Can Good Urbanism Transcend Politics?

At a recent bipartisan panel on public transportation and energy policy sponsored by the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, panelists made the Conservative case for urban density and public transit investments.
September 9, 2008, 2pm PDT | Michael Dudley
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"Proposals to shift from a sprawling, car-dependent geography to one of denser population centers connected via public transit have often been called elitist and out-of-touch with how most Americans choose to live their lives. The typical family does not want to live in a city or commute by rail, writes suburban-triumphalist writer Joel Kotkin, since big backyards, quiet, and privacy are 'everything they have wanted for a half-century.' Wendell Cox, a Heritage Foundation partisan, has written a book calling anti-sprawl activism a 'war on the American dream.'

That is the rhetoric the event sought to dispute. Policies in favor of dense development shouldn't be viewed on a left-right spectrum and certainly needn't be filtered through culture-war rhetoric, the panelists said. In fact, one doesn't have to be concerned about climate change at all in order to support such policies; values of fiscal conservatism and localism, both key to Republican ideology, can be better realized through population-dense development than through sprawl.

But in order to build public support for such policies, conservatives must join progressives in rethinking the United States' geography. Density is cost effective, it fosters small business development at the local level, and it strengthens ties within communities. None of that should be anathema to either national party -- unless they continue to put the interests of construction behemoths and automakers above the interests of ordinary Americans."

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Published on Friday, September 5, 2008 in The American Prospect
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