War on the Suburbs & St. Louis

Reflective article in New Geography from a California resident visiting St. Louis.

An excerpt.

“Sacramento politicians and the urban growth lobby they so diligently serve have created a narrative that there is something very wrong with living in (or wanting to live in) a single-family neighborhood. Single-family neighborhoods are — so the narrative goes — “racist,” “immoral,” and “evil.”

“Three sub-narratives disseminated by density fetishists dominate discussions aimed at demonizing what for a vast majority of Americans, represents a lifestyle preference.

“Single-family neighborhoods are racist (OK, ignore the role of banks and the real-estate industry in suppressing Black homeownership, and reward them by effectively putting them in charge of urban planning).

“Single-family neighborhoods preclude housing affordability because urban density is required for affordability (well, not exactly, according to demographer Wendell Cox).

“Single-family neighborhoods accelerate climate change (except it isn’t the lack of density that causes climate change, but increased consumption).

“The reasons Sacramento politicians cling to these narratives when carrying the water for the density lobby is fairly self-evident: money and power. For them, the commodification of housing serves numerous constituencies — developers, Big Tech, the construction unions, and Sacramento politicians. These are aided and abetted by a vocal Twitter mob of WIMBY (Wall St.in my back-yard) true-believers.

“Of course, these policies are at odds with what most Californians and Americans prefer. The move to force ever more urban density down the throats of Californians has left many of the state’s residents feeling helpless and frustrated. In effect, their preferences (are being derided by efforts to discourage homeownership and turn us into a state of renters ( a nifty and reliable source of recurring revenue for corporate landlords and private equity investors.

“Now that Sacramento politicians have taken measures to eradicate single-family neighborhoods, reduce homeownership, and to force density upon communities, other states should take notice and react accordingly. The same vested interests have power in many communities and would like to impose this approach on them.

“But those states throughout the nation that are willing to accept a diversity of lifestyle choices and to embrace housing pluralism, should promote this as a virtue and use it to their advantage. . States that are willing to embrace tolerance, including when it comes to people’s housing preferences should let people in states with fewer housing options know that they exist and would welcome new community members.

“California’s historical tolerance of people of all stripes has been a strength and a way for the state to attract new residents. But as the “progressive” (well, really corporatist) clerisy tightens its grip here, there is an opportunity for other states to attract people of all stripes. This could turn the tables on California — usually brashly seeing itself as harbinger of the future — for a change. Other states have the opportunity to turn “California’s lack of tolerance into a strength, into an asset, into a way to make people feel accepted, welcome, and at home within their states and within the communities in their states.

“The notion that California is simply somehow “better” than other places is increasingly outdated — except of course for our weather.

“If Sacramento politicians take the state’s residents for granted and are comfortable telling them that they are not allowed to look for and live in the housing they prefer, then other states can offer a that opportunity to attract the talented and dynamic current residents of the Golden State, many of whom like living in a home with a garden in a neighborhood of homes with gardens.

“We can already see an advertising campaign in California touting the virtues of Ohio as a place to relocate to. Why not consider Ohio as a place to lay down roots? And while Ohioans might not give a damn for the whole state of Michigan, why not Michigan, for that matter? Californians have headed to Texas, Arizona and Nevada, states not more attractive in physical terms those in the Midwest.

“Last month I was in St. Louis for a few days. It’s a city I had never spent an appreciable amount of time in.

“If we’re going to “build back better,” then there aren’t many better places than St. Louis to do so.

“The population of St. Louis is currently just above 300,000 residents. This is less than in 1870. It’s a mere 35% of the St. Louis population in 1950. In the 50 years from 1970, St. Louis has lost more than half its population, even as its suburban population rose dramatically.

“Like any city, St. Louis may have its share of problems. But it is quite simply a great city. Wholesome Midwestern values (on a human, person-to-person level; I am not making any political commentary here). Extensive infrastructure. Good food. Nice people. Great beer. For all the talk of Austin, Boise, Bozeman, and Nashville, St. Louis seems like a great place to live, laugh, love, and work. And it definitely deserves to be a success.

“St. Louis has a beautiful, historic downtown. It has world-class universities, major museums, impressive cultural institutions, huge, well-maintained parks, and great professional sports teams. It has one of the most incredible man-made landmarks anywhere in the world.”

Retrieved November 9, 2021 from Meet me in St. Louis: When One Golden State Closes, Another May Open | Newgeography.com

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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