Rather than fantasize about losing our natural right to three-acre lawns, those on the right ought to be embracing calls for more modest and—yes—traditional forms of living. We can certainly debate the most efficacious ways of going about things like combatting wasteful, atomizing land use; I even suspect the specific policy Kurtz critiques does tend toward bureaucratic know-it-all-ism rather than genuine community engagement (the proposal to scramble municipal tax revenues around a region could certainly be a localist sticking-point). But it’s rather baffling for people who profess to be concerned about culture to jumpily exempt large swaths of its constitutive elements (like, say, the physical arrangement and daily routine of peoples’ lives, jobs, and commutes) from any sort of real criticism.
At the end of the day, it’s difficult to deny that for many younger people, a summons to restraint in architecture and urban planning goes hand in hand with other attempts to preserve and reinvigorate our neglected cultural inheritance, revive of the importance of aesthetic considerations, and even, for some, return to orthodoxy in religious matters. There is a growing realization that the way we live their lives, the practices and habits we daily undertake, and the way they ultimately manifest themselves in the political realm, can no longer be conceptualized as dissociated points on a Cartesian plane. And defenses of gluttony ring less and less convincing.
To Cantirino’s rebuttal, I would add that market preferences — quite apart from those nefarious urban planners — are blurring the vision between “cities” and “suburbs.” Christopher Leinberger wrote last year at the New Republic:
Unfortunately, the census shines the light on the terms “city” and “suburb” — neither of which are the keys to understanding today’s built environment. … The issue is where are walkable urban places being built, and they are being built in both central cities and the suburbs surrounding them. My 2007 survey of the walkable urban places in the top 30 metros showed 50 percent of them were in central cities and 50 percent were in the suburbs. In the metro area with the most walkable urban places, the Washington region, 70 percent of the walkable urban places were in the suburbs. These included Bethesda and Silver Spring in suburban Montgomery County, nine places in suburban Arlington County (like Ballston and Crystal City), and the newly built Washington Harbor in suburban Prince George’s County.
Similarly, Ryan Avent noted at the Economist:
[S]uburban areas are increasingly adding new housing capacity by copying urban development forms. Here in the Washington area, the two largest suburban jurisdictions are Virginia’s Fairfax County and Maryland’s Montgomery County. Both are in the process of redeveloping major jobs centres from an automobile orientation to tall, dense, walkable, city-like development patterns based around transit.
Suburbanisation in America was the norm for over a generation, so it’s a little early to conclude that these trend breaks represent a new development paradigm. But the data from the past decade are consistent with an increase in demand for city life relative to suburban life.
Kurtz isn’t merely paranoid. He’s behind the times, too.