Why Everywhere Looks The Same

The institutionalization of real estate and the rise of ‘placeless’ places

Coby Lefkowitz
Published in
13 min readApr 28, 2021
Fenwick, a 310 unit apartment building in Silver Spring, Maryland. Source: SK + I

Many of America’s towns and cities could charitably be described as boring. New development, that is. America is home to an incredible diversity of regional architectural and planning styles. We cherish what makes each of these places special, traveling far and wide to take in their idiosyncrasies and beauty. But somewhere along the way, we stopped building according to local traditions. Over the last 70 years, America hasn’t put its best design foot forward.

It would be disappointing enough to fail in gracing a land as physically beautiful as the US with the built companions it deserves. But it’s downright shameful that we deprive ourselves of living in interesting, meaningful, and wonderful places, given the thousands of precedents for inspiration worldwide, and many hundreds within our borders.

Instead, we’ve copied and pasted our society from the most anodyne, the most boring, and the most bleh.

We’ve all seen them. Covered with fiber cement, stucco, and bricks or brick-like material. They’ve shown up all over the country, indifferent to their surroundings. Spreading like a non-native species. And no, I’m not talking about sprawling suburbs. They go by many names: Texas Doughnuts, Fast-Casual Architecture, McUrbanism, five-over-ones, those big bad boxes that stretch across the block. Spongebuild Squareparts.

What’s behind this bland sameness? While it’s been well explained before, I think only a fractional part of the story has been told — that it boils down to costs and codes. But this growing real estate trend extends beyond these two factors. As I see it, there are four reasons why our places are looking increasingly the same.

1. Constrained by codes: zoning and international building codes

Zoning is often the underlying explanation for the current state of American real estate, housing, and planning. Codes were developed in the 1920s and 1950s, and reflect the desires of planners and city makers of the time. Namely, a predominance of single-family detached homes with streets oriented around cars. As the…



Coby Lefkowitz
Writer for

Urbanist, Developer, Writer, & Optimist working to create more beautiful, sustainable, healthy, equitable and people-oriented places.