I just sent some thoughts back to writer who is working on a book on cities, including a look at density in Seattle. I sent this response after a review of his work in an e-mail:
Cities tend to be dominated by Democrats and [left leaning] liberals. What I am seeing, though, is that this set of people is really struggling with language when confronted with the need for less regulation to accommodate growth on the one hand, and the interventionist urge to regulate and mandate it on the other hand.
This, I think, is a crucial moment for leaders in cities: do city leaders try to mandate sustainable growth through increasing regulations which increase costs and the price of housing or do they pull back on regulation to allow for increased supply and lower costs which could make the city both more attractive and more affordable.
The answer may determine our future.
Cities are full of educated, liberal, Obama voters. I’d guess that one is more likely to find left leaning folks on social issues, foreign policy, and economics in cities than anywhere else. Maybe city folk tend to be more sensitive to social disparities and are more likely to see a helping hand through social programs as the solution while country people, with a more individualist bent, tend to see the solution as being increased personal responsibility.
There are, of course, obvious exceptions to this, like the urbanite walking down the sidewalk staring into an i-Phone, and the tornado struck rural community banding together to help neighbors rebuild. Nevertheless, the language of the urbanite is the language of the liberal.
Say the word, “deregulation” in polite company in Seattle is and one is sure to tighten up some liberal sphincters. The word reminds us of the dreaded days of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Deregulation sounds like more money for big shots and fat cats by eliminating rules to protect the little guy.
But as I pointed out recently in a post here, regulations that we set up to stop bad things from happening are now stopping good things from happening too. But city leadership is almost always Democrats and almost always in favor of interventionist programs that try to motivate “good behavior” over private profit. As John Taylor pointed out in his Hayek Award lecture, which I referenced in a Seattle Transit Blog post, most politicians ran for office to “do something.” Elected city leaders are even more likely to be activist and interventionist than the average politician.
The challenge, then, for leaders of cities is to adopt the mantra, “don’t just do something, stand there!” As one who believes that government can and should intervene in public and private life for the broader good, the shift to free market language hasn’t been easy or linear. But I’m convinced now that we need to make fewer rules when it comes to land use, not more.
It’s true, I am repeating myself. I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t think that this is the biggest challenges we face, a challenge of ideas and thinking. I have lately been telling my colleagues, “think like a Republican for a minute!” We know what science and the facts say, grow up not out. Overcoming the aversion to the language of supply and demand, language that tends to upset liberal city leaders, is probably the biggest challenge to sustainable cities. Maybe we need new words, but the ideas are the same. If someone can make it and sell it, then permit it.