As I have endeavored to develop a conservative vision for Smart Growth, I have relied primarily upon conservative principles with a libertarian slant — limited government, fiscal conservatism, free markets and the like. But there is a vast realm of conservative thinking that I have neglected, which William S. Lind, director of the Arlington-based American Ideas Institute, has reminded me of in today’s post on the Center for Public Transportation blog.
In that post, Lind has kind words to say about Bacon’s Rebellion and our offshoot blog, Smart Growth for Conservatives. But he also expands the case for Smart Growth beyond the one that I have made: He appeals to the idea of conservatism that favors institutions that have grown up over time, as embodied in customs, traditions and habits. In the realm of land use planning, he invokes the golden age of American urbanism that reached its apex in the street car era before zoning codes mandated separation of where people lived from where they shopped or worked by distances too great to walk.
Traditional neighborhood development, Lind contends, fostered a sense of community — and community is a core conservative value. Community refers to informal arrangements in which citizens interact in the civic sphere, building bonds of trust, collaborating to achieve goals of mutual benefit and enforcing community norms without the need for government intervention. He writes:
Why do we desire community? Because traditional morals are better enforced by community pressure than by the clumsy and intrusive instrument of the law. But community pressure only works where there is community. If you do not know your neighbors, what do you care what they think? We want people to care what their neighbors think.
Lind then observes that a conservative view of Smart Growth differs from a liberal view in preferring free-market mechanisms and a level playing field (the arguments that I have articulated) and in rejecting the Left’s celebration of “diversity, or the mixing of races, ethnic groups, income levels, and cultures in ways where everyone must live cheek-by-jowl.” When “diversity” occurs as a result of social engineering, rather than the natural coming of people together, it undermines community. “Community, for us,” writes Lind, “is far more important than any putative benefits from ‘diversity,’ benefits that seem entirely ideological in nature.”
I would elaborate that the Left tends to worship diversity as an abstract concept with little heed for its actual consequences. In the real world, as I have blogged recently, some of the most segregated places in the United States are the most politically liberal. Liberal policies (such as giving government more power to control land use) are associated with the most illiberal results. Ironically, while a conservative version of smart growth would eschew “diversity” as a goal, by eliminating exclusionary zoning and building communities based on shared values and trust, Smart Growth conservatism could do more to erode racial and ethnic segregation than all the judicial decrees and government programs favored by liberals.
Lind, who co-authored a study with Paul Weyrich and New Urbanism guru Andres Duany that explored commonalities of conservative and the New Urbanism, has tapped a rich new vein of thought and commentary on why conservatives should embrace Smart Growth. Let’s hope he continues to develop this line of thinking.
(This column first ran in Bacons Rebellion on April 22, 2014)