A most hopeful light

Nimbin light

We designed our bedroom to handle the light of the Australian sub-tropics. We used hundreds of CAD shade diagrams and tried to honour some basic feng shui principles. So a narrow window admits morning sun along the eastern wall. Just a glimpse, a shard of light. But in the winter (almost intentionally) the paler morning sun glances off the glass in the door opposite. It makes delicate pattens on the western wall.

I turn over to face it, greeted by sparkling. Awash with brilliance.

That light is so Australian.

But it’s not my favourite light.

Nimbin bedroom window 2013OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Grey Vancouver

I grew up (if you could call it that) in a damp, foggy, grey place: Vancouver. My father called it “Canada’s Evergreen Playground”, an advertising term he’d heard on the radio, I think. I called it grey. Living in Norgate Park in the fifties was not what you’d call a totally pleasant experience. Vancouver was dreary. Some days there were terrible smells from the fish plant and it was always foggy.

We lived near the Inlet and I’d wake in the night to the foghorns’ mournful wail. I thought it was just a foggy place, but it was actually the smoke from the sawmills’ beehive burners. Most of the fog disappeared when the mills were torn down. But the weather was still awful.


hazy horizon


In Vancouver, it was never actually sunny. Just less grey.

We had a hundred names for rain like the Eskimos have for snow. “Just spitting” was one of those.


New Haven light

When I was twenty, I married (largely to escape my family, the fog and the rain) and moved to Connecticut. Different light altogether. The summers were steamy and unpleasant. And the winters: well, if your car would go, they were beautiful. Snow was always on our horizon. We had a 1952 Cadillac with all the windows stalled at half-mast.

In our first New Haven winter,   the AAA started the Green Dragon (aka the Sponge on Wheels) nineteen times. In March, they wrote to say that nineteen was enough, already. No more starts.

Winter snow was challenging in an old car.


But the light.


Oh, the light!


New Haven light.


I remember waking early on a Sunday morning and sensing that something magical had happened. The light from the kitchen window in our small apartment at 98 Edwards Street is what I remember most. Something bright, almost silver, seeping into the drab interior spaces and enlivening them.

It had snowed while I slept.


Bottom left: our kitchen window 50 years later

Bottom left: our New Haven kitchen window 50 years later

Children remember the silence of an overnight snowfall.


I remember the light.


Raffi’s light

Last February, I lived in Charlestown in Boston for three weeks. It was heaven. My cousin would have to be the most generous person alive: he made an entire apartment available to me, kitted out down to the napkin rings. It had everything.

had everything.

It was very snowy in Boston, which is one reason I had to move there.


I discovered, my first morning, when I wandered into Raffi’s kitchen, that it had the New Haven light: the silvery light I loved so much. I guess it’s actually New England light. But I had not seen it for nearly fifty years. To me, it’s blessed with sweet memories of hopefulness. I was twenty: my “escape” was accomplished and my new life was beginning. Nurtured by New Light.


Raffi's kitchen, February 2013

Raffi’s kitchen, February 2013



The unfamiliar/familiar light in Raffi’s Charlestown kitchen stopped me in my tracks. I had to sit down and consider it.


New Haven light.


The place I stayed the day before – in suburbia – had none of that light.


So I considered that Raffi’s light might be the product of something more: the sum of many sensations. Maybe the age of the building (1906), its design, the closeness and design of the neighbouring buildings, the shape of the window, the old glass, the old window frame, the blind, the orientation of the building, the architecture of the kitchen…


No matter: it was the New Haven light. I basked in it!   Sidling up to its pale luminescence, cradling my mug of tea, I felt comforted. Safe.



Through Raffi's window

Through Raffi’s window

That got me thinking about place attachment. We’re such territorial animals, us humans. Hard-wired to love and protect our territories.


It might be difficult for planners to evaluate “love of light” as a place-attachment criterion. But I think it’s worth a shot.


For me, one beam of New England winter light is the light to have.


A most hopeful light.




“Yale Wife” No More

In February of this year, I flew to Boston to teach for a month, mainly in the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Teaching in the GSD was a lot more intensive than Australian postgraduate planning education; the students were also an international and multicultural bunch.

The privileged Harvard student body I had witnessed in the 1960s (visiting from New Haven) was nowhere be seen.

At Tufts University, I gave a class to their planning students on community visioning, using my model called “Heartstorming”. I also gave a colloquium on “NIMBY psychology”. At MIT, I spoke to planning students about the forces that influenced my career as a social planner and my passion for community engagement. At the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, I gave a lecture on “NIMBY psychology”, unpacking the deeper reasons behind people’ s negative responses to proposed housing density increases.

In the 1960s…

In the 1960s, I was what was called a “Yale Wife”, living in New Haven, Connecticut, in my early twenties with my Yale postgraduate student husband. It was a demeaning term (Yale College was not co-ed at that time). Wives were “non-persons”, attractive and empty-headed “appendages” in those days. Even at Yale. And that’s how I saw myself, having no real professional direction.

The "Yale Wife" 1965

The first female planning student in South Australia

When I began studying planning at Adelaide University in 1971, I was the only woman in my postgraduate course. Even though I held two degrees, I had to do an “admission assignment” that no other applying student was required to do.   (I did it.)

My then husband (an academic) was asked to sign an affidavit stating that he had not helped me with it. (He signed it.)

When I topped the planning course in the second year, the Adelaide News sent around a photographer, who asked me to pose in the kitchen, stirring a pot, to show I was still a “real woman”. (I refused.)

Adelaide News, December 1972

Adelaide News, December 1972



I have been an academic off and on over the past three decades. But always life has intervened and kept me from a full-time academic career. In 1978, I left a tenure-track academic position in Adelaide to seek my fortune in California following the break-up of my first marriage and my enduring heartbreak. I ended up teaching at Berkeley for two years.

Train to New Haven

One frosty February day, during my time at Harvard this year, I took a morning train to New Haven.

It was time to check out the chapel where I’d married my “Yale Man” 50 years before. (It was being repaired so I could not view the scene of the crime.)

I visited the Yale Library and spent afternoon in the Archives, marveling that I’d had to sneak into the library through a back door to use the stacks as I was not allowed in (as a “Yale Wife”).

A walk through deep snow along icy footpaths led me to the apartment building where we’d lived as students in the mid-sixties and it looked exactly the same.   After 50 years! Imagine!

1966 and 2013

The world’s best pizza

Before I caught the train back to Boston, I devoured the best pizza of my life in our old haunt, Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria, still operating after 80 years.

The waiter chuckled when I explained I’d traveled 17,500 miles and waited nearly 50 years for my dinner! (That was heaps better than seeing inside the chapel!)

The world's best pizza!

The world’s best pizza!







Spending a month at Harvard and lecturing at Tufts and MIT was a real thrill. No longer a “Yale Wife”, I was speaking about my own work as a practitioner.

It had been a  long journey.

And it felt marvelous.

Reflecting as a CPTED Practitioner on Harvard and Yale


Harvard Yard February 2013



Spending February teaching at the Graduate School of Design (GSD) at Harvard sparked all sorts of thoughts in me about pedestrian safety.


And a day at Yale and in New Haven, Connecticut confirmed that I did not feel safe there as a female pedestrian. Reflecting as a CPTED Practitioner policing and street safety at on Harvard and Yale really made me question the wisdom of intensive policing.


See my guest blog for Greg Saville’s SafeGrowth Blogspot:




Many thanks to Greg, my colleague and friend of nearly 20 years.