Posted by: Patricia Salkin | November 4, 2007

Bordering on Madness: An American Land Use Tale by Andrew F. Popper

This fall, a second outstanding new book that describes the emotional and contentious struggles over land use was released.  Professor Andrew F. Popper of American University, Washington College of Law, drawing on his own experiences, eloquently writes about a different kind of town-gown relationship. Like Murder and Comprehensive Plan, reviewed yesterday, this book is an enjoyable must-read for planners, lawyers, developers, and anyone else involved in the land planning and development process. I highly recommend adding it to the holiday gift list. 

Set in a community surrounded by green space and confronted with the need for the expansion of the bordering university, this story highlights the challenges that developers face when they envision what a parcel of undeveloped land may look like to best suit their needs or their client’s needs, and how this is rarely ever the shared vision of neighbors who desire no changes to the status quo.  One underlying lesson in the plot is that in land use and zoning, expect the unexpected.  Showing how human nature motivates some to preserve land values, landscapes and viewsheds from any change, and the extent people will go to do so – private investigators, threats, and intimidation – this book is an excellent read that makes you want to turn the pages quickly to find out what happens next.  

When Diego Canton is hired by the University to work with a neighborhood association from the outset of a long process to site a new school building, he has no idea the length that the Association leadership will go to protect the greenbelt that surrounds their high-end homes. In fact, after all of the twists and turns, he concludes at the end of this experience what many in the trenches know – “The truth is, when it comes to land, there may not be common ground.”    

Published by Vandeplas Publishing, the book can be ordered on at:


  1. I am not a lawyer, developer, or land planner but this page turner kept me guessing until the end. The characters were extremely well developed and the ease with which Popper describes complex issues reminded me of reading a John Grisham novel.

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