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The Enlightenment


From where I sit, the Enlightenment has never looked so good.

Voting in the North Dakota primary is safely behind us and I am pleased to report that two issues were happily resolved on the side of reason—by which I mean reasoned argument, rather than hyperbolic advertising, seemed to carry the day.

Measure 2 failed simply because arguments for elimination of property taxes, however well-intentioned and potentially worthwhile, failed to identify alternative sources to fund—equitably, mind you—basic services like schools and fire and police protection. Measure 3, on the other hand, was a bloody Pandora’s Warehouse of evil, something that would have opened the hangar doors to legalized wife-beating, denial of emergency medical treatment, polygamy and polyandry, all in the interest of permitting organizations that oppose family planning to deny such benefits to their employees—something already built into current health care legislation (read “Obamacare”).*

So, now that I’ve vented on the lunacy of current political rhetoric, please let me wax nostalgic on the origins of the Enlightenment-inspired plan for Agincourt, Iowa.

I’d convinced myself that Agincourt’s progenitor had been Philadelphia, William Penn’s deceptively simple urbanism of the late 17th century. Ask me about it some time; I’ve written a forty-page paper about Philly’s plan through the middle of the 19th century, when it could still have reasonably inspired a townsite in northwestern Iowa as late as the 1850s.


But sleuthing this evening on the internet I happened on Andrew Ralston’s 1821 plan for Indianapolis and realized another hidden influence. I recall it but had to look for information on Ralston, who, it turns out, had been an assistnat to l’Enfant in the design of Washington DC.


And while we’re about it, who can forget Doty’s landmark plan for Madison, WI, slightly later than Indianapolis but soon enough to predate Agincourt.


These three plans seem to embody the best Enlightnement thinking about cities as networks for Democracy, a neutral matrix for the best aspects of the American Century.

Agincourt’s Founders planned well.

*A phone survey just ten minutes ago tells me they’re already planning a rematch on so-called “religious freedom.” Ladies and gentlemen, gird your loins!

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