Steven Johnson has a great blog post at nytimes.com this week talking about urban vs. rural America. In fact, it has long galled me that some of our more conservative politicians talk like rural America is the only "real" America, while urban America is some kind of decadent invader of America's true culture.
"It’s one thing to celebrate the values of the American farmer and small-town civility. It’s another thing for city dwellers to be lectured about urban depravity and the 'heartland' way of life, when cities are partially subsidizing that way of life," Johnson writes, noting that "Blue states consistently pay more in taxes than they receive in federal assistance; the opposite is true for the red states. Why? Because cities like New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco, despite their welfare queens, are tremendous engines of wealth creation."
Whether it's the Boston area for medical science; New York for fashion, media, entertainment and finance; or Silicon Valley for technology, densely populated areas can offer a critical mass of people, institutions and infrastructure that promote innovation and entrepreneurship. It's a fair question: Why do some politicians denigrate these vibrant national centers? But the political results at the ballot box are clear:
"Consider the breakdown of the past election: rural areas voted Republican by a small margin. The suburbs were evenly divided between the two parties. But 70 percent of Americans living in cities with more than 500,000 people voted for Democrats. . . . One of the reasons the Republicans have so thoroughly lost the urban vote is that they have spent the last 30 years demonizing the culture of big cities – from Reagan’s welfare queens to the recent scaremongering about San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi becoming speaker of the House. City dwellers, we’re told, are not part of 'real America.'"
I'd take that one step further, because "suburb" is a sweeping term that encompasses both upscale, wealthy, 2+-acre-zoning communities and more economically and ethnically diverse places. I'd bet that more densely populated "inner ring" suburbs were bluer than the newer, more spread-out exurbs.
In any case, only one in five Americans lives in a rural community. It's about time political leaders of both parties woke up to the fact that urban, coastal America is very much a key part of our country.
There are many wonderful things about small-town America. But there are lots of great things about urban America, too. We're all part of the fabric of the nation and our national heritage that we celebrate tomorrow.