An interesting OpEd in the October 9 issue of the NY Times, with the somewhat blunt and provocative title – “Republicans To Cities: Drop Dead” by Kevin Baker – showcases the focus of the campaign, particularly those on the right, towards suburban and rural issues, even with a specifically anti-urban bias. The long and short of that isn’t necessarily that of a lack of urban agenda, but could be more closely related to class and race issues – the typical far of the urban issue. As mentioned in the article – the shift to cities began in the Post-WWII era, with the shift away from the suffering of the Great Depression, to a new urban renaissance in the middle of the century which also galvanized the connection between urban issues and democratic politics.
As mentioned, “The cities, which had been places of horrible suffering during the early years of the Great Depression, became alluring again, attracting the dynamic if volatile new mix of rural poor, black, white and Hispanic. By 1950 almost two-thirds of all Americans lived in urban areas.” This shifted again with deindustrialization, white flight (and even black flight), and the pendulum swinging back to cities as loci of social and environment dysfunction. The republican agenda had been galvanized in the suburbs and hinterlands of the United States.
We are again seeing the resurgence of cities, as “the American economy began to reinvent itself in cities, as they became cleaner, greener, safer, more prosperous, more fun.” leadng to over 4/5 of the population living in urban areas, and at least 1 in 12 people living in cities over 1 million people. So in a contentious election, one would think this major bloc of voters would garner the attention of more than one party, but it seems difficult for Republicans to understand, even tough for them “the national Republican Party still can’t seem to get past its animus toward the very idea of urban life,” as Baker mentions.
So do the Democrats have an ingrained edge due to a legacy of focus on urban issues? Pretty much. As Baker mentions, there doesn’t need to be an explicit urban agenda from the Democrats, because they “embody” the urban agenda. This doesn’t exempt critical analysis of either side regarding the neglect of cities, the irony of the Republican abandonment of the urban votes, is that there still has been a fair amount of criticism of Obama, perhaps the first truly urban president, and his inability to thrust urban issues into the limelight. Many have been disappointed with the results, and the titles of the articles mirrored as “Obama to Cities: Drop Dead” – (a familiar refrain, no?). While maybe the focus on cities has not been a sharp as predicted, the implication that the Democrats are inherently pro-city is reflected in the fact that cities are places of diversity, which is right in the wheelhouse for Democrats, but something Republicans still have a hard time coming to terms with and more importantly, engaging in a meaningful dialogue with young,ifemale, and non-white citizens.
The urban agenda perhaps is complex – and that makes it difficult for either side of the political sphere to parse – but we’re going to have to be able to elevate this to a more vital plank in the platforms or talking points in debates, because the shift is inevitable. Cities are here to stay, and the urban political agenda will be more and more common, as Baker concludes: “…as urban areas continue to grow, they become more and more intertwined with what were once distance suburbs, making ‘urban’ issues all the more pertinent to everyone.”