Townscape design is the art of giving visual coherence and organization to the collage of buildings, streets, and spaces that make up the urban environment. Since its incorporation in 1979, The Townscape Institute, a not-for-profit public interest planning organization in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has utilized this concept to improve both the legibility and the livability of cities, towns, and neighborhoods. The Institute's range of endeavors supports the townscape notion that the whole can become more than simply the sum of its parts. Through advocacy for visual enhancement of the built environment and projects combining public art and urban design, The Townscape Institute affirms, enhances, and reveals a sense of place. The Institute's president and staff have worked in over one hundred communities and ten countries with a practice that includes consulting, advocacy, education, and the execution of design work. The Institute's projects seek to reveal "place meaning" and thus to encourage a sense of proprietorship toward locale which can nourish a positive ethic for the built environment. To achieve this goal, The Townscape Institute develops strategies that strengthen people's claim to their own environs by fostering mental associations to them. Such projects include Main Street revitalization efforts, cultural identity programs including plaques and computer software, and the commissioning of public art and artisanry.

The Townscape Institute has been involved with conservation and visual enhancement of the built environment for over 35 years. It worked to evaluate many historic and scenic sites across America and has collected much additional material in the course of preparing its video and traveling exhibit on threatened American cultural landscapes entitled "What So Proudly We Hailed." As a result, Townscape has collected over sixty thousand catalogued slides, one of the most comprehensive collections in the country on the issues of contextual design, urban amenities, and historic preservation. In addition, the Townscape Institute has a library of over six thousand volumes, which includes hundreds of local histories that aid the research process, as well as cameras, video cameras, and extensive computer hardware and software. The library is open to visitors by appointment. Through public art planning charrettes, place making strategies, conceptual design, consulting, research, analysis and administration, The Townscape Institute has been involved in all stages of townscape design.

One of the Institute's most ambitious projects, the Radnor Gateways Enhancement Strategy, won the Environmental Design Research Association and Places Magazine award for design in 1998. For more information about The Townscape Institute’s projects, see the projects page.

To stimulate a broader interest in place meaning and making, The Townscape Institute fosters the development of educational publications; books and posters, exhibitions and videos , that illustrate how buildings, spaces, and objects can reinforce identification with place. Publications have always been integral to The Townscape Institute's advocacy role. In addition to Placemakers, the Institute published two other books as part of the trilogy The Power of Place: Towards an Ethic for the Built Environment. The influential series was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1982. Townscape continues to write and publish books and articles. The Art of Place Making: Public Art, Interpretation and Urban Design That Tell You Where You Are is currently being completed, several chapters already having been published in Places Magazine and through Scenic America. For more information and a complete listing of Townscape Publications, see the publications page.

The Institute's most recent publication, a technical handbook entitled Saving Face: How Corporate Franchise Design Can Respect Community Identity, was published by the American Planning Association in August 1994, with a revised and expanded edition in 2002. This work uses over 100 color photos to illustrate case studies of communities that have successfully persuaded fast food and gasoline franchises to moderate their designs in ways that respect local contexts.

Ronald Lee Fleming, president of The Townscape Institute, has worked with national, state and local public interest organizations as a design advocate, practitioner and educator for more than 35 years. He was one of the initiators the national "Main Street" movement, a program that coordinates the efforts of property owners and merchants to revitalize downtown areas through an awareness of and respect for community character. As the founding chairman of the Cambridge Arts Council, he made the initial contacts with the Department of Transportation which resulted in the innovative Arts of the Line program that generated more than a million dollars for arts commissions on the MBTA system. He is currently an active board member of the Trustees of Reservations, Scenic America, and the Public Policy Committee of the Preservation Society for Newport County. He is the head of the Historic Towns Committee of US International Council on Monuments and Sites, and a principal in the Good Neighbor Policy partnership through the National Trust. He was also the Governor's Appointee to the Massachusetts Historical Commission from 1986 to 1990, and is a former trustee of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities and the Victorian Society, among others.

Mr. Fleming has been featured as a speaker at the annual meetings of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Planning Association. In 1995 he was the keynote speaker at the first Main Street conference in Australia; at a conference sponsored by Signs of the Times Magazine, a trade publication for the advertising industry; and at a conference sponsored by the Sign Foundation, an intellectual "think tank" for the billboard industry. He was also invited to give a series of presentations on corporate franchise design alternatives before HRH the Prince of Wales's Business in the Community Conferences in Charleston, South Carolina, and London. He received his Master's Degree in City Planning from Harvard University and is a member of the American Institute of City Planners. His experience and communication skills qualify him to mediate between preservation groups and multi-national corporations.

The Townscape Institute is currently accepting new projects. Mr. Fleming is uniquely qualified to take on a variety of place making planning endeavors, including public art planning charrettes, conceptual design, place making plans and urban design. Mr. Fleming is also available for consulting and speaking engagements pertaining to design review, corporate visual policy, place making design, proprietorship of public spaces, Main Street revitalization, interpretation, place making street furniture and urban design elements based on the Institute’s nationwide research on these topics for an upcoming book.

Please contact us for more information.