The Next Conservatism: New Urbanism

Some conservatives seem to think we can let cities die while their surrounding suburbs live on happily. That is not the case. If the city that functions as a region’s center dies, the region dies too.

The next conservatism wants America to have living, healthy cities that are good places to live and work. Fortunately, there is a national movement that knows how to bring that about. It is called the New Urbanism. We’re all for it.

Despite the fact that the architecture profession is dominated by leftists, at least in the architecture schools, New Urbanism is profoundly conservative. In our book The Next Conservatism Paul Weyrich, and I wrote,

The New Urbanism seeks to build new neighborhoods, villages, and towns similar to those we built through most of America’s history, up until World War II. It wants to revitalize our inner cities as well, again by returning them to the way they used to be. While New Urbanism does not always demand traditional architecture, it usually favors it. New Urbanism offers a Retroculture alternative to post-war sprawl suburbs, where everything looks the same and you cannot do anything without driving.

Traditional neighborhood design helps create something conservatives value highly, namely community. (Note that community and the Left’s value of “diversity” are in tension; the more diverse a place’s population, the less easy it is for community to  form.) We value community because people who live in communities care what their neighbors think of them. That in turn generates peer pressure, which is the most effective force upholding proper morals and manners. People behave well because if they don’t, they may find themselves excluded from the community. Conservatives favor peer pressure and, when necessary, exclusion, because they are both more effective and less dangerous than law and the power of the state in leading people to behave themselves.

I have been involved with New Urbanism almost from its beginning. I attended the third Congress on the New Urbanism and many thereafter. I know New Urbanism’s founder, Andres Duany; in fact, Andres, Paul Weyrich, and I co-authored a monograph, Conservatives and the New Urbanism: Do We Have Some Things in Common?, copies of which may still be available from CNU. As a conservative, I recognize that just as New Urbanism offers something conservatives should want, namely physical settings that help create community, so conservatism offers New Urbanism something important as well: a free market mechanism that can help New Urbanism spread.

Some libertarian critics of New Urbanism like to pretend that sprawl represents a free market choice. It does not. Sprawl was mandated by government in the building codes local governments adopted after World War II. For the first time in history, anywhere on earth, government mandated that where you live, where you work, and where you shop must be separated by distances too great to walk. Those codes remain in force today. Sprawl is a product of government regulation, not the free market.

Where New Urbanist developments have been allowed to compete with sprawl, they have done very well. The same floor space usually sells for a substantial premium over surrounding sprawl. The problem is, the codes make it very expensive for developers to offer traditional neighborhood design, where you can walk to school, to work, to shop, and to church. One developer told me that to build one small TND development, he had to obtain more that 120 variances, each of which cost him time and money.

So here’s a free market, conservative proposal: let’s adopt dual codes. Developers would be free to build under either the current sprawl code or a New Urbanist, TND code. That would create a level playing field for New Urbanism. Let it succeed, or fail, in the marketplace. Libertarians are supposed to be free marketeers. How about it, guys?

The New Urbanism represents the core of the next conservatism, Retroculture. In the design of the places we live as in so many other things, what we had was better than what we have now. We need to turn back to what worked. Our old towns and cities, where they survive, are often beautiful. No one ever called a strip mall that.


P.S. The future of the next conservatism, and so much else, depends on Donald Trump winning this election. Trump represents a possibility for change. Under the Establishment, no change is possible in anything. Make sure every Trump voter you know gets to the polls on election day, even if you have to take them there yourself.