Conservatives, Liberals and Urbanists

MLewyn's picture

After reading all manner of political posts on Facebook and various listservs, it occurs to me that conservatives and liberals are more alike than they think. Both groups are driven in part by an emotional fear of concentrated power - sometimes sensible, sometimes not.  Conservatives fear being oppressed or cheated by overwhelming, distant political power- for example, the federal government or the United Nations. Liberals and environmentalists fear concentrated corporate power- for example, Wal-Mart.  

So for example, liberals find it easy to accept scientists' suggestions that fossil fuel emissions causes climate change because they are more likely to fear generally that big scary corporations are poisoning us; climate change fits nicely into this framework.  By contrast, conservatives fear that climate change will become an excuse for overbearing government regulation. 

What does this have to do with new urbanism?  Urbanists have trouble plugging into the power grid of conservative emotion, because even though urbanists do suffer from pro-sprawl government regulation, anti-urbanist regulation usually comes from NIMBY-oriented local government rather than from centralized power on high.   So even if urbanists can rationally persuade conservatives that sprawl is caused by government, they cannot easily do so in a way that ignites conservative emotions.  

What about liberals?  On the one hand, small-scale walkable urbanism sounds more appealing to corporation-fearing liberals than does big-box sprawl.  But fighting bureaucratic NIMBYism is hardly likely to get liberal juices flowing to the same extent as fighting corporate power.  So my sense is the smart growth/transit/urbanism complex of issues is more likely to attract passive support from liberals than fervent enthuasiasm.


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