The Civic Divide Between Quantity and Quality

Aaron M. Renn dissects the "Venus-Mars" split between the high quality and high quantity model and argues that "an hourglass America is not one most of us want to live in for the long term."

"Two dynamics reflect what has happened throughout America, from retail to media, where there has been a great "hour glassing" effect in the marketplace. A small but significant high end is thriving, almost everywhere but particularly in the quality oriented cities. The low end is also doing well, particularly in the quantity oriented cities. Neimans and Wal-Mart, indeed."

In the future, both models face difficult challenges. High quality talent will be squeezed out of the high end cities, and poached by the quantity areas, which will have trouble expanding once they have outgrown their greenfield advantages.

Full Story: Civic Choices: The Quality vs. Quantity Dilemna



Theres is no debate between sprawl and compact urban development

We can debate the merits of compact, walkable, mass transit-rich, racially-diverse, multistory "vertical" cities versus sprawling, car-dependent, mostly-white, low-rise "horizontal" cities until the cows come home, but the cold, hard truth is that suburban sprawl consumes 90% of transit dollars for roads and comparably large amounts of public money for other infrastructure costs for the half of Americans who live there, while high density urban areas get by with pennies on the dollar for the roads, mass transit and other needs of the half of Americans who live there.

Ultimately, there can be no debate when this kind of social and economic injustice exists. Framing the story in terms of there being two groups with competing claims of validity---the "hourglass" analogy--- implies all things are equal, when they are far from it.

In this case, the "hourglass" has a pear-shape.

Quality vs. Quantity Does Not Equal Smart vs. Dumb Growth

"In effect, there are two very different and competing visions of what an American city should be in the 21st century, the “high quality” model and the “high quantity” model One side has focused on growing vertically, the other horizontally. One group wants to be Neimans or a trendy boutique and ignores the mass market. The other focuses more on the middle class, like a Costco and Target."

The article makes the obvious mistake of identifying 1) the debate between smart growth and sprawl and 2) the question about whether we are concerned with the high end or the middle class.

The middle class is burdened by the cost of transportation and would be better off if those "high quantity" cities changed their zoning to allow denser development.

Look at the chart on page 10 of, and you will see lots of high-quantity cities where families with incomes between $20,000 and $50,000 spend more on transportation than on housing. Eg, in Atlanta, they spend 29% on housing and 32% on transportation, a total of 61% of consumption expenditures. Wouldn't this "mass market" be better off if zoning allowed higher density housing (eg, walkable suburbs rather than sprawl suburbs) so they did not have to spend so much on transportation?

Charles Siegel

Book cover of the Guide to Graduate Planning Programs 4th Edition

Thinking about Grad School?

New! 4th Edition of the Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs just released.
Starting at $24.95

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $209
Red necktie with map of Boston

Tie one on to celebrate your city

Choose from over 20 styles of neckties imprinted with detailed city or transit maps.
Book cover of Unsprawl

Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places

Explore visionary, controversial and ultimately successful strategies for building people-centered places.
Starting at $12.95