December 06, 2004

Letter to the Paper XXXV

I like the idea of rethinking urban spaces to make them better. I like the idea of a new urbanist movement to demolish past errors and monstrosities. What I don't like is that some people seem to think that such a desire tilts one way or another politically.

David Sucher wrote a fine book on how to remake a city in a more people friendly manner. He's written in the past that he doesn't want new urbanism to devolve into some sort of factional political cause. He slipped badly in criticizing Tom Wolfe and explicitly pairing a political opinion ("The liberal elite hasn't got a clue") with an architectural opinion (2 Columbus Circle in NYC). That's playing with fire. So I thought I might add a bit of napalm:

The problem of libertarians (and liberals) is separation between themselves and the libertines who share the labels. Here's an example. I advocate and predict the end of broadcast in favor of multicasting in part because it gets the FCC out of the censorship business. What'll be out there without decency regulations will be appalling and there'll be nobody left to complain to. But those who are moral will not buy it, will not pay for it, and will be able to shield themselves and their loved ones in far better fashion than the current system. It would be very easy indeed to celebrate the first and not the latter effect and give entirely the wrong impression.

You can argue that the libertines do not actually have the upper hand amongst the liberals. You can also argue pretty well that they, in fact, do.

As for east coast pretensions, try rereading that Urban Archipelago article mentioned a few posts back on this site and you'll get an eyeful if you put yourself in the shoes of a red state reader, maybe one whose neighbor in the FD went to help out on 9/11 in NYC or who had a bake sale to support NYC in its crisis. It's a giant political middle finger raised towards the red states and the blue state elites have not hooted it down, suppressing it as stupid, ignorant, or mean spirited (in point of fact, it is all three).

The liberal elite *doesn't* have a clue and if the advocacy of urbanism is to span left and right on this site, Tom Wolfe's saying so should not be linked to his architectural opinions. This is the kind of post that makes me question whether new urbanism has much of a future in the hands of its current advocates. Buildings are for everyone, as are the streets, the grid, and the public transit systems.

As any careful observer will note, both left and right elites take turns in the clueless category right before and after they are ejected from power by the native good sense of the people. Being ejected into the outer darkness of perennial opposition leads to a dark night of the political soul, a reformation of the movement, and a comeback against the new clueless. Most of the time that rejuvenation in the US comes with identical party labels but that's not always the case (see the rise of the Republican party for an example).

Power creates isolation in elites and from that, cluelessness. Based on objective observations of government power shifts, party affiliation figures, and current voting trends in the past three federal elections, the liberal elite is currently cluelessness personified.

Posted by TMLutas at December 6, 2004 10:48 AM