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A Spectrum of Places

By Matthew Yglesias  

"A Spectrum of Places"

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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.

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