For many people, commuting to work is an almost ubiquitous daily occurrence that most strive to keep to a reasonable length. But is this a uniquely modern difficulty, or did workers in past eras have similar commuter struggles? That question is the focus of this August 2019 CityLab article written by Jonathan English, a PhD candidate in urban planning at Columbia University. The article opens by introducing what is known as the Marchetti Constant, an idea coined by the Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti, which English describes as stating that "in general, [...] people have always been willing to commute for about a half-hour, one way, from their homes each day." English goes on to explore examples of how this principle has tended to hold true throughout the centuries, noting that "the average speed of our transportation technologies does more than anything to shape the physical structure of our cities." Examples range from pre-Industrial Rome and Paris to 19th-century railway and streetcar cities like London and Chicago, and culminate in the expressway systems that enabled the rise of suburbia and car commuting that are common today. This article, which includes several illustrative maps and images, offers readers a quick overview of the history of transportation and urban development.
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