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 moved to Europe in 1990, dividing his time between Amsterdam and Lisbon. He was called home in 2006 to manage family problems caused by a car crash and finished this book while living in upstate New York.
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 US presidency, he went back to school for a master’s degree 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 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 course of investigating 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, and activities. Harbour Town, a small, dense community built around a circular boat basin dredged out of the island, includes a carfree quayside promenade around the harbor, which is fronted by multi-story condominiums that are some of the most desirable housing on the island. In season and out, people gathered 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 communities with a carfree component, 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. This eventually led to the development of his first sketches of carfree city forms.
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 had yielded an ideal method for shipping and storing freight.
Since 1985 he has taken assignments as a software developer, designer, planning consultant, university lecturer, public speaker, photographer, editor, and writer. Carfree Cities, his first book, appeared in 2000.