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In Defense Of Cities

by Conor Friedersdorf

The indispensable Ed Glaeser was interviewed on that subject, and both the left and the right ought to listen to his prescriptions. Here's one of his challenges for liberals:

My largest message to the environmental community is to fight development when it's harmful for the environment, but support development when it's helpful for the environment. Local activists can't stop development in the U.S. as a whole. There's just going to be too many areas where they're going to be happy to build. We're going to build, roughly, in the long term, 1.5 million, 1.4 million new housing units a year to accommodate the population growth and the depreciation of old housing. While local activists can't turn that off, they can determine where it happens, because they can, in their own communities, stop development. When you turn off the flow of new housing in your community, it turns on somewhere else...

The sad fact from an environmental point of view is that building in the San Francisco Bay is a great thing to do. There's an incredibly temperate climate, which means that the carbon emissions for households there are among the lowest in the country. It's got plenty of access to great public transportation. This is the area that should be building a great deal of housing. But when you make it difficult to build there, you make sure that there's housing being built instead in the suburbs of Houston, where you'd need a lot of energy to create a pleasant manmade environment, and there's a lot of driving.

And for the right:

Why have cities fared so poorly in the political discourse over the past 200 years? The truth of the matter is that I think that the Obama administration is simply trying to give us a level playing field. It needs to be presented as that. To those Republicans, to those Tea Party activists who believe in the home mortgage interest deduction: Shouldn't the U.S. government stop engaging in social engineering? Shouldn't the U.S. government stop engaging in those policies that artificially push people out of the homes that they would have? Haven't we had enough of activist government trying to shoehorn us into low-density living?

That's how I try to present it, and I actually believe that. I have some libertarian bent. I think that things are problematic in part because they impinge on basic human freedom, the ability to choose cities if you want to choose cities. Given how anti-urban the broad spectrum of public policy is, if anyone attempts to depict the tiny things that are slightly pro-urban as being an attempt to socially engineer Americans into cities, I find that quite odd.

The whole interview is worth a read.