Conservatives Should Live in the City

 

Matt Lewis has a thoughtful piece in The Week, arguing that conservatives ought to embrace urban living. He wonders whether traditional conservative values, especially family values, are undermined by the tolls of maintaining the suburban lifestyle, and, furthermore, whether the conservative’s instinct to remain anchored in history is undermined by the artlessness of most suburban architecture.

Conservatism has somehow become associated in the popular imagination with sterile suburbia, obnoxiously large McMansions, and gas-guzzling SUVs, while liberalism evokes images of city living in close quarters, with public transportation or bicycle commutes from high-rise lofts to open-floor workspaces.

Further:

Never mind the fact that conservative icon William F. Buckley rode a scooter, or that conservative icon Russell Kirk refused to drive a car, warning that automobiles would increase rootlessness in America. No, these days America seems to assume that conservatives, if they must live near a city, will seek to buy the biggest house with the longest commute they can possibly afford and endure, and buy the biggest, least fuel-efficient car to take them there. And you know what? Based on our choices, it’s pretty clear that we conservatives believe this, too…

Well, there’s a better way for conservatives (and all Americans), and it’s called New Urbanism. Essentially, New Urbanism promotes walkable (a side benefit: exercise!) mixed-use neighborhoods and homes of all shapes and sizes with narrow streets and retail on the sidewalk level, and apartments above. And it’s not just about high-density, high-rise buildings. New Urbanism lets you live within safe walking distance of your church, baker, stores, bars, restaurants, and more…

There’s no telling how many marriages were broken up over the stress of suburb-to-city commutes — or how many hours of the day children were deprived of their parents who, after all, were in the car making a big sacrifice so that little Johnny could have a huge yard, live in suburbia, go to a supposedly nice school, and have “rugged individualists” as parents. It’s also hard to quantify the spiritual and psychic cost associated with endlessly frustrating commutes, disconnection from a community, and ugly buildings. And there is certainly an economic cost of taxpayers maintaining low-density areas and infrastructure that yield relatively little revenue.

Lewis is right to point out the inefficiencies and unjustified costs of suburban life, as well as its lack of beauty. As he puts it, it is not the city or the country that disturb him, but the “ugly in-between.”

There’s one big missing piece to his criticism though: kids. I believe the liberal/conservative divide that we see between cities and suburbs is partly a reflection of the willingness of conservatives to raise more children.

Do you know how difficult it is to find an affordable three bedroom apartment in most leading American cities?

I lived for a short time in New York City. My wife gave birth to our first child at Roosevelt hospital in Midtown. We brought our new girl home in a yellow cab, and rode the elevator up to our 300 sq ft apartment on the 16th floor. Her nursery was a closet just big enough to fit the crib inside.

Since then, we’ve been busy making more kids—one every couple of years. We traded the subway for a Honda Odyssey. We now have four tiny faces running around, and man, did that happen fast. 

We long since moved out of our little New York apartment, where we could walk to the grocery store, to restaurants, to work, to the doctor’s office, to our church, to Central Park. The real estate in our new hometown, Nashville, is a bit easier on the wallet than it is in Manhattan, but walkable, family-friendly housing is scarce here, and getting scarcer all the time as younger well-to-dos move back in to the city core.

What remains for most middle class families is miles and miles of tract house subdivisions—far removed from where most of them work, far removed, even, from many of the public parks, libraries, museums, and restaurants that make up the city’s vibrant culture. Unlike many older, east-coast cities, public transportation here is severely limited.

Cheap land makes for affordable housing, and conservatives with average incomes are only partly to blame for not choosing to embrace new urbanism, even if they do fail, oftentimes, to calculate the emotional cost of a long daily commute, and a life spent trapped somewhere in the soulless space between “the Chuck E. Cheese and the Target store.”

The problem of suburbia may be partly a failure of conservatives themselves, but it also represents an epic and nationally pervasive failure of city planning. Then again, not all cities are equal. And being a “new urbanist” in Detroit is a heck of a lot cheaper than doing it in San Francisco.

Here in a semi-pricey city like Nashville, you don’t have to be a hedge fund manager to afford three bedrooms. If you are part of the upper-middle class, or among the wealthy, it is possible to be a conservative with van full of kids and still participate in the “new-urbanist” movement. For the middle class, it’s much more difficult. And that’s the story almost everywhere. America’s best and most desirable cities—its centers of influence and commerce and culture and power—remain firmly in the hands of millions of childless liberals who flock to these areas, and rent the one-bedroom apartments that they offer in abundance.

But Lewis is right: the city needs more conservatives, and conservatives need the city.

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  1. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    lesserson:

    TG:

    lesserson:

    … So please understand why the “but it’s important to be surrounded by beautiful stuff” argument don’t appeal to me.

    Hmmm. I’ve read all the comments, but it’s definitely possible that I’m guilty of not reading “mindfully.” Did someone seriously advance an “objective” argument in favor of city living that depends on a judgment that all parts of all cities everywhere are simply brimming with beauty? ?!?!?!?

    No, sorry. It was in response to #117 but I couldn’t get it to quote right.

     Gracias

    • #151
  2. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    Casey: …

    You respond as if I’ve proposed a law to force people to live in cities rather than propose a way that conservatives might engage and evangelize more effectively than they currently do.

     The source article from Matt Lewis, and the support from Nathan in the OP, were both about touting features of urban living that “ought” to appeal to conservatives, and you responded with comments about your own positive experiences … And then, of course, the vigorous discussion followed.

    I, at least, missed you making the argument that moving into “urban” areas would automatically make the immigrating conservatives into effective evangelists for conservative thinking (?)  

    I fail to imagine how moving into a more urban setting would make *me* a more effective apologist for conservatism … And that failure of imagination extends to my imaginings in regard to other people.  (Sad but true)

    • #152
  3. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Casey:

    Ryan M: I sat down and looked up: stars. Millions of them. The sounds of natur

    This sounds awesome. I would love this at least as much as I love living near PNC Park. I really would.

     My wife and I visited Pittsburgh in 2007.  PNC park was the highlight.  One of the most beautiful parks in baseball.  I don’t think politics says people should move in or out of the city; I think conservative politics says we should all be free to live where we love (and visit awesome places like PNC and rural Montana).

    • #153
  4. user_44643 Inactive
    user_44643
    @MikeLaRoche

    I’ve long wanted to live in a semi-rural setting, take up hunting as a hobby…..maybe someday.

    • #154
  5. user_44643 Inactive
    user_44643
    @MikeLaRoche

    My sister-in-law bought a small two-acre spread in the Yakima Valley near Moxee City (Washington state) a few months ago, and I was there this past June. My kinda place…

    • #155
  6. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Mike LaRoche:

    My sister-in-law bought a small two-acre spread in the Yakima Valley near Moxee City (Washington state) a few months ago, and I was there this past June. My kinda place…

     This is where I live!  Probably fewer than 10 miles from your sister.  Next time you come, I say we grab a few beers for a mini-meetup.

    • #156
  7. user_44643 Inactive
    user_44643
    @MikeLaRoche

    Ryan M:

    Mike LaRoche:

    My sister-in-law bought a small two-acre spread in the Yakima Valley near Moxee City (Washington state) a few months ago, and I was there this past June. My kinda place…

    This is where I live! Probably fewer than 10 miles from your sister. Next time you come, I say we grab a few beers for a mini-meetup.

     Sounds good. I might be there next summer; my niece is planning on getting married. No date has been set, though.

    • #157
  8. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Mike LaRoche:

    Ryan M:

    Mike LaRoche:

    My sister-in-law bought a small two-acre spread in the Yakima Valley near Moxee City (Washington state) a few months ago, and I was there this past June. My kinda place…

    This is where I live! Probably fewer than 10 miles from your sister. Next time you come, I say we grab a few beers for a mini-meetup.

    Sounds good. I might be there next summer; my niece is planning on getting married. No date has been set, though.

     It is 101 right now… Yakima is best in the fall.  Last year, I built an apple press and found an orchard owner (gentleman at our church) who allowed me to glean several hundred pounds worth.  Best cider you’ve ever tasted.

    • #158
  9. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Ryan M: think conservative politics says we should all be free to live where we love

    Well again, I don’t think anyone is advocating a Stalinesque Roundup. 

    If Nathan had begun “Conservatives should read my book” or “conservatives should switch to Crest” nobody would’ve taken”should” as anything stronger than suggestive.

    But say something like “conservatives should rethink their position on global warming” and it’s like telling George Jefferson he should have dinner with the Willises.

    • #159
  10. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    TG: I, at least, missed you making the argument

    Sorry, I’m trying my best to keep up via my phone. That’s kind of a pain so I shortcut a little.  I’ll try to work up a post when I’m goofing of at work.  My point really goes beyond just the city thing but I’m not able to disentangle it here.

    • #160
  11. AR Inactive
    AR
    @AR

    Casey:

    But if we all move out to a place under the stars the world won’t become more conservative. In fact, the farther we move from liberal hives the more liberal the bees may become.

    Look, I’m never going to move because of political considerations. It would be weird if I did. But that doesn’t mean my move won’t have some small impact on the larger political picture.

    Spreading out might encourage the opposite of that to happen. Living in the city often (usually?) is more expensive. To make up for the added cost, many parents have fewer kids. Compounding the situation, cities also tend to make people more liberal, which translates into more lost kids.

    • #161
  12. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    AR:

    Casey:

    But if we all move out to a place under the stars the world won’t become more conservative. In fact, the farther we move from liberal hives the more liberal the bees may become.

    Look, I’m never going to move because of political considerations. It would be weird if I did. But that doesn’t mean my move won’t have some small impact on the larger political picture.

    Spreading out might encourage the opposite of that to happen. Living in the city often (usually?) is more expensive. To make up for the added cost, many parents have fewer kids. Compounding the situation, cities also tend to make people more liberal, which translates into more lost kids.

     Or perhaps living in a boring suburb results in more kids? ;)

    • #162
  13. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Casey:

    Well again, I don’t think anyone is advocating a Stalinesque Roundup.

    But say something like “conservatives should rethink their position on global warming” and it’s like telling George Jefferson he should have dinner with the Willises.

    I agree that Nathan’s post should not be taken as a call for Stalinist roundups…  but it is quite a bit different than recommending a good deodorant or an episode of Flyover Country (Ricochet’s favorite unofficial podcast… see how I did that?).  Rather, it is a value judgment that cuts more to the heart of American freedom.  When a person starts talking about personal space and “mcmansions,” he’s talking about a personal value, not just a personal preference.  Single-family houses?  That’s my autonomy!!  I don’t share a wall with anyone, and I have my own yard.  I don’t give two hoots about how many cars are on the roads or whether urban sprawl is ugly.  I think that is why people take this sort of recommendation more seriously.  As MFR points out in her new post, liberals love big cities – at least partially because they take away my individualism.

    • #163
  14. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Ryan M: recommending a good deodorant o

     You use Crest as deodorant? 

    • #164
  15. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Casey:

    Ryan M: recommending a good deodorant o

    You use Crest as deodorant?

     it leaves me minty fresh. I am not a normal person, Casey.  :)

    • #165
  16. Matty Van Inactive
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    Casey, Faded, and Nathan, I feel for ya! It’s not easy to take your position on a conservative site. Especially when all your opponents reflexively assume you are liberals telling people what to do.

    Here’s the thing. Carworld was originally and still is a government program, a huge one. Conservatives should be willing to consider the damage done by government programs. Why is that not the case for this particular program? And why do you assume that anyone here is telling you how to live? As for me, all I’m saying is take cars off welfare. Allow us a free market in transportation. Natural communities will develop as they should when people are free, and you can freely choose where you want to live.

    I suspect that many people who live far from everything would choose to move in closer if they are forced to pay the full costs of living far from centers out of their own pocket. But I am not suggesting it to anyone. I only say, let the market work its magic.

    • #166
  17. ChrisnGreta Inactive
    ChrisnGreta
    @ChrisnGreta

    I’d like to recommend the following website to anyone interested in this topic, pro- or anti-New Urbanist: http://www.strongtowns.org/
    Strong Towns is definitely associated with the New Urbanist movement, but with a focus on towns rather than cities, and with the goal of promoting financial resiliency and independence from public subsidies. It’s an approach that I think would actually appeal to many in the Ricochet community.

    • #167
  18. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    The problem is again the new urbanists are living in a fairie tale world without opportunity costs, and intangible value.

    Sure the new urbanist thing makes total sense if you think humanity is a bunch of toxic waste spewing machines and we need to store them efficiently relative to their usefulness so as to effectively manage their toxic byproducts.

    • #168
  19. Virginia Farmboy Member
    Virginia Farmboy
    @

    As someone who grew up in a city, suburban, and rural environment at various points in my brief life I think its best to say that each has its pro and cons and appeal to you depending on your personality and what stage of life you’re in. 

    For example at my age I love living in the city, although the “city” I live in pales in comparison to NYC. Will I still want to live here a few years from now when the wife and I start having children? I highly doubt it. Living in an urban environment is expensive enough for two people, let alone a burgeoning young family, and no amount of “walkability” can make up for that. If that’s something you truly value then more power to you but keep in mind that many small towns and suburban communities offer that as well.

    Regarding the notion that city living is superior to suburban living that all depends on which two are being compared. I’d much rather live in a mid-sized city than a NOVA suburb, then again I’d much rather live in a suburb of a mid-seized city than in LA.

    • #169
  20. user_337201 Inactive
    user_337201
    @EricWallace

    What timing! Here’s a blog post from a Cato guy responding to the initial article.

    • #170
  21. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Eric Wallace:

    What timing! Here’s a blog post from a Cato guy responding to the initial article.

     That should probably be cross-posted in the related threads on urban planning and cars that spun off this one.  Lot of good information here.

    • #171
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