Why so many Americans hate cities

I’m finally getting around to linking to two great and somewhat related posts from a couple of weeks ago, both so good that you really have to read them in their entirety.

Ryan Avent hypothesizes why so many Americans hate cities:

‘(T)here are actually two issues involved here. One is the problem of anti-metropolitan policy. The rural-urban divide goes back to the nation’s founding, and it was built into the fabric of American institutions in many ways, the most significant of which is the status of the government as a federal system, within which states are the primary political unit…(T)he use of the states as the main distribution network for all kinds of federal funding tends to place metropolitan areas at a significant disadvantage. At the same time, the cultural resonance of metro hatred has waned steadily over the past century… (T)he vast majority of Americans live within metropolitan areas, and suburbia, which is fundamentally a metropolitan feature, is considered the median American experience…

The American discomfort with and suspicion of central cities, on the other hand, remains a powerful cultural force. City hate predates the republic, but it took on new meaning and intensity in the 20th century, thanks to two key developments…

The first was the change in the distribution of America’s black population… This tension then interacted with the second key development — mass suburbanization…

The divide is not, and has not been for a long time, about what cities do. It’s about who lives in cities and how they’re different from those who don’t… (T)here is still a set of priors about urban life that is part of suburban culture, that permeates it like the smell of azaleas in spring. It consists of a general befuddlement that people would want to live in unnecessarily small homes, amid traffic and chronic parking shortages, and so many PEOPLE, and at such high PRICES. And the certainty that cities remain unsafe, unproductive, and fundamentally parasitic. All evidence to the contrary.

…(I)n other words, over the course of the past century policy guided events in ways that shaped culture, and that culture now continues to shape policy.

Over at Next American City, Willy Staley inspects the Tea Party’s anti-urban agenda in a post that should really be headlined ‘A year of RACE-based politics’:

HUD, an agency that many small-government types would do away with, actually made possible the suburban way of life that so many take for granted—or rather, don’t understand, or care to understand, the ways in which it is subsidized. For a Tea Partier to want to do away with HUD is not as unlikely as a public housing resident wishing for the same, but it approaches similar levels of absurdity… Anyone living in public housing knows exactly what HUD does to help them (to a certain extent, let’s not get too excited over the quality of our public housing); anyone living in the suburbs is almost certainly blind to it.

One of the other important stories of 2010… was the results of the Census, and the discovery that suburbia is starting to look a bit more typically “urban”—more diverse both socioeconomically and ethnically… This, too, is worth examining in the context of the often racist, nativist tone of Tea Party rhetoric. Could this “browning” of the suburbs be, in part, the reason that our suburban right-wing party has this nativist tone, with an unhealthy dose of nostalgia for the good old days?…  There is no way to prove this one way or another, obviously, but is certainly worth noting that a mostly suburban, white, nativist, reactionary party arose at the end of the decade when the suburbs ceased to be primarily middle-class and white.

This concurrent hate of subsidies that benefit poor, often not-white Americans, along with the apparent distaste for non-white Americans both seem like they could be geographically motivated; perhaps they are the last cries of the dying suburban way of life. As the tide of demography makes the Boomer lifestyle increasingly out-dated, it seems that the Tea Party provides some sort of outlet for those who aren’t dealing well with the changes…

(The Tea Party’s) reactionary element bears within it a silver lining: it is reactionary precisely because things are changing, and they have been changing… (W)e are collectively changing the way we live—voting with our feet, as they say. The Tea Party represents an older way of life, and not coincidentally, an older demographic. They don’t represent the resurgence of anything; they are the death knell of a way of life, one has to hope.



4 responses to “Why so many Americans hate cities

  1. This is how I tell the bedtime story:
    In Detroit, people often point to the riots of the 60’s as to why people moved to the suburbs (in those days Royal Oak was rural, mind you, and people vacationed at Lake Lansing), but the GI bill had a lot to do with the “privilege” of those who served (read: whites) v. those who didn’t (read: blacks). The GI bill financially encouraged a new home, as opposed to one existing. So, people moved out of the city into new homes, and so went the money flow. At some point the strip mall was invented, planned obsolescence was implemented, and people bought new everything and more of it, and we are in the shit hole we are in today…or something like that.

  2. That’s how urban historians tell it, too! You get an A+.

  3. I hate cities for many good reasons. Americans value their privacy highly, and when people end up being crammed together like they are in cities, privacy is the first thing to fly out the window. This is what I hate most about living here. Having my neighbors breathing down my throat every single day. They can see everything that happens in my backyard, I can’t allow my cats outside because the stupid broad next door goes bananas if they go into her yard. We have some nice neighbors, some ok ones and some that are just nasty and are constantly looking for excuses to make your life miserable. They always find something to b*tch about. they’re the type that I sometimes wish someone would tell them to mind their own effing business if they know what’s good for them.
    I hate city people because while most of them know a lot of trivia about useless crap, they have very little common sense and in many cases they’re just dumber than doorknobs. I can’t wait to find a small house on a big chunk of land far enough in the desert to not have to deal with those city scum. I would much rather have rattlesnakes on my property than a sneaky neighbor that is always snooping on me and looking for things to find to throw the book at me. Screw city people.

  4. Americans hate cities because American cities are full of Americans.

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