George Mason Acquires Legal Title to Nation’s Largest Planned Community Archive

Posted: May 25, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

The planned community – specially designed towns and cities built around a common goal, usually based on values – has been a unique slice of cultural and architectural history for many decades.

Whether it is the economic utopia of the Greenbelt Towns developed by the federally sponsored Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression or the fairy-tale-like, Disney-sponsored town of Celebration, Fla., planned communities are the blueprints of a dream of an ideal life.

For the past 20 years, George Mason University Libraries has housed the largest archive dedicated to the planned community movement. The Planned Community Archive, to which the university was recently granted legal title from the Planned Community Archives Inc., charts the history of the planned community and new town movement worldwide.

Comprised of correspondence, reports, advertisements, maps, slides, videotapes, color photographs and other documentation, the nearly 20-year-old collection is approximately 675 linear feet. If all the containers in the collection were laid out, they would cover more than two football fields.

Planned communities have been proposed as creative alternatives to conventional developments for many years and in many countries. Mason’s archive is particularly strong in its documentation of the history of Reston, Va., one of the nation’s first modern planned communities, which celebrated its 42nd anniversary this year.

In the 1960s, Reston’s founder, Robert E. Simon Jr., had a vision of a community where all races, social and economic classes could live together. At that time, Reston was one of the only places in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area where a single woman could afford a mortgage on a home.

Scholars from across the United States and from as far away as Japan have visited Mason to access these unique materials, said Paul Koda, recently retired librarian for Special Collections and Archives.

Through private support, University Libraries have undertaken an ambitious plan to digitize a core component of the collection so that anyone can have access to the materials via the Internet.

“This collection is one of very few, if not the only one, of its kind,” says Robert Vay, acting head of Special Collections and Archives. “It focuses primarily on the history of the founding and growth of Reston, but also contains material donated by individuals who have studied and developed other planned communities elsewhere in the United States and around the world.”

In addition to Reston, the PCA Collection contains information from planned communities and new towns from across the country such as Greenbelt, Md., and Woodland, Tex., as well as planned communities abroad in Israel and France. It also includes books on utopian societies.

For more information on the collection, e-mail Vay.

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