A Spectrum of Places



I’ve been meaning to link to Ben Adler’s piece on the contrast between two different kinds of suburbs in the Washington, DC area. One’s built along new urbanist lines, the other a very 2000s-style exurb in Virgina.

You should just read the piece and assimilate the arguments it makes. But as a broader theme, it illustrates the fact that our ways of talking about kinds of places—urban vs suburban, dense or sprawling—elide huge diversity in how places can be organized. A lot of times conversations about these kind of things get distorted by focusing on the idea of shifting people from one ideal-type to another. So you imagine a family that lives on a cul-de-sac and owns two cars and their oldest kid is hoping to get a car as soon as she turns 16 because without a car you can’t get anywhere at all and wonder what it would take to get them to start living like a carless twentysomething on the Lower East Side. Well, it’s very hard to say. But in reality there’s a huge spectrum of kinds of places that people can live and a much more realistic vision of a more sustainable America involves a systematic shift along that spectrum rather than anyone wanting to make huge discontinuous leaps.