Turning 'Scary Places' into the Great Places Where People Want to Live

Sprawl has obliterated much of our neighborhoods' and communities' social infrastructure. The challenge is finding a new economic model that could turn that around.
by | October 21, 2013
Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon David Kidd/Governing

In his book The Geography of Nowhere: the Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape, James Howard Kunstler describes how America has evolved from a nation of Main Streets with distinctive communities to one where every place is like no place in particular. Most of us live in or near places like these.

How did we get to what Kunstler describes as this "landscape of scary places"? It's no mystery, of course: Post-war community development in America was shaped by a car-centered transportation system. Rural countryside was converted to suburban housing sprawl, with broad roadways and shopping malls surrounded by acres of parking lots. With this transformation went much of the social infrastructure -- the town square, city hall, and local markets and businesses -- that fostered personal interaction and a sense of place.

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Yet there are communities that are exceptions to this pattern -- ones that invite us to reflect on how things could be. These are the great places, places where we'd really love to live. I have my list -- places like Washington, D.C.'s Cleveland Park, Idyllwild, Calif., and Portland, Ore. You probably have a list like that of your own.

A great neighborhood or community operates at human scale. It is comfortable and accessible. It creates its own identity by taking advantage of location, geography, history and local resources. People choose to live there because they see and experience qualities that reflect their own personal and social values. Great places are created by the people who live in them.

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Bob Graves  |  Associate Director of the Governing Institute

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Bob Graves

Bob Graves. M.S., associate director of the Governing Institute, is the designated content curator for the FutureStructure initiative and also a co-founder of e.Republic, the parent organization of Governing.


VOICES is curated by the Governing Institute, which seeks out practitioners and observers whose perspective and insight add to the public conversation about state and local government. For more information or to submit an article to be considered for publication, please contact editor John Martin.

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