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The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History


a map comparing the sizes of several cities
As transportation got faster, cities got bigger: The borders of Ancient Rome, Medieval Paris, Victorian London, early 20th century Chicago, and modern-day Atlanta. David Montgomery/CityLab

From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

In 1994, Cesare Marchetti, an Italian physicist, described an idea that has come to be known as the Marchetti Constant. In general, he declared, people have always been willing to commute for about a half-hour, one way, from their homes…



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