Why Republicans Need the Cities

Chicago pro immigration rally.jpg

Republicans took an all around shellacking in the 2012 elections. Part of the reason is that Democrats dominated the cities. President Obama won 69% of the big city vote, according to a New York Times exit poll analysis. Some of this is perhaps on account of the racial makeup of the cities, as blacks overwhelmingly vote Democratic. Yet it’s clear that, even among the upscale white urbanist crowd, Republican policies and candidates are finding few takers.

This bodes ill for the Republicans, but also for the future of cities. Most places suffer when under single-party rule, whether liberal or conservative. This has plagued big cities. Chicago, for example, doesn’t have a single Republican member of its city council. For a long time Republicans dominated large tracts of the suburbs.

These geographically discrete monopolies have resulted in a thoroughly corrupt bi-partisan system that Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass has dubbed “The Combine.” Some competition remained at the state level, but it should come as no surprise that as the state as a whole as gone solidly blue, state and city finances have cratered, leaving Illinois as a national basket case.

Cities can benefit from Republican ideas on a variety of fronts. As Harvard Economist Ed Glaeser points out in City Journal, Republicans have been leaders in ideas around urban crime reduction, education reform, and privatization and rationalization of city services.

Unfortunately, Republicans have largely abandoned the urban playing field, preferring to condemn the cities as cesspools of Democratic corruption, high taxes, and decay. The Republican party today is largely driven by exurban and rural leaders, as well as populist movements like the Tea Party, with values that are not widely shared by urban dwellers. This has not only cost the party votes, but, critically, it has left it on the outside looking in on many debates, as culture is shaped in large urban centers where Republicans have little voice.

It’s well past time for Republicans to take cities seriously again. This starts with valuing urban environments, and respecting (or at least taking time to understand) the values of the people who live there. For example, urban dwellers expect and indeed require a higher level of public services than many suburban residents. The suburbs might not need quality street lighting, for example, but cities do. The rural area I grew up in can rely on people passing by in pickup trucks with chain saws to clear away trees that fall on the road. Cities can’t. Thus, Tea Party-type policy prescriptions in which basically everything the government does is considered bad, and in which cutting taxes is the main political value, aren’t likely to sell. Urban dwellers actually want to know how you are going to deliver services more effectively. Similarly, just bashing transit as a waste of money, lashing out against location-appropriate density, opposing all environmental initiatives, and shrill anti-immigrant rhetoric only turn urban dwellers off.

If Republicans took urban concerns seriously, they would find that they have much to offer urban residents and voters. For example, Democrats pay lip service to transit, but much transit policy in America today (heavily shaped by Democrats) is more oriented towards protecting entrenched constituencies than it is towards actual effectiveness. A serious Republican-led effort to reform the federal process and reduce the insane construction price premium (effectively a transit surtax) for American transit versus overseas systems would be welcomed, as long as it was not a Trojan horse for undermining transit. Republicans have so abandoned transportation (other than highway spending), that ideas which Republicans invented, like congestion pricing, have been claimed by the left as their own.

As an example of what a more urban focused Republican/conservative could be, consider the Manhattan Institute, a free market think tank (full disclosure: I have been a writer for their City Journal magazine). Because they are based in New York City, demonizing transit and such is just not realistic. Hence they’ve focused on policy ideas that are actually relevant to the city. They’ve also not hesitated to praise Mayor Bloomberg’s transportation reforms, and even gave an award to Rhode Island Democratic state treasurer Gina Raimondo for her leadership in pension reform. If more conservatives were similarly focused on driving better urban outcomes in the inner city rather than demonizing it, or on scoring political points, Republicans might be back in the game.

Republicans have a huge opportunity in the enormous income and wealth gap in inner cities, which Democratic policies, focused on things like greening the city, have done little to address. Indeed, all too much urbanism amounts to a sort of trickle down economics of the left, in which a “favored quarter” of artists, high end businesses, and the intelligentsia are plied with favors and subsidies while precious little ever makes it to those at the bottom rungs of society. A key lever to end this is to cut away at the massive regulatory burden that stifles small scale entrepreneurs, particularly minorities and immigrants. Regulatory relief is right up the Republicans’ alley.

Republicans also need to take on cities, especially the biggest ones, in order to get more of a voice in the cultural debates. Culture and media emanate from big cities, particularly New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. Major academic centers also are idea generation factories.

Republicans became all but excluded from the cultural/media industry as the 60s generation took over. The party's response has been to create a parallel infrastructure of think tanks, talk radio shows, web sites, and even its own TV network, Fox News. This worked well in the era immediately following the end of the Fairness Doctrine, but as the so-called mainstream media reacted by shifting to the left, this has left the Republicans often talking mostly to themselves while the national culture gets shaped by Hollywood, etc. A good example is the web site Atlantic Cities, which fully embodies the values of the international urban elite left, with few identifiable conservative ideas.

The 2012 election shows the limits of this strategy. Just as evangelical Christians have decided that they must look to plant their flag in the inner cities – both to reach an increasingly secularized, ,upscale population, and to engage with culture where it is made – Republicans need to start showing up seriously in the cities again if they want to influence the culture. There are already some top-notch conservatives participating in and writing about serious culture (e.g., Terry Teachout). More ambitious, talented young conservatives should seek to enter culture and media industries apart from simply writing for conservative magazines. This battle won’t be easy by any means, but defeat is certain if you never fight.

One thing is for sure: if Republicans want to have any future in America, they can’t afford to cede any more constituencies as monolithic Democratic voting blocks. Urban America is one constituency the Republican Party can’t afford to ignore.

Aaron M. Renn is an independent writer on urban affairs and the founder of Telestrian, a data analysis and mapping tool. He writes at The Urbanophile.

Flickr photo by jvoves: Immigrants protest a Republican-sponsored proposal in Chicago.


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republican party

If the republican party is going to kneel before the free market, stop trying to manipulate it. The flight toward urban, higher density development, is not because of "Agenda 21" or some other government conspiracy. It's because enough people are craving a low-car, urban existence. That's called "the free market". The entire suburban movement, was an intervention against market forces from the beginning. Samsung UN55F8000

We need more such post

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For vehicle owners, it takes less than 20 minutes to drive to the business hub and vibrant Orchard Road shopping district, via Central Expressway (CTE).
Belgravia Villas Project Details

There are already some

There are already some top-notch conservatives participating in and writing about serious culture (e.g., Terry Teachout). More ambitious, talented young conservatives should seek to enter culture and media industries apart from simply writing for conservative magazines. http://saulehealth.com

Another Path To Consider


Take To The Downtrodden
I like John Yoo's prescription. Take our principles to all of the down, bankrupt, and/or struggling cities and run an effective campaign there where we can then implement our policies, and most importantly, take credit for it. It would be a form of gentrification, but if these cities start performing again, they'll stop hemorrhaging jobs and population decline. If we can do these in as many municipalities, such as scoring a place like Fresno, or an unlikely but awesome victory such as Oakland, it'll speak volumes at the state and local level in building up our brand.

It works in Portland, Wisconsin, & New Jersey. It can work anywhere!
The Portland metro area has a 60/40 political split on the West side, leaning in favor of the Democrats, and and a 55/45 split on the East side, a little more conservative but still leaning Democrats. While Portland is a bit extreme (75/25, Liberal), Republicans can do well on the local level, and it's because of that brand cache of not only working with the other side on things that don't run contra to our Conservatism, but running an effective municipality that is efficient, pro-growth, and yet provides a healthy safety net and a great quality of life for citizens of all income levels. You see the same trend in Washington, and I think that's what our elections have to be about. They have to have their greatest priority be on running a well-run city. You already see Republican Governors doing this all across the country. You see Scott Walker, Republican, do this in the liberal state of Wisconsin, and the trust that people have in his brand of Republicanism is precisely because they think he's going run a well-run city. We can really build our brand up as people who fix inefficient local governments, and we have to take the initiative because the Democrats are no longer scared to challenge the public employees, namely the teachers unions.

Not all conservatives are created equal

A Portland republican, is a marxist, compared to an Alabama democrat. Not an easy comparison.

Difficulties for Republicans in metropolitan areas

Wow. Interesting article. Misses the point entirely.

A certain type of emotional/intellectual personality thrives in urban environments. These people value community, inter-dependence and civics that are simply ignored by the current conservative paradigm. The same community-mindedness requires a hopeful mentality. The inherent belief that those around you intend you no ill-will. The last twenty years of republican talking points tend to be fear-based. Whether fear of immigrants, fear of being unarmed, fear of crime, or fear of government. These are foreign to many in a connected, urban environment. If someone in this environment harbored that same sentimentality, they'd be unable to leave their apartment.

Myself, I come from a rural background. I raised horses, enjoyed the farming experiences and it brought me great joy. Then the "white flight" happened, and many great farming locations were bulldozed for suburban expansion. Now, it's not "country living" there. It's two hour commutes, through hideous tract housing developments as far as the eye can see. It's devoid of it's sense of place, or it's identity. It's now just "human warehousing". These aren't places of value, or places worth caring about anymore. Now that there's a revitalization of urban cores beginning to take place, people are finding a sense of place, and local/regional identity.

I've followed Newgeography for some time now. It's interesting how data can be interpreted in so many ways, to justify whatever platform you identify with. Many of these articles favor extensive suburban expansion, and yet claim to be more of a libertarian ideal. What's not mentioned, is that in a libertarian paradigm, suburbia would have never existed, as it requires massive transfer payments to cover the advanced development of roads, sewers, power infrastructure and fire/law enforcement services. These are often paid for by debt, or by siphoning capital from core cities via annexation. If I was to purchase a home, in an exurban setting, but was required to cover these costs myself, it would be untenable. Since I reside on the edge of an urban core, I'm forced to subsidize the exurban developments way outside the city, even though I'm not likely to ever visit them. This is actually some type of quasi-socialism that you're advocating.

If the republican party wishes to remain relevant in such a changing demographic, here's some suggestions:

Kick the religious right out. They are your absolute worst spokespeople. Place them in a very small box, and tape it shut. The vehement language, and policies they bring to your party are both bad for you, and bad for religion in general.

Kick Norquist to the curb as well. Society has no place for absolutists like that. He binds your hands, and renders you helpless.

Stop trying to manipulate data/people/press. Everyone knows, it's become the butt of lots of jokes now. Climate change is happening, and yes, it's most likely an affect of carbon dioxide emissions. Acting like it's not happening, is going to make it more difficult to develop resilience to deal with it.

Put the NRA in a box with organized religion. They are hurting your party in ways that you can't even imagine. Many of those that reside in cities, are not really happy with universal firearms ownership. They make the republican party seem very negative. Until such time as the NRA begins to become a positive force, in firearms safety, rather than just an industry spokesgroup, keep them in a box.

Recognize, that Private Enterprise, is not a god to be worshiped. It's one tool, among many. Private Enterprise should not be the end-all. There is a distinct reason why fire departments used to be called "Fire Companies". Read up on that a bit, and you'll understand why.

If the republican party is going to kneel before the free market, stop trying to manipulate it. The flight toward urban, higher density development, is not because of "Agenda 21" or some other government conspiracy. It's because enough people are craving a low-car, urban existence. That's called "the free market". The entire suburban movement, was an intervention against market forces from the beginning. I read a lot. I enjoy reading almost to a fault. When the republican party/libertarians freak out over a new transit expansion, yet endorse a much, much more expensive freeway expansion, your "small government" credentials vanish into thin air.

In short, if the republican party wants me back, it needs to start becoming something that's "FOR" something, rather than "against" everything. I'm tired of the hatred against so many, and the respect/love for so few. Until these change, the party will eventually fade into memory with the Whig

You are mis-framing this.

You are framing things from a leftist perspective. There is no way a middle-of-the-road person, whose politics is unbiased, could look upon the Democrats as not engaging in the politics of fear. Their platform is more then just antithetical to business, corporations, "polluters," the sexism and racism perpetrated by our culture, things they deem unequal, so and so forth... NO. It is not enough to just be against it. They are, instead, out to rectify social justice, and destroy all of those things, legitimate or not, and the only way to wage these social wars is to get all of us to drop our free-associations, by using FEAR, to mobilize us into action NOW, because the world can't wait. The Left is just as fear-based as any group who is fearful of the alternative to what they support.

The problem with those who peddle new urbanism today is its disdain for suburbia. New Urbanism has become an extension of leftwing theology. There is a place for both the urban, and the suburban. The suburbs allow upward mobility for immigrants and young families. Many of immigrants used to come and become stuck in the urban immigrant gateways of NY, LA, SF, Chicago, etc. Now, many bipass that entirely and go straight for the suburbs where they have school options, housing options, and employment options that are far superior to big cities. Not to mention, space, access to parks, affordable shopping, less traffic, less crime, and a higher standard of living then their counterpart still trapped in the urban grind. All of these things are what enable upward mobility. These folks see their incomes rise, and within a generation, they are very often firmly in the middle class, and their children enter higher education, and often end up marrying afterwards and beginning a family. The suburbs are worth caring for because they incubate the middle class, and allow for their rise. Your not caring for them is largely emotional, and on the basis of its ethos and aesthetics. But if you care for the upper lower class, and the lower middle class, you should at least champion a suburban model that you agree with, socially, that are affordable and allow for all of the things I mention above.

You talk as if the suburbs are siphoning urban funds, but the urban core is not the generator of economic activity or the source of job creation in many settings. Very often, within a big city, the most dynamic areas tend to be bubbles beyond the core itself, and a self-sustaining eco-system that the city is largely dependent on to sustain its services to the less productive parts of the city. Then you have development in the suburbs that you say the urban crowd funds? Well let me say, the urban core is dependent on the economic activity beyond it, it does not have adequate housing at affordable rates or safe and excellent public school systems, etc. to offer to every potential transplant, and rather then loose them to another major city beyond it's sphere of influence, it annexes and supports development beyond its border. That, and most metropolitans are intertangled with each other, allowing a more fluidic flow of capital, people, and services that empowers the entire region. By the way, unless you are in the top income brackets, you the city-dweller may not necessarily be paying at all for any of that.

Do I reside in a City?

You assume too much. I'm a fairly old man. I've lived on a farm in central Washington state, raising horses and cattle. I've lived on a sailboat, out of the carribean. I've lived in several suburbs around the country. I've seen both parties screw things up pretty bad. I am an independent, that sees both extremes as a detriment to everyone but their special interests.

My dislike for suburbia, is from both first-hand experience, and from paying attention to the outcomes. Suburbia, only offers affordable housing, during a "market correction". During flush times, suburbia is so white it can be seen from the moon. Suburbia combines all of the bad things (lack of privacy, crime, traffic, ) of a city, with all of the bad things about living in the country (isolation, long commutes, high transportation costs). It contains none of the benefits, of either. It also requires massive subsidies, government intervention in zoning, and subsidized fuel as well. It's also not economically sustainable.

If you want, how about reading something from a real, small government conservative.


The Suburbs

You Do Seem Of A Certain Persuasion
Well why are all of your values, arguments, and positions on the Left? As David Brooks and Jonah Goldberg have constantly pointed out, independents tend to just be people disgusted with labels in general, or, particular associations with certain labels, but the truth of the matter is, very few are actually independent and non-partisan. For every position you espouse, you defend it with liberal rhetoric.

There is a non-partisan case for increased gun control. There is a case for non-partisan support of some levels of smart growth policies. There is a non-partisan case for many of the things you either support or are against, but I have yet to see you make one that does not involve left-wing rhetoric, or some left-wing value as it's underlying ideological basis. That www.strongtowns.org should also have literature skeptical of both developers with their uncontrolled sprawl, AND smart-growth policies, yet it's outlook is rather one-sided. There is nothing inherently wrong with being a liberal or a conservative by the way, or having a liberal/conservative bias.

The Suburbs
You have a lot of explaining to do then of the continuity of immigrant-flight from urban centers. Social and economic pressures in the traditional urban setting has often bar'd immigrants out from participating in institutions that allow them economic mobility, such as better wages then menial labor allows for, or housing options that are better served by achieving schools, with little to no crime to worry about. The urban environment has also promoted a cultural insularity that not only makes assimilation difficult, but creates self-imposed ghettos, whereas living amongst the greater culture at large in the suburbs has allowed most immigrants to enter the middle class, and put their children, also first generation immigrants themselves, through k-12 and into higher-education.

What are the benefits of the suburbs, that the suburb does not contain? I at least acknowledge the benefits of the city, but you liberals have to stop waging war on what built the middle class. Small Towns & Cities will not fit the bill for everyone. We've gone from 180 million in my parents time, to, soon enough in my own lifetime, 400 million Americans, and none of this would be possible without our suburbs. How do the suburbs have high transportation costs? How do they have high crime rates? lack of privacy? High crime? What are these massive subsidies that you speak of that the advent of the sprawl hasn't paid back in dividends?

You clearly didn't really read strongtowns.

Right now, I reside in a suburb. A suburb in the direct battlefield of the urban/suburban battlefield. It's ironic, because market forces compensate extremely well. If the government path is paved for suburbia, which it has been for the last fifty years, the market will compensate. There are massive subsidies for suburban development. Who builds roads and sewers, before a development is put in? Ir sure isn't the developer himself. Often, the developer will secure tax deferments to encourage residents to move in even! That, is called a "market intervention by government". If the developer shouldered those costs on themselves, the homes couldn't be "market priced".

You write, as someone that lives by ideologies. That, is your failing. Ideologies are rigid. They don't allow for circumstances. That, is why things that I write seem liberal. That's just reality intruding on your ideological bubble..