You might think it’s a simple matter of size: Big cities lean liberal and also tend to be more walkable. That’s generally true, but it doesn’t fully explain the phenomenon. Houston, Phoenix, and Dallas are among the nation’s ten largest cities, but they’re also among the country’s more conservative big cities, and none cracks the top 20 in walkability. All three trail smaller liberal cities such as Portland, Denver, and Long Beach. And if you expand the data beyond the 50 largest cities, the conservative/liberal polarity only grows. Small liberal cities such as Cambridge, Mass., Berkeley, Ca., and Paterson, N.J. make the top 10, while conservative cities of similar size such as Palm Bay, Fl. and Clarksville, Ten. rank at the bottom.
Substituting density for size gets us closer: Houston, Phoenix, and Dallas are notorious for sprawl, while New York, San Francisco, and Boston are tightly packed, partly because they are older cities whose downtown cores developed in the pre-car era. As they grew, their borders were constrained by those of the smaller cities and towns that surrounded them. That’s not the case with many Southern and Western cities. Jacksonville and Oklahoma City, for instance, are vast in terms of land area, encompassing suburban and even semi-rural neighborhoods as well as urban ones.
I think it can probably most be explained by historical circumstance. Older, coastal cities had their cores in place before the coming of the automobile. Still, there really is something strange in the culture of conservatism, an odd hostility to pedestrian culture and bicycle culture. When I was growing up out in the country, we really couldn’t stand bikers. What kind of damn fool wanted to go ride around on a bicycle down the road? Doesn’t he know it’s hot? He could be fishing! It was a silly prejudice, but it was very real, and still is around here.
Do you see it where you live? Where does this come from? Is it that people associate biking and public transportation in general with cities, and therefore, among conservatives, as something to be suspicious of, or looked down upon? Living in Washington and New York City, I got used to walking, and came to like doing it a lot. But I rarely walked for pleasure; I walked because I needed to use the sidewalks to get to work or to the shops. Walking was not something you did mostly for leisure, but because it was part of life. I don’t actually like walking for leisure. Anyway, what’s the cultural angle here? Anybody?