The North American pattern of development is an unprecedented experiment. For thousands of years, humans around the world built their habitat in similar ways, at similar scales, in patterns still familiar.

In the wake of the Great Depression and World War II, settlement patterns across the North American continent were completely reimagined. From the top-down, we transformed everything about how we live, discarding centuries of accumulated wisdom in the metaphorical blink of an eye.

It is difficult for us to think about the modern American city as a massive experiment because, for most of us, this collection of frontage roads, big box stores, strip malls, cul-de-sacs, franchise restaurants, and single-family homes are all we have ever experienced.

Yet, take an ancient Roman and drop them into an American city of 1920 and they would likely be impressed with the grand, yet familiar, setting. Set them loose in a typical…

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