Stanley Kurtz has uncovered the government’s latest sinister plan: they’re coming to abolish the suburbs! Yes, an entire geographical mode of living is under threat from a small bloc of those most unctuous men: urban planners.
Anyway, the “missing link that explains his administration’s overall policy architecture” has been discovered at last:
The centerpiece of the Obama administration’s anti-suburban plans is a little-known and seemingly modest program called the Sustainable Communities Initiative. The “regional planning grants” funded under this initiative — many of them in battleground states like Florida, Virginia, and Ohio — are set to recommend redistributive policies, as well as transportation and development plans, designed to undercut America’s suburbs. Few have noticed this because the program’s goals are muffled in the impenetrable jargon of “sustainability,” while its recommendations are to be unveiled only in a possible second Obama term.
Oh, man, it sounds bad. I bet this shadowy cabal is even going to recommend putting light rail lines in highway medians.
Presumably one impetus behind the book is to motivate middle-class suburban voters to oppose the president’s re-election bid. But it’s this kind of every-angle paranoia that detracts from actual, existing threats to our culture and society, of which there are plenty. Alarmist rhetoric about everything becomes numbing, and opens our necessarily-grave tone about subjects—like, say, religious liberty—to parody and ridicule.
At another level, it’s frankly emblematic of an aging strain of American conservatism which is gradually becoming aware of its own disintegration. In being so dismissive of efforts to rein in suburban sprawl (oddly thrown into scare quotes like it’s some kind of code word and not a widely-recognized popular image of our postwar landscape) and think more broadly about how our interaction with the natural world, Kurtz actually cuts off a powerful conservative argument. Every attempt to roll back or rein in what are now widely acknowledged to be major missteps in our built environment do not need to elicit visceral anger, or cries of collectivism and redistribution.
Rather than fantasize about losing our natural right to three-acre lawns, those on the right ought to be embracing calls for more modest and—yes—traditional forms of living. We can certainly debate the most efficacious ways of going about things like combatting wasteful, atomizing land use; I even suspect the specific policy Kurtz critiques does tend toward bureaucratic know-it-all-ism rather than genuine community engagement (the proposal to scramble municipal tax revenues around a region could certainly be a localist sticking-point). But it’s rather baffling for people who profess to be concerned about culture to jumpily exempt large swaths of its constitutive elements (like, say, the physical arrangement and daily routine of peoples’ lives, jobs, and commutes) from any sort of real criticism.
At the end of the day, it’s difficult to deny that for many younger people, a summons to restraint in architecture and urban planning goes hand in hand with other attempts to preserve and reinvigorate our neglected cultural inheritance, revive of the importance of aesthetic considerations, and even, for some, return to orthodoxy in religious matters. There is a growing realization that the way we live our lives, the practices and habits we daily undertake, and the way they ultimately manifest themselves in the political realm, can no longer be conceptualized as dissociated points on a Cartesian plane. And defenses of gluttony ring less and less convincing.