CHAPTER THREE
Place Complexity

There is nothing, whether in actuality or in thought, that is
as simple … as is commonly imagined. [Claiming that things
are simple and self-sufficient] is a mere opinion based on a
lack of awareness of what is actually present
.

(Hegel 1969, 829)

WE HAVE ALREADY EXAMINED some key characteristics of today’s places and offered a theory about the nature of places; this chapter turns to criteria for evaluating and improving contemporary places. I suggest a criterion using the term complexity. This offers leverage on contemporary places without making totalizing claims, and without demanding a distinction of genuine originals from denatured imitations. The more common criterion of place, authenticity, is vague and usually tied to centered and hierarchical places. It condemns too much in today’s world and offers too little guidance about how to proceed. It is better to distinguish complex from simplified places and to make the related distinctions of thick from thin, and dense from diluted places (see definitions later in this chapter). The contrast of complexity with simplification captures many of the negative features criticized in contemporary places, while offering helpful ideas for their improvement.

Here are three claims about complexity: a frequent problem with places today is the replacement of complex interwoven identities and places by series of simpler identities and places; because of their inherent temporality, because of the way social norms involve meanings and contrasts and linkages that cannot be fully controlled, and because they exist within multiple processes of place formation, even the most simplified places contain the seeds of a restorative complexity; and more complex places can support a richer and more self-aware inhabitation that embodies more fully and explicitly the conditions and processes that make places possible at all.1

Today we often find archipelagos of intense but simplified places and

-53-

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Sprawling Places
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter One - Places Today 1
  • Chapter Two - What Is a Place? 28
  • Chapter Three - Place Complexity 53
  • Chapter Four - Commodification, Systems, and Places 81
  • Chapter Five - Full Theme Ahead 107
  • Chapter Six - Suburban Promises and Problems 136
  • Chapter Seven - Toward More Complexity in Suburbia 162
  • Afterword 190
  • Notes 193
  • Bibliography 233
  • Index 251
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