Wednesday, January 6, 2016

When Will the Densification Movement Crash and Burn?

Living in Seattle means living the liberal-enforced dream of densification. We've had a policy of "urban villages" here for decades, and this means defining new urban focus points and replacing single-family housing with 5-storey apartment buildings and retail on the ground floor. Typically, apartments for rent don't have much in the way of parking, for who needs cars when they have public transportation that connects the urban village hubs -- or might do, one fine day.

I recently got to see the ideal liberal city, complete with bike lanes, extensive street-based light rail (also known as trams) close to downtown, and a heavy rail system extending to the suburbs. This city is Melbourne, in Australia. It creates an environment ideal for twentysomething single creatives. You can move easily around the downtown core waving your transit card as you board or exit the various forms of public transportation. You can wander around the culturally rich city in your artistical black while working on your novel. No need for the expense of a car, and you can pat yourself on the back for reducing your carbon footprint and saving the planet.

The only problem is that the basic job of human adults is bearing and raising children, and, as Joel Kotkin writes, humans seem to prefer doing this in the leafy suburbs. Even if they wanted to live in the inner city with their children, it's just too expensive for young families with children.

Liberals have been sneering at the suburbs since shortly after World War II, and feminists have been sneering at the suburbs since Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique. And then came environmentalism, which disliked "sprawl" and climate change that seemed to need dense cities to save the planet.

This sets up an interesting political situation, because the folks that might be thinking about heading for the suburbs, minority families, are in a political coalition with gentry liberals that don't want to make it easy or cheap for people to live in a single-family home with a yard and a minivan. Eventually, something has to give.

Maybe it already has, as Hispanics and Asians are heading for the suburbs.
Roughly 60 percent of Hispanics and Asians already live in suburbs. Between 2000 and 2012, the Asian population in suburban areas of the nation’s 52 biggest metro areas grew 66.2 percent, while in the core cities it expanded by 34.9 percent. Of the top 20 cities with an Asian population of more than 50,000, all but two are suburbs.
Kotkin thinks that conservatives should start seriously thinking about how to get the support of the suburbanizing Hispanics and Asians, but as is usual with opinionating about "reaching out," I think he is missing the point. Recruits to the conservative cause have never been recruited. They tend to be like Ronald Reagan, who opined that he didn't leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left him. In other words, the children of immigrants become Republicans when they just can't take it any more.

I recently read a piece by a California GOP activist who is finding support in the California minority community. So all is not lost. Not yet.

The terrifying feeling about the present moment is that so many liberal conceits are collapsing about us, from densification to entitlements to climate change to multicultural identity politics to the whole philosophy of the administrative state. Yet liberal cultural and political power prevents us from making incremental, sensible change. Which means that we will only be able to change when the crash comes.

Of course, the problem is Us. We insist that our politicians promise to make us safe, not just from foreign enemies but from any danger, any setback. And that is something that nobody can promise. The only thing that politicians can promise is to make things a bit easier for us to get back on our feet after the storm.

Meanwhile there is no substitute for Candide's philosophy: il faut cultiver notre jardin. Or, in modern American demotic: back to work, fellahs. Because you'll probably need something to fall back on in the years right after the crash.

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