Park-Slope-Street.jpg

Behind enemy lines

Greetings from Park Slope, Brooklyn:

The good news is that there’s a thriving two-party system in Park Slope. The bad news is that it’s Democrats vs. Greens (seriously, the Greens outpoll the GOP in local elections). But it’s a beautiful neighborhood, so I put up with the ACLU petition drives, the militant locavores, and the eye-rolls I get when I say “why yes, I would like a plastic bag.”

Which brings me to my opening salvo to the Ricocheterati: Why are all the nice neighborhoods so leftwing? Not just in New York: think Cambridge, Berkeley, Santa Monica, the Berkshires, etc. All lovely places – but basically home to the Obama-is-okay-if-we-can’t-have-Kucinich crowd.

Maybe it’s proof of the ideological “clustering” that Bill Bishop wrote about in The Big Sort. Apparently, election results over the last 30 years show that there are fewer and fewer “swing” counties (congressional districts are different because they can always be gerrymandered). Affluent liberals can, and do, form self-selected communities where they celebrate “diversity” with people who all think exactly alike. Fine, it’s a free country. But why did they have to scoop up all the good real estate?

  1. Conor Friedersdorf

    Yes Rob, Nimbyism isn’t red or blue, it just is — and as a longtime Southern Californian, self-exiled to the East Coast but now returned, I must say that you have excellent taste in neighborhoods. If only the waves would break in Venice like they do at San Onofre… but on the other hand, I can barely afford the rents as it is.

  2. George Savage
    C

    I don’t know the answer, Adam, but my wife wonders if it’s me. I’ve chosen to live in the general vicinity of Boston and now San Francisco over the past thirty years. Why is that? And I like it here, I really do. But from an ideological point of view I’d have much less of that nails-on-chalkboard frisson — basically the nightmare version of Chris Matthew’s leg thrill — in Texas.

  3. spidly

    I’ll 3rd that liberalism is a cultural luxury item.

    My home town of Hood River Oregon was infected by trustafarian windsurfers and the Californian Expat Virus in the late 80′s. They sold 1000 sq.ft. homes in Freemont and Monrovia for 500K+ and landed in Hood River where any old 1600 sq.ft. home sold for 60K. They took over city government and proceeded to engage in crony capitalism – re-zoning farmland, pastures, and orchards to build high dollar homes and a golf course. They subdivided orchards and farms so for elite hobby farms so elite urban transplants can justify dressing like Gordon Lightfoot and Robert Redford, be in touch with the land, but don’t have to actually work that much.

    Dodgy landswaps allowed them to build million dollar ski vacation homes with Nader/Gore/Greenpeace/Sierra Club bumpersticker adorned Rovers/Hummers/Subarus out front… on formerly federally protected Mt. Hood watershed land. Now it is locked up. The lefty imported powers that be make sure that their views will not be spoiled and their businesses are not threatened.

    They’ll tell you they ‘saved’ the town: now it has that icky Jackson Hole feel. I kind of liked the real redneck dirtbikin’ rifle totin’ freedom there before they came.

  4. Daniel Frank

    <quote>Affluent liberals can, and do, form self-selected communities where they celebrate “diversity” with people who all think exactly alike. Fine, it’s a free country. But why did they have to scoop up all the good real estate?</quote>

    Three thoughts:

    1. They’re affluent, so they have money to buy property in charming or potentially charming areas, then upgrade and/or maintain it to enhance to the charm. When I was at the University of Chicago back in the 19th Century, Hyde Park didn’t have prettier housing stock than the surrounding neighborhoods, but its residents had money and a first rate police force, so condo developers were renovating buildings and turning its renters into property owners.

    2. They have good taste in lifestyle accoutrements and the money to pay for them. Nice restaurants, organic grocery stores, art galleries, etc., open up in these neighborhoods because there is a market for them. Ironically, we political and economic libertarians can also have rather Continental lifestyle preferences.
    3. Your observation seems to apply mostly to urban real estate. I have visited many small towns and suburbs in less trendy geographies (midwest, south) that are lovely, charming, and not overrun by Eloi. I hope to move to one someday.
  5. Grantman

    I’ve moved from Hartford to Boston to WDC (Fairfax Co) and now down to Atlanta. I find that I like it down here much better than up north, especially since I have kids. Much better place to raise them. Plus, post 9-11, my opinions have changed…substantially. (And for the better, I might add.)

    I’ve visited relatives and friends up north and I’m sure I couldn’t live there again for many reasons, weather not the only one. Architecture, however, is much better in the older cities, there’s no doubt about that. Old in New England is, at a minimum, 150 years or more. Old in Atlanta is 30. There is very little character here unless you have a gazillion bucks to afford what’s left.

    Southern hospitality is real.

  6. Conor Friedersdorf

    Without weighing in on the general phenomenon, it’s worth noting a few explanatory factors w/r/t Park Slope, where I once lived myself. Most obviously, its proximity to an overwhelmingly liberal place like Manhattan means that its feeder residents are disproportionately liberal, especially since conservative Manhattan residents looking for a bit more space for the wife and baby can commute from more conservative locales in Connecticut, etc.

    There is also the fact that early gentrifiers in Park Slope included a big contingent of lesbians, making some potential conservative residents uncomfortable, and even gay friendly conservatives maybe sense that they’d be moving into a very liberal place. And presumably Park Slope is higher tax than alternatives outside NYC, which probably matters even beyond its economic incentive effect for folks ideologically antagonistic to that sort of thing.

    Finally, Park Slope has more writers and Jewish residents than America as a whole, and both groups are disproportionately liberal.

  7. John Boyer

    The only thought I can add to the excellent points already made is the urban/suburban distinction. You might as well ask why liberals like living in big cities and conservatives prefer the country/smaller towns and suburban satellites.

    This conversation makes me want to reread Bonfire of the Vanities.

  8. Tom Lindholtz

    I grew up in a small college town that became one of these liberal cloisters: “The People’s Republic of Davis”, CA. I am glad to no longer live there despite the fact that, geographically, it is a delightful town.

    I have come to the conclusion that, for many folks, political liberalism is a cultural luxury item. It is somewhere up around “self-actualization” on Mazlow’s hierarchy.

    After people have secured their baser needs they are able to afford the luxury of taking political positions that, followed to their conclusions, are expensive and restrictive. For example, once people have their home in the toney enclave, then they can advocate for anti-growth ordinances. Of course, no community has yet rescinded the laws of supply and demand. And of course, this anti-growth ordinance will make it virtually impossible for the community to provide “affordable housing” that is another virtue claimed in these communities. The important thing is that now, their community will be spared the nuisance of riff-raff.

    So, I’m inclined to believe that a more liberal political atmosphere is the necessary endpoint of any “nice neighborhood.”

  9. Diane Ellis
    C

    But it’s a beautiful neighborhood, so I put up with the ACLU petition drives, the militant locavores, and the eye-rolls I get when I say “why yes, I would like a plastic bag.”

    Adam — just wait until Brooklyn catches up with the “progressiveness” of San Francisco.  As of 2007, the city of San Francisco has a full-out ban on plastic bags. This might just explain why the sidewalks of my otherwise lovely Pacific Heights neighborhood are littered with dog poop.  Talk about unintended consequences!

  10. Scott Erickson

    Adam,

    I have to laugh at your description of a “two-party system” consisting of the Democrats vs. Greens. Living in SF I can attest to the accuracy of your comments. When Cindy Sheehan (endorsed by the Green Party) received more attention and nearly double the votes of her Republican counterpart in their bid to oust Nancy Pelosi from congress you can only sit back and marvel at what passes for political diversity in some parts of the country.

  11. Dave Carter
    C
    One of the best things about being a long haul trucker is that I am able to visit certain regions fairly regularly, and have family and friends scattered about the country. To Tom’s point that the more affluent areas tend to lean leftward because these folks have their homes and so can afford to be more generous with other people’s earnings, it rings true to me. As far as Grantman’s observation that southern hospitality is real, I can vouch for that in more ways than Baskin Robins has flavors. There are marked differences that I notice in manners, courtesy, or even simple decency as I travel from one region to the other. It is odd, since as noted, New England is breathtakingly beautiful, but the people I encounter there, …well, let’s just say that their disposition is at odds with their surroundings. On the other hand, travel some time to the little town of Rayne, LA, and you will see a modest, small town that is home to some of the happiest and most friendly people you will ever meet. Search far and wide, and you won’t find a sour disposition in the bunch. Some of the happiest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing live in modest surroundings, grounded by family, faith, and community. They also tend not to take themselves, or life itself, too seriously.
  12. Adam Freedman
    C

    Excellent comments, all. I agree with Tom that liberalism is a cultural luxury item, really more of an aesthetic disposition than a political philosophy. That’s why so many liberal critiques of conservatism boil down to thinly-veiled cries of “it’s tacky!” Ricochet is going to change all that, right?

    And Diane: take the dog poop to the community compost heap!

  13. Aaron Miller
    Dave Carter:: On the other hand, travel some time to the little town of Rayne, LA, and you will see a modest, small town that is home to some of the happiest and most friendly people you will ever meet. . · May. 25 at 6:30pm

    A friend of mine was born in the Frog Capital of the World. She’ll be happy to hear her people are so well loved. Sadly, I missed her last crawfish boil.

    I’ve long thought many regional differences boil down to the relative proximities of big cities (ever liberal) to one another. There’s a long list of things that occur when population density rises which make it easy to treat oneself like an idol and be blown about by every errant wind.

  14. Conor Friedersdorf

    Tom,

    I’ve got to disagree.

    I’m a native of Orange County, California, as famously conservative as anyplace in America, and I was a reporter in the reddest parts of California’s Inland Empire. In both places, it was virtually impossible to build any multi-family units that weren’t luxury condos, precisely because existing residents wanted to prevent people with less money from depressing property values and making things more crowded. Nor is the libertarian ethic very strong in these places generally. They’re zoned to within an inch of their lives, make it quite difficult to obtain a liquor license for a new restaurant or bar, etc.

    And the liberal communities we’ve been discussing are quite dense compared to their conservative counterparts. It seems weird to describe Park Slope or San Francisco as “anti-growth” when the available housing per square foot is many times higher than any suburb or exurb in America.

  15. Fredösphere

    Yeah, if you had to give a one word answer to this question, it’s “families.”

    I once got a semi-quasi-sorta job offer from a company in the insanely idyllic Mill Valley, CA (just north of the Golden Gate) and spent my whole day fantasizing about living there (compared to my present location in Michigan), calculating where I would live, what my commute would be, based on a cost of living calculator I found online. I went home that evening, still floating in a delightful dream of living among the vineyards and working among the redwoods, when my wife snuffed it out with eight words: “I am not moving away from my family.”

  16. Rob Long
    C

    Well, in my alternative hipster neighborhood of Venice, the residents are just starting to get cranky and furious with the city zoning laws, the homeless people living the alleys, the large RVs that take up residence in the summer (and way past summer….) And it’s impossible to build multi-family condos here, too, that aren’t multi-million dollar affairs. But that’s not because of right wing nimbyism, but left wing nimbyism. Which is just as prevalent, it seems to me.

    That said, I love my hippie neighborhood for the same reason Adam loves Park Slope: you can walk around easily; you can get a great cup of coffee; you can have a great meal; and all you have to do is occasionally sidestep a homeless gentleman and look away discreetly as he defecates in front of your neighbor’s garage.

  17. Karen

    I’m sure Park Slope is lovely, but I must have windows all the way around the house. I get claustrophobic just looking at that street. And I must have my own yard, because I have to have a space to garden and play with the kids. I don’t think I’d tolerate the locavore set, either. I love to garden, but I’d bet my shoes those folks couldn’t grow a dandelion – not to mention the intolerable pretentious fog that surrounds them. I’d also prefer my middle-class neighbors, because their helpful and have practical skills. We have a retired Master Chief that keeps an eye on things, a nurse for emergencies, a retired bus driver who knows all the shortcuts in the MD/DC area. And it’s mostly Democratic, but no one complained when I put out my McCain sign in the yard. One elderly woman neighbor who was an Obama supporter even said to me, “Isn’t it great that we live in such a country that we are free to express our politics?” So, I take issue with the nice neighborhood claim.

  18. Pat in Obamaland

    I am surprised by how many people on Ricochet live in deep blue territory. It is reassuring to know that I am not the only black sheep (or is it red?) in a liberal stronghold.

  19. Paul Corrigan

    My morning walk often takes me past an apartment building decorated with a silhouette of Che Guevara. I assume residents have nick-named it “The Guevara Arms.” If they haven’t, I have. But I’m not convinced that liberals have a monopoly on the best neighborhoods. In California we have enclaves of red along the shore, even in New England there are pockets, not to mention some of the prettiest parts of… I run out of steam here, but I think I have a point.

  20. Trace

    Re: Sidestepping homeless gentlemen… my young children (and their peers) who go to school in the Mission (San Francisco) have spontaneously begun using the word “hobo” to describe said homeless. (I think it comes from the success of depression-themed kids’ movie Kit Kittredge.) I’ve started using the word as well in lieu of my generation’s term, “homeless.” Homeless describes a victim, whereas “hobo” includes the element of choice, but in a friendly, non-judgmental way. They also use the word “hippy” as someone that is generally younger, often wears little clothing, and seems to be on their way to hobodom.

Want to comment on stories like these? Become a member today!

You'll have access to:

  • All Ricochet articles, posts and podcasts.
  • The conversation amongst our members.
  • The opportunity share your Ricochet experiences.

Join Today!

Already a Member? Sign In