Although it’s often difficult to select which current fever dream of the right is the most preposterous and/or destructive, since there are so many, the current obsession with the idea that, somehow, the UN (!) is going to force suburban Americans to crowd into dirty, icky cities with the Blah’s and the other whatchamacallits is more than usually cuckoo. As so often happens large “market” trends have reshaped how cities are developed since the suburban boom of the 50′s and 60′s, and these markets have noticed two things: cities have gotten a lot more desirable as places to live, and more crucially, suburbs have gotten a lot less desirable.
Coming from a place, Portland, Oregon, that was evidently invaded by the Black Helicopters back in the early 70′s, when it cancelled a neighborhood-destroying freeway in favor of light rail and removed another one to build a park on its waterfront, I suppose I’m a biased observer, but I’ll take my UN-endorsed model over, say, that of Los Angeles any day, no matter how rainy.
In the early days of auto-centric suburbia, both metro areas offered real benefits to the early adopters of suburbia; a fifteen minute drive over the hills bordering downtown (the Santa Monicas in LA; the West Hills in Portland) on the brand-new freeways, and you were in lovely foothills where sprawling lots and ground-hugging “ranch” houses left plenty of room for trees and made it feel as though you’d gone to the country. Low density and minimal public services kept taxes lower than you’d think on such giant lots, a least initially. The problem was, his model would never scale to the extent advertised, for a lot of pretty obvious reasons.
The first of which is, that when everyone moves to one side of the boat, the thing inevitably capsizes, and that’s what inevitably happened. Aspirations to country living were quickly displaced with wholesale white flight, and the hinterlands of every major city, which once produced agricultural products for the local market, were bulldozed over to create near-urban density without any of its advantages, while simultaneously bleeding the host city of the taxpayers and consumers it needed to survive. The list is long of once-great cities whose historic, and yes, pedestrian-oriented, cores were hollowed out by this flight of people and jobs to soulless, lookalike suburbs, most of which soon faced all the ills of high taxation, traffic, and chockablock living they were invented to avoid, minus the charm and any sense of community.
It isn’t hard to see why the American Right is standing athwart a perfectly rational and historically, not to mention environmentally necessary, return of America to its cities, and yelling, as usual, “Stop!” Urban living has as many advantages to those who choose it is it has disadvantages to its opponents, both in the short and long term. At the moment, it works directly against evergreen Republican efforts to redistrict out of electoral existence “urban” people, and in the longer term, it will mean fewer people who have never experienced living not filtered through the windshield of an SUV will be voting.
Time and again, we have been shown at an accelerating pace that the mere act of living in close proximity to the Blah’s, teh Gheyz, and worse, the poors, does make non-sociopath Americans more sympathetic to their (often shared) plights not just as indentured servants of the 1%, but perennial objects of their ridicule, and only three-car suburban living, maybe even mandated by government policy, has any hope of arresting this heartening ( to a non-righty, anyway), trend.
If the righties want to hitch their wagons to the star of 1950′s Suburbia as paradise and a model for the future, let them. Trouble is, there’s no such thing, and everyone has figured this out except them.
When you have to blame the UN, you’re losing.