localism vs neighborhood-ism

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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13 Responses

  1. I realize that this is a response to a much bigger, complex debate going on, but, nonetheless, I sometimes feel, and this is one of those times, that you’re egging me to write something in reply. It may just be my insanely large ego and desire to be too wordy and self-indulgent, though. Anyhow, I reckon I’ll be posting something later today now. A lot of stuff to chew on here — mostly good, of course.Report

    • I look forward to your response, Nathan. And actually, I did have a few of our discussions in mind when I was writing this – so it is maybe no surprise that you might think I was “egging” you on to write something. Then again, now that your identity as a mental case has been revealed, I should perhaps reconsider everything you’ve ever written….


  2. I think the type of place you describe E.D., with a cookie cutter and fairly homogenous periphery and a more diverse, interesting and artsy center is a fairly common part of the American landscape. It’s certainly the case here in Louisville, though ours resembles more of a half-circle with the Ohio River defining our northen border. While these vibrant city centers are important places for all the reasons you mentioned (tourism, arts, interaction of different individuals) and they serve their purpose by preserving older architecture, I do not believe they are necessarily the most important parts of our cities.

    I must admit that most of my thinking on this subject has been shaped by Joel Kotkin who I consider a near-genius in the realm of rural, suburban and urban studies. His research seems to indicate that while cities and country are important, suburbs are where all the growth takes place. They are also the places where the majority of our people choose to live. So how can they play a more FPR-inspired role in our communities? By functioning as a bridge between city and country. They offer employment for the part-time farmer, a market for their products and a place for their kids to move to if they work in the city and still want to be close to the land they grew up on. They also put us that much closer to the rural, for those of us who need it like we need air. That’s the role the suburbs play in my life. Looking in the other direction, I am close to the rural areas of my youth and close to the woods that bring me peace. I’m also close to the restaurants, the galleries and the wi-fi connections that broaden my cultural horizons. In my experience, those in the rural trust the suburban dwellers a lot more than those in the cities. I don’t know if the city dwellers feel the same, as I often wonder if they hold contempt for my choice to live among chain stores and strip malls.

    Nevertheless, it’s the middle places that often get overlooked in the debates between extremes. Localism verses post modernism forgets the suburbanism that bridges the two.Report

    • I see what you mean, Mike. But I have to believe that a better suburnanism can exist – one not reliant on driving. One with mixed zoning so that I can walk to a nearby market or a restaurant down the street. I think we’ve focused too much on cutting off the residential from the places we work. We’ve planned it this way because we think that’s what people want, and because it’s cheap, and because it’s effective in a car culture. But we might be facing the end of the car culture. We might be realizing that culturally we aren’t making bridges so much as fences.

      But of course this is my opinion – and we should all be free to choose. I don’t so much advocate the end of suburbia, though – just the end of this kind of suburbia.Report

      • The Librarian in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        This is a great discussion. I’d like to introduce some history too. The movement to the suburbs accelerated when the big federally financed highways started to be built. People of modest means could not have a city place and a country place, but with the highways, they could commute from their jobs to the cities and have leafy green yards for their families. But I am with E.D. that the time is approaching when we all really should be living close to our jobs, not an hour-long commute away. Or we should be able to use rapid transit to go in both directions, into and out of the city. Cities offer vibrancy, creativity, energy, support for cultural, educational, medical institutions, varied retail, investment, just about anything good we can want. Sadly for many of their residents, the best the city has to offer is not available to them, and corruption, crime, and neglect are far too prevalent. Suburban residents are learning that they are not insulated from those aspects they think of as city problems, and city residents need to be able to travel more readily to jobs in the suburbs. I also think that as a society and for the environment, we have to stop spreading our residences across all the land, or there won’t be rural refuges left for man nor beast. We would be better off with denser concentrations (to a point of course!) of people and jobs and businesses. Redeveloping inner cities and inner suburbs can do some of that and take the pressure of growth and development off the fringe.Report

        • Settlement patterns in the US have always gone in one direction…out. The best we can hope to do is slow that down and develop sensibly. While cities serve their purposes, the chance of drawing people back in any significant numbers is very, very unlikely.Report

  3. What about the rural? They depend on cars just as much, if not more, than the suburban. If you’re suggesting that cars create some kind of barrier that can only be broken down by getting out of them I would agree. But yet even in the most car-heavy places on earth (NYC, LA, etc) culture is flourishing. If you’re talking about polution, then obviously we just need to work harder on the Mr.Fusion.

    Another possibility to answer your concern is the planned community movement, which is really pressing the ‘bridge’ between city and country angle with thoughtful construction that creates a town-within-a-town on the edge of the suburbs and providing a link between the urban and rural. I would cite this article for more info.


  4. Sam M says:

    We often talk about the whole “cookie cutter” aspects of suburbia. But it’s not all that clear to me that there was all that much diversity before. Sure, Joe’s Diner had some quirks, maybe. And was different from Charlie’s Diner in really profound ways. But as far as I can tell, “diners” are really quite similar. Which is why they have come to occupy their own genre.

    Are they more interesting than 1000 identical Burger Kings. I guess so. But… people don’t like interesting. Or, huge swaths of people don’t. I mentioned it before, but my wife couldn’t care less about the special way Joe’s Diner makes its fries, or they way Charlie braises his pork chops. She wants consistency. No surprises. Which is what America is really, really good at providing. And which has a lot of merits. Why not celebrate it? Isn’t it as much of an achievment, culturally, as the perfection of prosciutto ham?

    I am not like my wife. I like the diners and al lthat. But as for travel at hotels… I want nothing interesting at all. I want to get in and get out. And seriously… how many people travelling to Sacramento for business are really chanping at the bit to see how the oil painters in Modesto are getting along? I suspect it’s a small minority.

    I guess this points to a general lack of interest on my part, and is not a pretty picture. But I suspect there are lots like me. Although I feel superior because at least I feel bad about it.Report

    • Consumatopia in reply to Sam M says:

      You’re on to something here. If I’m traveling for work, I never want any surprises.

      I guess it’s a matter of whether we want to optimize our towns for traveling through or for living in. We could evaluate the world through the eyes of a truck driver or salesman high on caffeine at 3AM, just wanting to power through until the reach the comforts and joys of home. But once he reaches home, should his neighborhood in turn be designed for the comfort of those passing through it?Report

  5. Sam,

    I agree with a lot of what you say. When I travel I like to try interesting spots when I have time, but when you’ve got kids or you’re in a hurry sometimes it’s nice to see a familiar menu, or a Borders that has all the same things you can get at home. So there’s definitely something to be said for dependability/predictability.

    I was out west a few weeks ago and after having some real hit or miss for a couple of days i have never been so happy to see a Denny’s.Report