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Welcome - my name is Kevin Klinkenberg, and this site "The Messy City" is my blog and company website. I started blogging on urban planning and design issues in 2007, and began working in the field in 1993. Please feel free to connect with me on any of the social media sites listed here. Thanks for reading.

James A. Bacon writes a provocative piece taking on his fellow conservatives:

I spend a lot of time agonizing over questions that nobody else does. That’s largely because I’m one of the world’s few conservatives who supports the broader vision of the Smart Growth movement.* I have articulated  a vision of Smart Growth that is based upon the principles of fiscal conservatism, limited government and free markets. But not many people are buying it.

The reason, I think, can be traced to the political economy of sprawl. Republicans, the party that nominally stands for fiscal conservatism and free markets but rarely governs that way, comprise the party of sprawl. (By “sprawl” I mean the scattered, low-density, autocentric pattern of development that prevailed during the post-World War II era.) Republican voters tend to live in communities born of sprawl, benefit from the subsidies and cross-subsidies that perpetuate sprawl, don’t want to change the way they live and don’t want to give up the subsidies.


The bottom line is that Republican and conservative politicians apply their free-market, fiscal-conservative principles selectively — when it gores their political foes — and ignore their principles when necessary to protect the interests of their constituents.

There's more as well, and a few shots at Democrats and liberals.

It's been clear for several election cycles now that the big divide between "red" and "blue" America isn't a state vs state thing as much as it is urban vs rural. More specifically, urban & older suburban vote overwhelmingly "blue" in nearly every state while exurban & rural vote overwhelmingly "red" in nearly every state. The outliers are New England, Oklahoma & Utah. That's in essence the story from the "political economy of sprawl" research.

Like so much in politics, this really represents tribal behavior or identity politics as much as anything. My tribe and the people who are my friends and neighbors believe one thing, so I'm "for" them and against what those "other" people believe. Political parties mostly become just labels for tribal behavior, not really purely ideological "conservative" or "liberal" beliefs.

As Bacon eloquently states, there's nothing "conservative" about typical suburban development, since it benefits from tremendous infrastructure subsidies and is not truly market-oriented. But there's also nothing necessarily "liberal" about city living, since the most successful of our cities have dynamic market economies and harbor the greatest inequality. 

I yearn for the day we can escape some of the all-too-common labels we use in politics. Am I a liberal because I believe that government and regulations exist for good reasons, or am I a conservative because I want market-based solutions for all transportation systems and I prefer traditional architecture? I'm not one to think new political parties are necessarily the answer - there's really no evidence to suggest that would change the dialogue. But perhaps we can eventually grow past this polarized, media-driven us vs them mentality and start engaging each other as intelligent grown-ups. Hope, right?

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Wednesday feature: Designing better apartments

The Sunbelt migration marches on