In honor of Phil Lewis, father of Andy Lewis who served previously on the City Council, who recently passed away, this is a tribute to a giant in the field of regional and sustainable planning:

Remembering Phil Lewis

Phil Lewis, nationally known professor of landscape architecture, died earlier this month. Phil’s work had a significant impact on the landscape of the Madison region, and on the field of landscape architecture, as well described in local press here, here and here.

In addition to his notable contributions mentioned in those articles, such as his instrumental role in establishing the Nine Springs E-Way, Phil was also a larger than life figure in the field of regional planning. His work accompanied other great designers – especially Ian McHarg – who pioneered the concepts of designing with nature.

Their method of designing with nature involved cataloguing important natural and cultural resources, connecting them in corridors for preservation and access, and incorporating those corridors into regional plans. Long before GIS computer mapping, he used map “layers” to overlay these resources onto the landscape and show their patterns and relationships. Methods such as these are now part of standard planning practices.

Phil also understood the value of robust public participation. Working for Governor Gaylord Nelson, he enlisted citizens to identify natural and cultural resources statewide. He displayed them on a giant map in the basement of the State Capitol building for anyone to view.

I had the honor of working with Phil later in his career, after he had retired. What was clear to me was that his passion for making a better world never dimmed.

Phil never shied away from big visions or pushing the boundaries of thinking in the name of achieving a sustainable future. He envisioned our region growing in the center and along existing railroad lines that radiate out in a spoke-like pattern from Madison. In this “corridor and wedge” vision, the land between the rail lines – the wedges – would remain mostly undeveloped agriculture and environmental corridors.

He promoted other big ideas such as Madison in the center of a regional “circle city” connected by resources, transportation and development patterns. He advocated for a regional design center as a hub for design professionals to collaborate and serve the region and state. And he envisioned a Personal Rapid Transit system with pods on elevated monorails transporting people efficiently while supporting good development.

As time passed, and growth did not strictly adhere to his visions, Phil’s enthusiasm for regional thinking and planning as key to a sustainable future did not dim. Well into his eighties Phil remained engaged and ready to share his ideas.

Thank you Phil for showing us the value of thinking big, persistence, and for making our region and world a better place. We will miss you.

Steve Steinhoff
Deputy Directory, Capital Area RPC

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