“Building Cities Shouldn’t Be a Partisan Issue”

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:

1532449728_1b17935342.jpgWhat kind of development is really being forced on Americans? (Photo: co-plex via Flickr)

[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?

More from around the network: Hugeass City wanted a coffee, but needed to be in a car to get served at one Seattle Starbucks. Copenhagenize reports on bicycle theft and insurance profiteering in the Danish cycling paradise. And Tucson Bike Lawyer has a dispatch on biking in Bogotá.

  • For the GOP leader, transit evokes East Berlin and the Soviet Union. For me it evokes London, Paris, Munich, Madrid, Amsterdam, Copenhagen…

  • Josh

    The fact that lots of ugly high-rises were built in East Berlin doesn’t mean that all such developments have to be eyesores. What terrible logic.

  • jsd

    To the GOP leader, all of those places are just as bad as East Berlin and the Soviet Union.

    Also, to answer the question presented in the post: The ideology of fear will win…in the short term. I am afraid we are in for some extremely painful times ahead. But America just can’t support the prevailing lifestyle for much longer. The adjustments will be made. But it’s gonna get uglier before it gets any better.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Just another reason why many fair-minded conservatives are as disgusted with the Republicans as fair minded progressives are with New York State’s Democrats.

    Older central cities were built before the onset of restrictive land use regulation. That’s when mass transit systems were established.

    Modern suburbs were created by massive federal infrastructure investment (ie. federal money for new suburban water and sewer systems) and restrictive regulations.

    The “return to the cities” renaisance, such that it is, picked up steam during the Reagan Administration, even though Reagan didn’t like cities and sought to do them no favors. Why? Because federal investment in economic infrastucture in the suburbs and poverty infrastructure in the cities was cut.

    I can tell you for certain that developers want to maximize permitted units per acre. In fairness, however, they also prefer to cut costs by eliminating sidewalks.

  • Alex Bauman

    I’d like to point out that a great deal of the high-rise housing erected east of the Iron Curtain was very attractive and still occupied by appreciative residents. Neither the more ideologically-confused governments (such as ours) nor free-market capitalists have proven incapable of erecting an ugly, unpopular building (Pruitt-Igoe, Wal-Mart).

    Also I’d like to point out that London, Paris, Munich, Madrid, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen have all been ruled by Socialists in the last 50 years.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Here here comrade Bauman. Those were actual Socialists not “Progressives”. Vincent Gentile is a Progressive, just ask him. Give me an old-fashioned class conscious Socialist anytime, please.

    Remember, Mike Quill broke with the Communist Party over fare increases.

  • Comrade X

    “I’d like to point out that a great deal of the high-rise housing erected east of the Iron Curtain was very attractive and still occupied by appreciative residents.”

    Oh really? I guess you also believe that the Rosenbergs were innocent.

  • Homeowner

    The one-family home is still the ideal for most [blue]Americans[/blue].

  • We own a one-family home. It’s called a [blue]co-op[/blue].

    I’m also interested to hear about these attractive Communist hi-rises. All that I’ve seen in photos has been pretty uninspiring. Not like, say, the prewar Art Deco high-rises along the Grand Concourse.

  • Borrowing a Krugman quote: “It’s the stupidity economy.” What made me think of that quote is the fact that regarding issues of partisanship, much boils down to what is going increase GDP the most. Inefficiency (carbon, cancer, roads, wars, herpes, etc.) is expensive, but they make money. They bolster GDP, and when you view the world through that lens, anything that gets in the way of making money & increasing GDP is bad. Politicians of the right do seem more entrenched in inefficient patterns in my opinion.

    The talking points that make their way down to the commoners on the right tend to center around how: planning; transit; land use regulation and taxation, is a force against their freedoms. They aren’t invested in the notion of an increase in GDP and could care less about it. Their concerns lie in being able to drive where they want, cheaply.

    Those of the regressive persuasion approach the issue from two different vantages, battling to grow GDP (profit) for those at the top and the ill-conceived notion that planning is somehow going to restrict freedom.

  • “Building Cities Shouldn’t Be a Partisan Issue”

    Thanks for sharing



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