An urbanist developer recently asked me which candidates in an upcoming election would best serve urbanism. I realized that every candidate supported urbanism. Every candidate took credit for past downtown and walkable projects. And every candidate promised to support more projects.
The problem is that every candidate also embraced policies that are antithetical to urbanism, whether it was as large malls that will sap the vitality of walkable retail, sprawling subdivisions that will need subsidies from downtown for future maintenance, or multi-million dollar arterials that will allow people to zip to the edge of town to save a few pennies.
When I tried to sort out the priorities of the candidates, urbanism always seemed to be the middle of the list, tucked below three or four other priorities that were sprawl-oriented.
And that was the key insight. The problem isn’t that urbanism lacks friends in the realm of public policy. It has plenty of friends. Indeed, it may have no enemies. Urbanism, especially when presented as an architecturally interesting historic downtown, is up there with Mom and apple pie.
Urbanism’s problem is that its friends aren’t very good friends. Urbanism is the bright, articulate high school valedictorian whose girlfriend dumps him when the quarterback and future mall developer crooks a finger at her.
What urbanism needs are public officials who believe that urbanism is the only path to long-term financial and environmental sustainability for our communities. And who will bring that perspective to every decision they’ll make in public office despite the fickle winds of public opinion. Urbanism needs friends it can trust.
So when you make your voting decisions, please look for candidates who will truly put urbanism first. If you can’t find any candidates who meet that test, vote as best you can and start looking for better candidates to run in the next election. It may be the more important duty you can perform for your community.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (firstname.lastname@example.org)