I spent last week in Charlotte around urban designers and writers talking about the “urban form” of a place and truly “seeing” it. I’m so tired of this focus on the appearance of a place that I was refreshed by this interview with Zita Cobb, once the third highest-paid female exec in America, who returned to her birthplace, Fogo Island in Newfoundland, to help it rebuild based on both the nature which surrounds it and the nature of the people.

This is but one of several interviews that have come out in the last year with Cobb, who is obviously one of the right people for our time. Cobb’s father was a small fisherman wiped out by industrial over-fishing, and neither parent could read or write. After a successful career, she returned in middle age to establish an inn and a community development foundation. One of the community assets she identified to build on was “profound hospitality”, like that displayed in Gander on 9/11. The Fogo Inn has become a world destination for experiencing a still-local place with a community of characters and a connection to nature that someone has called a “Salty Narnia”. The materials for that inn were so locally sourced that they even made their own beadboard and bed furnishings.

As Cobb points out, places are getting homogenized, even with supposed “good” mixed-use and transit-oriented-development. How do we keep them authentic and rooted in people who have lived there for a long time? In this and other interviews, Cobb offers a philosophy of how.