J.H. Crawford was born and raised in North America. From the age of seven he lived within the orbit of New York City, except for two spells in the Town of Mount Royal, a railroad suburb of Montréal. As a youth, he traveled by train and bicycle through a Europe still relatively free of cars. He later traveled widely in North America, Asia, and Europe. He eventually settled in Amsterdam, where he makes his home today.
His university education was in the liberal arts, although he delved into science, architecture, and engineering as a youth. After taking a few years off to sail and to photograph George McGovern’s 1972 run for the presidency, he went back to school for a masters in social work. For three years in the late 1970s, he provided child welfare services to families and children. During those years, he learned much about the lives of the poor and downtrodden. The grim reality of their lives made a lasting impression on him.
In 1979, as public transport ombudsman for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, a statewide bus and rail operator, he learned about most aspects of public transport operation during the investigation of customer complaints.
In the early 1980s, he consulted with resorts in coastal South Carolina. Typical of these resorts is Sea Pines, on Hilton Head Island. This planned beachfront golfing community includes a mix of houses, apartment buildings, restaurants, stores, activities, and Harbour Town, a small, dense community built around a circular boat basin dredged into the island. A quayside promenade, free of cars, surrounds the harbor. The harbor is fronted by multistory condominiums that are some of the most desirable housing on the island. In season and out, many people converge there, despite an entrance fee for nonresidents.
While working in South Carolina, he discovered Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, a work that provided the theoretical basis for understanding the popularity of partially carfree communities such as Harbour Town. He began thinking about the urban form in the context of Alexander’s patterns and soon realized that high-quality urban life was impossible while cars still ruled the streets and occupied so much land.
Between 1983 and 1985, he managed projects for a robotics systems developer that specialized in the automated handling of standardized shipping containers. He saw that the universal adoption of a single standard for these containers offered an ideal method for shipping and storing freight.
Since 1985 he has taken assignments as a software developer, designer, photographer, editor, and writer.