhD says:

    Having lived in Arizona for a number of years we would agree that these are well worth visiting and thinking about.

    Liked by 1 person

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