Legendary Bahamian developer and Town Founder Orjan Lindroth passed away of a long-term illness during the pandemic, so his memorial celebration occurred two weeks ago today. Here's my part in the celebration, to the best of my recollection:
Of all the people speaking today, I have known Orjan for the shortest length of time. We met here on New Providence during a DPZ design charrette, on Super Bowl week 2005. Knowing I knew a thing or two about American football, Andres Duany asked me to explain the rules and strategies to Orjan, who was born in Sweden, but spent most of his life in The Bahamas. That lasted all of three minutes, until we discovered we shared a long-held passion.
Simply put, we both long believed that there are powerful forces at work behind the scenes in the creation of sustainable places that do not exist in development built at speed as industrial widgets. But what are these forces, and where do they originate? Orjan proposed the term "the unified field theory of sustainable places," which shared commonalities with Einstein's quest for the Unified Field Theory that would unite all the forces of physics. And while neither of us made any claims at being an Einstein, the foundations of both ideas were the same.
2005 brought Katrina just 8 months after we met, and for the next three years, Wanda and I spent every available moment and dollar on the disaster recovery effort. Time and again, we were just a week or two from losing everything.
But when that happened, Orjan and Amanda showed up with commission after commission. I still have no idea how they knew, or even if they knew, but they were always there in our darkest times of the Katrina recovery years. One of those commissions was writing the first edition of A Living Tradition [Architecture of The Bahamas], which transformed so many things for us.
Finally, late in 2008, Wanda had to shut us down with the Katrina recovery work, saying "if we don't survive, we can't help anyone else." Her decision was timely; the Meltdown happened weeks later, with the ensuing Great Recession.
But as the darkness of the Great Recession turned to recovery, the work for Orjan and Amanda continued. And its missions were unique among all the place-makers I've ever worked with. Orjan wasn't just building places to sell; he was first of all building economies. "How shall the people thrive?" And he was building places for all, not just for the wealthy. I worked a decade earlier to design a place in Alabama with a residential value range of 15-to-1. Orjan's goal was 40-to-1, with the true Bahamian town being the standard. I designed many "highly affordable houses" for him in these years. He worked equally hard at building the culture of a place, for the longstanding triumvirate of sustainable place, economy, and culture.
As 2016 dawned, he returned to the longstanding Unified Field Theory question with an urgency I hadn't seen earlier. And the vehicle for working out the questions was the long-overdue second edition of the Living Tradition book. That year, and much of early 2017, we were just trying to figure out which questions to ask but by mid-year it was time to begin the onsite work. Our collaboration 5 years earlier on the Ecological Dividend informed much of this.
We finished the new edition in 2018 with some questions still left unanswered; there is work left to be done. But the great epiphany that slowly emerged was that the secret of sustainable place-making was based in nature's ways, not the standards of industry. Building real towns, not just developments. Places people love instead of places industry loves. Humane places, not mechanical products.
The Congress for the New Urbanism convened three weeks ago for the first time in three years due to the pandemic, and they memorialized those lost in the intervening time at one of the plenaries. I wrote the one for Orjan, which said in part "when someone is lost, many will say 'this is such a great loss for the family,' but in Orjan's case, this is such a great loss for the nation."
So today's question is this: who will stand up now and love this people, this place, and this nation as Orjan did? Neither Teofilo nor I can do this; our heads lie on pillows in another nation most nights; it must be someone who calls The Bahamas their homeland, or as Orjan did, their adopted homeland. I don't know if it's someone sitting here in this room today or someone in another place, but someone must step into the breach and carry on, loving this people, this place, and this nation as Orjan did. Who will it be?