Conservatives and the New Urbanism

The Congress for the New Urbanism isn't a political organization in the same sense as that other Congress, the one whose headquarters are in Washington instead of Chicago.

But seeing in the CNU XVI program a listing for a session called "Why Conservatives Should Support New Urbanism" made clear that there's an implicit assumption that New Urbanism is a liberal movement.

At the session itself, though, William S. Lind of the Free Congress Foundation made clear that there's much for cultural and political conservatives like him to love in New Urbanism.

Lind, whose heroes include Edmund Burke, said, "I’ve been coming to CNU for some time." He added conservatives "like to retain old ways of doing things because they work better than the latest cockamamie ideas coming out of the academy."

He also observed, "There's very little [in New Urbanism] that conservatives need to disagree with."

The Free Congress Foundation has just released a paper (copies of which were available at Thursday's panel) entitled "Conservatives and the New Urbanism: Do We Have Some Things in Common?" Lind is one of the authors, along with Paul M. Weyrich, another eminence of the American conservative movement, and Andres Duany, whose role was to make sure the two conservatives had correctly interpreted the Charter of the New Urbanism.

The paper marches through the 27 principles of the Charter and responds to each. For instance, for No. 6, "The development and redevelopment of towns and cities should respect historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries," the paper's comment is "This argument is conservative in itself."

The two main sticking points in the Charter for Lind and Weyrich are No. 7, the diversity principle, and the call for regional cooperation in No. 9, "to avoid destructive competition for tax base."

Lind blasted "diversity" as one of the mantras of the "cultural Marxists" and suggested it was mainly cover for the idea of "moving in crime" from "the inner city."

Lind suggested that the traditional norm in American cities was diversity at the metropolitan level but homogeneity on the neighborhood level – hence the "Polish neighborhoods" of cities like Cleveland and Chicago. He got some pushback from the audience on this point, including from Emily Talen of Arizona State University, who protested that diversity is "foundational" to urbanism.

But conservatives and liberals alike seemed to be of one mind on the subject of auto-scaled sprawl. Lind stressed that it wasn't a "free-market outcome" but rather the result of government subsidies for highways over other forms of transportation. (The paper notes that he commutes to work on a bicycle.) The Free Congress Foundation has done a number of studies on transportation over the past several years, which have been able to make the case for rail to conservatives in terms they can understand. "You can't use liberal arguments with conservatives," Lind said.

Thursday's session suggested that in the same fashion, Lind and his colleagues may be able to make a case for New Urbanism to their conservative brethren. Lind advocated a system of dual codes and "letting the market decide" which is better. "We are convinced that if we build a level playing field, New Urbanism will do just fine."

Here's a thought: It may be that liberals and conservatives can both see New Urbanism as "back to the future." It's just that liberals stress the "future" in that formulation, and conservatives stress the "back."


Conservatives and the New Urbanism

Thanks for your report, Ruth. I had to leave the Congress early, so very much appreciate the blog reports helping us keep up with the program. One quick comment about the Conservatives panel, which I did manage to attend. Bill Lind claimed that conservatives are pragmatists, that they respond to "what works." That's a traditional position - it requires respecting and analyzing time-tested patterns. But traditional does not equal politically conservative. As the CNU membership shows, there are plenty of political progressives who value tradition.

I would also add that the perpetuation of "what works" is an evolutionary process. Patterns that "work" endure or are revived, while the weak patterns - sprawling ones, we hope - die off. Arguably
progressives/liberals/moderates are more likely to understand evolutionary processes than are conservatives, many of whom believe that a supreme being created the world in a wholly conceived form. That seems like a modernist idea, not a traditionalist one.

Sandy Sorlien

MLewyn's picture

I've written on these issues...

A short speech I gave some years ago:

A longer, more scholarly article:


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