14.11.04

BIG CITIES ARE OBSOLETE.

What is it about self-styled "progressives" that makes so many of them so ... reactionary? Consider The Urban Archipelago, from the Portland Mercury. Main message:
Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion--New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on. And we live on islands in red states too--a fact obscured by that state-by-state map. Denver and Boulder are our islands in Colorado; Austin is our island in Texas; Las Vegas is our island in Nevada; Miami and Fort Lauderdale are our islands in Florida.
And on these Fantasy Islands, how do people live?
Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland "values" like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country. And we are the real Americans. They--rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs--are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers.
Now that you've had your scream, tell us how you really feel.

Oh, but I promised some reactionary nostalgia. Start here ...
The Sierra Club has reported that Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Tennessee squander over half of their federal transportation money on building new roads rather than public transit.
Apart from Memphis, Little Rock, and a few other cities with heritage trolleys, what's the point? Furthermore, if the other fraction of the money is going for buses, buses run on roads, don't they? It gets better ...
And to do that, Democrats need to pursue policies that encourage urban growth (mass transit, affordable housing, city services), and Democrats need to openly and aggressively champion urban values. By focusing on the cities the Dems can create a tribal identity to combat the white, Christian, rural, and suburban identity that the Republicans have cornered. And it's sitting right there, on every electoral map, staring them in the face: The cities.
Curiously, that list of improvements doesn't mention schools. I wonder why not. But wait, there's more ...
Liberals in big cities who have never seen the inside of a Wal-Mart spend a lot of time worrying about the impact Wal-Mart is having on the heartland. No more. We will do what we can to keep Wal-Mart out of our cities and, if at all possible, out of our states. We will pass laws mandating a living wage for full-time work, upping the minimum wage for part-time work, and requiring large corporations to either offer health benefits or pay into state- or city-run funds to provide health care for uninsured workers. That will reform Wal-Mart in our blue cities and states or, better yet, keep Wal-Mart out entirely.
Better run some transit lines to the Wal-Marts in the edge cities, bucko. There may be strong political opposition to a Wal-Mart within the Chicago city limits. All the same, the parking lot at the DeKalb Wal-Mart (would I be living in a border city?) is full of sport-utes and the like from the inner suburbs and Chicago itself.

There's more. I was under the impression that the essay was a strategy for building the Democratic base, one city at a time. However ...
In short, we're through with you people. We're going to demand that the Democrats focus on building their party in the cities while at the same time advancing a smart urban-growth agenda that builds the cities themselves. The more attractive we make the cities--politically, aesthetically, socially--the more residents and voters cities will attract, gradually increasing the electoral clout of liberals and progressives. For Democrats, party building and city building is the same thing. We will strive to turn red states blue one city at a time.
Isn't smart growth a constraint that leads to higher housing prices for those seeking to move in, and greater sprawl elsewhere? (See here and here.)

Ah, but don't I have to defend my assertion that cities are obsolete?
This is the era of cityscapes, rapid transit, and crowds of people. Political advertising can no longer pander to nostalgia about the yeoman countryside--we must embrace our urban future.

With all the talk of the growth of exurbs and the hand-wringing over facile demographic categories like "security moms," you may be under the impression that an urban politics wouldn't speak to many people. But according to the 2000 Census, 226 million people reside inside metropolitan areas--a number that positively dwarfs the 55 million people who live outside metro areas. The 85 million people who live in strictly defined central city limits also outnumber those rural relics. When the number of city-dwellers in the United States is quadruple the number of rural people, we can put simple democratic majorities to work for our ideals.
Thank you. Political advocacy can no longer pander to nostalgia about teeming cities. Look at those figures again. 85 million people in strictly-defined cities, perhaps fifteen or twenty of which are thickly settled enough to support heavy rail transit. Another 141 million in the Census Metropolitan Statistical Areas ... that includes Greater DeKalb. As this site has noted, there are defensible reasons for preferring Republicans that have nothing to do with abortion or school prayer, and that do not necessarily involve zoning restrictions and subways. (The authors of this article grasp this point in their more lucid moments, but I suspect they don't follow through the implications.)
Since the beginning of the 21st century, Washington, D.C., has exerted a force that is not progressive (as epitomized by Rockwell's painting) but oppressive.
It's tacky to say "told you so." All the same,
Take away the preening, and you have grasped that the use of the power of the national government to impose changes on reluctant others provides a machinery that can be used by those others in their turn.
RUNNING EXTRA: Via J.V.C. Comments, I found this Thomas Naylor post at a Vermont secessionist site.
To put Wal-Mart's impact on tiny Vermont in perspective, consider the fact that between St. Johnsbury and Newport in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont there are virtually no stores in dozens of villages. They have all been sucked up by the Wal-Mart across the Connecticut River in Littleton, New Hampshire. There is even a spur of Interstate 93 which extends into Vermont to make it more convenient for Vermonters to travel to Littleton.

Not unlike the United States government, Wal-Mart is too big, too powerful, too intrusive, too mean-spirited, too materialistic, too dehumanizing, too undemocratic, too environmentally insensitive, and too unresponsive to the social, cultural, and economic needs of individual citizens and small communities. It is beyond reproach and beyond the law. Is Wal-Mart a metaphor for America? Or is America a metaphor for Wal-Mart?
Has it occurred to you, Mr Naylor, that those Northeast Kingdom stores are so mired in the "Cahn't get theyah from hyah" mentality of small-town Vermont that the latte liberals and ski bums are shopping in Moo Hampshire? Shop free or die and all that.

I also recommend this Electric Commentary post on the joys of riding the Chicago Transit Authority. (There are huge contrasts in quality of service between the Metra suburban train services that I brag on ... many of which serve Red America ... and the Transit Authority's subway and L services, which stopped serving Red America in 1963. The famous Loop is worth a look, but the service is rudimentary and some of the clientele ... well, baseball pitcher John Rocker might have had a point.)

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