Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-first Century, and Why We Live in Houses Anyway by Witold Rybczynski is, despite its long and ponderous title, a fascinating book. Mr. Rybczynski has written a number of books that I've enjoyed, and I'm adding this one to the list.
I've always wondered about how housing developments work, and this book answered my questions. The buying, planning, constructing, selling are just a small part of the work that it takes to go from cornfield (or pasture, around here) to neighborhood - and there is much more time involved than I realized. I've been guilty of saying that a particular development has "sprung up overnight" because I didn't know that planning, obtaining permits, working to ensure septic or sewer connections, getting water lines to the area, and even getting permission from other residents in the area for the development may have gone on for two to three years before the first heavy earthmovers appear to start making the roads for the builders and infrastructure.
This book follows a developer as he buys a cornfield in southern Chester County in Pennsylvania hoping to turn it into a villagelike subdivision, and ends with an interview with one of the families that buys and moves into one of the first houses of that subdivision, New Daleville. As usual, Mr. Rybczynski has made a subject that could be dull or boring light and interesting - and easy enough for someone like me, with no background in real estate development, to understand and enjoy.
(But he really does not explain "Why we live in houses anyway.")