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Obama Is At War With Suburbia, Says Kotkin

Joel Kotkin says that the recent Republican win in Massachusetts shows that suburban voters are in revolt against the Obama administration's urban-centric policies.

Kotkin writes, "For the first time in memory, the suburbs are under a conscious and sustained attack from Washington. Little that the adminstration has pushed-from the Wall Street bailouts to the proposed 'cap and trade' policies-offers much to predominately middle-income-oriented suburbanites and instead appears to have worked to alienate them.

And then there are the policies that seem targeted against suburbs. In everything from land use and transportation to "green" energy policy, the Obama administration has been pushing an agenda that seeks to move Americans out of their preferred suburban locales and into the dense, transit-dependent locales they have eschewed for generations."

Kotkin says that the Obama stimulus package is spending billions on high-speed rail and mass transit, yet "offers little to anyone who lives outside a handful of large metropolitan cores."

In general, Kotkin decries the 'smart growth' agenda of the Obama administration, a policy that he says "seeks to force densification of communities and returning people to core cities."

Full Story: The War Against Suburbia



Amid all the readings of the entrails... certainly would be refreshing to hear one pundit opine that, just possibly, after 47 years voting not only for the same party but the same individual, the electorate in Massachusetts were ready for a change.

Mike Lydon's picture

Confused message

Look at the lead graphic on this's a walkable, urban street! How optimistic. Too bad most of what Kotkin champions looks and functions nothing like that.

Does that mean...

So is the Real Estate collapse of Vegas, Jacksonville, Phoenix, etc caused by this anti-suburban policy?

This is another example of people trying to politicize everything. If the Democrats eat Raisin Bran, it must be bad for me! Both parties need to give it a rest, grow up, and solve issues.

Supporting suburban sprawl builders

Because Obama promised large suburban sprawl builders money to build their suburban subdivisions under the recovery funds act, he is actually supporting suburbia.

Suburbanites Live in Apartments Too

Mr. Kotkin seems to be working on the mistaken assumption that all suburbanites live in single family houses with "leafy backyards". There are plenty of apartments in the suburbs. 21% of American homes are apartments, another 10% are townhouses or duplexes, and 7% are mobile homes. Single family detached is a majority with 62% but are we just supposed to forget about everyone else? There are 58 million households in multi-unit buildings. How is Kotkin arguing we should plan for them?

The other problem is totally missing the agenda of the advocates. It's not just about central cities. New Urbanists at least have always argued that you can have more "livable" environments in suburban locations (in fact we've caught a lot of flack from pure city-ists over it) and my understanding is that this is consistent with the Obama administration's proposed policies. In fact the new policies will likely make it easier to invest in livability initiatives in suburban locations rather than only central cities.

Kotkin's Narrow View of the World

Everyone else says the Republican won in Massachusetts because of the public's frustration with high unemployment or doubts about the health-care overhaul.

But Kotkin knows better. Even though the public has not been criticizing Obama on the issue, even though no serious political analysts have talked about the issue, Kotkin is able to read the tea-leaves and to see that the real cause is Obama's position on Kotkin's pet issue.

Charles Siegel

Astroturf Groups, Media and Shifting Stances

Astroturf groups, fake citizens' groups funded by corporations, have played a role in many policy and candidate race failures. They've helped create hysteria over public funding in health care, among other topics.

Corporate ownership of media and the coverage biased in favor of corporate agendas are also at play in policy decisions and elections.

Democrat's shifting policy stances can also be considered a factor.

Norman Solomon's writings on this topic may be of interest:

At War with Suburbia

Mr. Kotkin makes two key statements.

The first statement is, "Suburbanites may not yet be conscious of the anti-suburban stance of the Obama team, but perhaps they can read the body language."

This reminds me of an editor rising from his chair, walking once around his desk, and then pronouncing, "In some circles ..."

The second statement is, "Browns’s triumph followed similar wins by Republican gubernatorial contenders last November in Virginia and New Jersey. In those races suburban voters in places like Middlesex County, New Jersey and Loudoun County, Virginia—which had supported President Obama just a year earlier—deserted the Democrats in droves."

Mr. Kotkin apparently views the races and candidates themselves as playing virtually no role in the outcomes, with the elections as functioning exclusively referenda on the Administration's actions. Perhaps he must make that assumption in order to get where he wants to go, with his argument.

Here, in contrast, is from an op-ed piece in The Boston Globe:

"Coakley’s campaign also didn’t understand the anger and fear in the electorate. Unemployment, Wall Street bonuses, stimulus money that didn’t stimulate, small businesses that can’t get loans and US Senators practically bribed to back health care reform. That was the wave that Brown caught and rode to victory."

A state senate colleague of Brown's saw the vote as reflecting both statewide and national concerns:

“It was a spontaneous, organic outpouring from people who are angry,’’ Hedlund said. “Something was definitely percolating out there, and it’s big. There’s a lot of frustration with what’s going on in Washington and what’s happening on Beacon Hill.’’

One needn't reach so far, indeed at all, to understand what voters are stirred up about. In Coakley's case, it may also be that Massachusetts voters may not respond well to the sense they are being taken for granted. At least perhaps one can read that in the body language.

Finally, it should be noted that Martha Coakley did in fact win Middlesex County, her home county, if only by a small margin.

For the full op-ed, see
For the second piece, see

When Will We Get It?

I've read Kotkin before, and I didn't remember him as a partisan who distorts facts and agitates readers. Either I remember him differently or he's changed.

But since he mentioned Tom Suozzi, whom I served as head of Nassau County's economic development office, I have to take issue with his premise.

If he's saying that Obama's is at war with suburbia because he supports Smart Growth policies, then a)there is no such war, b)Kotkin does not understand how Smart Growth preserves and enhances suburbia, c)Kotkin does not understand how Nassau County & all of Long Island (home of one of the nation's first suburbs) embraces Smart Growth, d) Kotkin does not understand the nature of current voter anger, that is based more on the lingering effects of the recession and latent racism (which he does not mention AT ALL in his article, or more than likely e)all or most of the above.

For more than a decade, Long Islanders have grappled with Smart Growth policies that preserve and enhance the region. Tom Suozzi was a staunch advocate of such policies. And it was not those policies that cost him the election. (I'd be glad to elaborate but I won't). In fact, Tom Suozzi made an excellent case over 8 years of how Smart Growth can strengthen the tax base, promote economic vitality, and preserve what is best about suburbia (see all of his work on New Suburbia).

It would be better if people like Kotkin not mask their partisanship in all kinds of policy clothing. Just say what you mean. Since you have difficulty doing that, let me give you the words and you can just share it with all of your right wing pontificators: "There's nothing Obama can do that we support, even if we do the exact same thing."

The suburbs with blinders

Louis Colombo
It is difficult to react neutrally to the the assertion that people "choose" and "prefer" to live in the suburbs as if this were a choice unrelated to governmental policy and financial decisions to subsidize suburban development over many decades. Is it really necessary to review these? Based on this article, it seems so: FHA supported underwriting standards in the 1930s that preferred suburban housing, mortgage and insurance red-lining, urban renewal subsidies, highway funding, mortgage interest tax deductions, etc. In Albuquerque, local subsidies only, approved by government, i.e. tax transfers from residents of older, established areas to fringe development, totalled more than $30k for a typical single family house, where the average house sale price was approximately $160,000. I would be pleased if we would simply identify and eliminate all subsidies which previledge the suburbs as a location and allow the development market to operate on a level playing field.

Michael Lewyn's picture

My response to Kotkin

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