Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Courthouse Square

This Christmas, as a well-known map freak, I received a cool book by Frank Jacobs, called Strange Maps. (The link is to his blog, not the book.)  One of the many interesting pages has a map of the various counties in Texas, with the key showing the typology of the courthouse square in each county. Apparently many courthouse squares follow the "Shelbyville" model of how the buildings and roads are arranged around the square, showing the influence of Tennesseans in particular.  I wish I could give you a link to the map, but it is not available online as far as I can tell. It does appear that the map was borrowed from a scholarly text on The Courthouse Square in Texas (Veselka, UT Press), a journal article description of which is excerpted here:
Texas is indeed unique as the only state to retain its public lands on entering the union. This fostered state land policies which encouraged land ownership and the formation of counties and county seats, which once selected led, in turn, to construction of courthouses to house local government. This was facilitated by Anglo-American town plans that were prevalent in Texas and designed specifically to accommodate courthouses. The author examines and analyzes the several types of the courthouse squares derived from Anglo-American planning traditions (Shelbyville, Lancaster, Harrisonburg, and Four-, Two-, and Six-Block Squares), as well as their origins. These square types occur in about three-fourths of Texas' counties. In addition, he examines the remaining one-fourth of Texas town plans that had their origin in Hispanic or other planning traditions (Plaza, Railroad-Influenced, Half- and Quarter-Block, and Irregular Block Squares). These latter types had to be modified to allow location of a courthouse.

In perhaps the most important chapter, Veselka discusses the significant centripetal role of the courthouse square in attracting business activities and public and ceremonial events important to the community. . . .
As I have previously noted, the movement toward e-everything, as described in one of the better COSCA "white papers" (this one from 2005), challenges the centrality of the county courthouse as a place where people still must come together to do their legal business and resolve their disputes.
Technology has also changed the scope of the judiciary’s responsibility to preserve the American tradition of open courts. Now, thanks to the World Wide Web, courts have the opportunity to enhance the public’s ability to meaningfully observe and participate in the judicial process. In this modern age, citizens have the option of going to the courthouse to access court records or documents, or visiting a virtual courthouse where information is available at the click of a mouse. Parties can participate in virtual hearings and meetings, retrieve court records, track the progress of their cases, complete and file complaints and other court documents online, obtain legal information if they are unrepresented, and pay fees and fines via credit card - all without having to leave their homes or businesses.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting story about the maps, and I love the tie-in to the court system! Someone found you a great gift!