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"Building Cities Shouldn't be a Partisan Issue"

by Sarah Goodyear

1532449728_1b17935342.jpg Over the weekend, we came across an article from the Isthmus of Madison, Wisconsin, reporting on a conservative scaremongering campaign against a commuter rail proposal.

It quotes a leader in the Wisconsin Republican Party painting transit-oriented development as a red menace: "This has been done before," Dane County Republican Party spokesman Bill Richardson said on a Madison radio show. "The Soviet Union and in East Berlin and all those places. They built these ... very ugly high-rise apartments, and they jammed people into these."

We were happy to see that Streetsblog Network member The Overhead Wire posted a quick response to this nonsense:

[E]veryone who reads here knows the histories and the market distortions of sprawl, which has absolutely dominated the market over the last 60 years. If anything, it's they who are forcing everyone to live their lifestyle, a sick distortion of the actual desires of at least some Americans, such as myself, who want to live in an urban walkable environment. By not providing a choice in living, or
transportation, the opponents of livable communities are telling us that the actual market doesn't matter and that they know what is best...

We know that not all in their circle believe this way, and ultimately building cities shouldn't be a partisan issue. The road towards transit and walkability is a sustainable one from a fiscal and environmental standpoint. I think many times we overlook the power of fiscal arguments for the movement at our own peril. The research on sprawl is not good, and people are starting to get it, a bit late, but at least they are starting to see how value is created by cities and urbanism is a fiscally responsible choice.

It will be interesting to see how the division over transportation policy among conservatives develops in the next few months. Will the ideology of fear trump more evidence-based economic analysis? What do you think?

This piece originally appeared on Streetsblog New York City.

Photo Credit: co_plex via Flickr, Creative Commons License

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Sadly, I don't think this ever will get beyond being a partisan issue. The fundamental challenge is how to define what is built by developers. (As I'm sure many readers of this blog know) Current systems in citys greatly encourage development on Green Fields, and those are increasingly further from the City. Unless Cities have the will to tell developers that they can't build beyond, sprawl will continue (Ottawa is a great example of this - we have a green belt, so developers just build on the far side of this, further and furher out).
Then, those that want to live in walkable areas are fighting for limited space, and any new development has every bell and whistle to drive up the price as well.
Its lose-lose, and will remain that way until city managers have the ability to define how developers build in their cities, and that won't happen as long as City Council's are owned by the developers. This can't be about money, but needs to be about social well-being, but then that's just an externality.

Posted by: Jim on 18 Nov 09

Sprawl always brings to mind a cartoon showing a vast supermarket with attendant car park.
... The caption, coming from an anonymous speck in the outer lots, is "All the convenience of shopping in one place!"

Posted by: arf on 18 Nov 09

It is a mistake to think that building cities shouldn't be a partisan issue. People who live in cities trend towards the left. They can more directly experience the value of public services, and they can also witness a diversity of lifestyles and the actual rather than the imagined consequences these bring. People who live in the suburbs can on the other hand uphold the myth that they are not enmeshed in anything greater than their own house-and-cars unit or their fine insulated community.

The realisation that their values and beliefs would be eroded in a city (manifested by the otherness of city people) causes a reaction of fear of anything city-like among suburbanite conservatives and glibertarians. This is not an entirely irrational response, even if by all accounts they would be happier, healthier and prettier if they would shift to living in a well-designed city.

Posted by: nanne on 19 Nov 09

The depths of rabid partisanship will not be neutralized by the fanciful "bi-partisan" efforts, which are simply denial in action.

Sadly, we must put our foot down for quite a while to stamp it out.

Posted by: Dredd on 19 Nov 09

"Will the ideology of fear trump more evidence-based economic analysis? What do you think?"

Hahaha. I feel like I'm so jaded at this point that I pretty much just assume the ideology of fear is the rule and evidence-based analysis is the exception...

Posted by: Matt P on 19 Nov 09

Short and to the point... we cannot sustain ourselves at our current rate for more than thirty years or so. 15,000 children die everyday from starvation. That's just the number for children starving. Commercial development must stop. It is no longer debatable. If they don't stop, we are all going to die. Most of the land that is covered by concrete will never be reusable again for growing food. Concrete is slapped down on top of areas which are perfect for growing food, such as our coast lines. This isn't a left or right side issue. This mass psychosis of left right, this and that party's thinking, is something that I wish would come to an end. You can live without money, but you cannot live without food. Golfing may be a nice leisurely sport, but these courses tend to lay over land that is perfect for growing food. If we need recreational land, let it be a land where children can go to plant seeds, watch the crops grow, and harvest something healthy to eat. That should be enough recreation for anyone. I know personally, because farming is hard work. There are ways, but we need a form we can all sign to stop commercial development over our green lands. Instead, developers might turn to greening the 'already' built properties. Place solar panels on buildings, perhaps. Start a garden on top of a school building. Let the students tend the crops. That's what we do at the school I teach at. Children grow their own food here in Japanese schools. Remember, this isn't about opinions or popular belief. This is about feeding ourselves, and preparing food for generations to come. It takes a couple generations to grow enough food for everyone to eat. This is very serious.

Posted by: Tommy on 10 Sep 10

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