Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Mon May 25th 2009 at 9:41am UTC

The Rise of Anti-Urbanism

Paul Krugman reflects on the demonization of cities and the people who live in them.

Basically, the accusation is that anyone with a good word for urbanism must just hate the American lifestyle.

[T]he same thing is true about pro-sprawl commentary … Conservatives really, really hate on Portland; examples here and here. Aside from the tendency to engage in factual errors, the hate seems disproportionate to the cause. But it’s an aesthetic thing: conservatives seem deeply offended by anything that challenges the image of Americans as big men driving big cars.

Me, I like dense urban areas. But I’m a pointy-headed intellectual. And bearded, too.

This trend is not new.

A disdain for cities and the diverse, open-minded people (like Krugman) who gravitate to them has long been a rallying point on parts of the right. Long before their forays into foreign policy, neoconservatives were railing against cities. Edward Banfield’s tellingly titled The Unheavenly City offered an incredulous chapter on “Rioting for Fun and Profit.” Early essays in the Public Interest sported snappy titles like “The City as  Reservation” and “The City as Sandbox.” Not to mention so-called “benign neglect” which argued that cities should be left to rot and run down so that land could become cheap enough to entice large-scale suburban-style retrofitting.

The anti-urban strain continues today, as Krugman notes. Ironically, its persistence is what’s really anti-American – anti-American economy that is – making it ever more difficult to leverage the powerful role played by cities and urban areas in innovation and economic growth for long-run economic prosperity.

9 Responses to “The Rise of Anti-Urbanism”

  1. David Shumaker Says:

    I thought this passage from the actual Will column was pretty funny:

    “Riding the aforementioned wave to Portland, which liberals hope is a harbinger of America’s future, has long been their aerobic activity of choice. But LaHood is a Republican, for Pete’s sake, the party (before it lost its bearings) of ‘No, we can’t’ and ‘Actually, we shouldn’t’ and ‘Not so fast’ and ‘Let’s think this through.’ Now he is in full ‘Yes we can!’ mode. Et tu, Ray?”

    I didn’t pick up on the hatin’. I think Krugman missed Will point because he had his own point to make. These commmontator types often talk past each other.

  2. Steve Says:

    diverse, open-mined people (like Krugman)

    You’re joking, right?

  3. Michael Wells Says:

    This suspicion of cities as dens of iniquity goes back as far as agriculture, I’d guess. Check out the Old Testament badmouthing of Sodom & Gomorrah, Babylon & Nineveh. Jump forward to Thomas Jefferson’s virtuous small farmer vs. the evils of urbanliving. Then to the 19th century civic “reformers” dreams of the Garden City. Then to today’s rants of Limbaugh and American Heritage writers.

    Funny how some of the Right rails against cities while extolling capitalism because modern capitalism was born in Renaissance cities, when the largely rural dark ages came to an end. Under feudalism the rich were landowners whose serf/workers tilled the soil, a very uninnovative society. Then as cities developed again along came people like the Medici’s who weren’t nobility but got rich from trade and financing industry. Modern accounting was developed in Renaissance Florence to handle complex wealth that was not tied to land or gold in the basement, but moving capital.

    People like Jane Jacobs and Robert Lucas have shown how cities are the hub of innovation and economic growth.

  4. Richard Florida Says:

    Steve – Touche. I what I meant to convey is how he sees himself …

  5. Buzzcut Says:

    My beef with Portland is that libs tout it as “the future”, with policies that every city should be following.

    But as we saw in that WSJ article last week, Portland is pretty unique, demographically. It is way whiter than any other major US city. You can do a lot of things if you don’t have an underclass and if your city attracts highly educated SWPLs (even if there aren’t any jobs for them!).

  6. Michael Wells Says:


    Funny thing about Portland as “the future”. The local joke is the NY Times is stalking us, they write about our city so much. I suspect the reason some right-wingers attack us is that we’ve become so visible in the media they love to hate.

    But on your other point, you’re mistaking ethnicity and race for class. Portland is around 79% non-Hispanic white according to the census, which doesn’t mean there’s not an underclass, just that a higher proportion of the poor are white than in say, Detroit. Portland is pretty average in terms of poverty and crime for an American city. Right now we’ve got higher than national average unemployment.

    Second, many of the policies Portland gets lauded for have to do with land use (actually state law, not city), transit and openness, which aren’t much related to demographics.

  7. Buzzcut Says:

    Second, many of the policies Portland gets lauded for have to do with land use (actually state law, not city), transit and openness, which aren’t much related to demographics.

    You’re kidding, right? Of COURSE they have to do with demographics. White flight and suburbanization have everything to do with demographics. The only reason that Portland can get away with what it gets away with is that SWPLs don’t need to separate themselves from African Americans. They can utilize public transportation because they don’t have to rub elbows with AAs. And they can be open, because everyone is a SWPL themselves.

    It all works because there is no African American underclass.

  8. Aadisht Says:

    Is it actually disdain on the part of the right? I’m not American, but from what I understand, there’s been a long tradition of rural/ urban polarisation in America, with both right and left taking either side. The Civil War was industrial/ urban North fighting the agrarian/ rural South; the Progressive Era and bimetallic controversy was bankers against farmers.

  9. Heather Says:

    Wondering if “open-mined” is supposed to be “open-minded”