November 20, 2004


THE URBAN ARCHIPELAGO (The Editors of The Stranger, 11/11/2004)

It's time for the Democrats to face reality: They are the party of urban America. If the cities elected our president, if urban voters determined the outcome, John F. Kerry would have won by a landslide. Urban voters are the Democratic base.

It's time to state something that we've felt for a long time but have been too polite to say out loud: Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion--New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on. And we live on islands in red states too--a fact obscured by that state-by-state map. Denver and Boulder are our islands in Colorado; Austin is our island in Texas; Las Vegas is our island in Nevada; Miami and Fort Lauderdale are our islands in Florida. Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland "values" like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country. And we are the real Americans. They--rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs--are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers. Red Virginia prohibits any contract between same-sex couples. Compassionate? Texas allows the death penalty to be applied to teenaged criminals and has historically executed the mentally retarded. (When the Supreme Court ruled executions of the mentally retarded unconstitutional in 2002, Texas officials, including Governor Rick Perry, responded by claiming that the state had no mentally retarded inmates on death row--a claim the state was able to make because it does not test inmates for mental retardation.) Dumb? The Sierra Club has reported that Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Tennessee squander over half of their federal transportation money on building new roads rather than public transit.

If Democrats and urban residents want to combat the rising tide of red that threatens to swamp and ruin this country, we need a new identity politics, an urban identity politics, one that argues for the cities, uses a rhetoric of urban values, and creates a tribal identity for liberals that's as powerful and attractive as the tribal identity Republicans have created for their constituents. John Kerry won among the highly educated, Jews, young people, gays and lesbians, and non-whites. What do all these groups have in common? They choose to live in cities. An overwhelming majority of the American popuation chooses to live in cities. And John Kerry won every city with a population above 500,000. He took half the cities with populations between 50,000 and 500,000. The future success of liberalism is tied to winning the cities. An urbanist agenda may not be a recipe for winning the next presidential election--but it may win the Democrats the presidential election in 2012 and create a new Democratic majority.

For Democrats, it's the cities, stupid--not the rural areas, not the prickly, hateful "heartland," but the sane, sensible cities--including the cities trapped in the heartland. Pandering to rural voters is a waste of time. Again, look at the second map. Look at the urban blue spots in red states like Iowa, Colorado, and New Mexico--there's almost as much blue in those states as there is in Washington, Oregon, and California. And the challenge for the Democrats is not just to organize in the blue areas but to grow them. And to do that, Democrats need to pursue policies that encourage urban growth (mass transit, affordable housing, city services), and Democrats need to openly and aggressively champion urban values. By focusing on the cities the Dems can create a tribal identity to combat the white, Christian, rural, and suburban identity that the Republicans have cornered. And it's sitting right there, on every electoral map, staring them in the face: The cities.

Such is the battle cry of folks who don't understand demographic shifts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 20, 2004 6:20 PM

Ironically, the War on Terror is all about protecting the dwellers of the archipielago from mass murder. Osama's Red State threats nothwistanding, the Human Zoos we call urban centers are our most glaring vulnerability to global terrorism.

Yet, we are the ones who fight to protect them; they are the ones who bitch. Anyone for an urban tax as a user tax to pay for the WOT?

Posted by: Moe from NC at November 20, 2004 6:57 PM

Who protected NYC on Sept. 11th?

Posted by: at November 20, 2004 6:59 PM

Memo: "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

Yeah, yeah, whatever -- who wants coffee?

(It's great that small town middle America feels "safe." That's easy when they're not targets...oh, there I go being a stickler for details! Goodbye.)

Posted by: at November 20, 2004 7:06 PM

Sept. 11th happened on whose watch? Oh, THAT's right: Bush's!

Posted by: at November 20, 2004 7:15 PM

The notion of a national party being based in the cities is hilarious.

Almost every city in the US either shrunk or grew by far less than the national average in each of the last 4 decades. So, the numbskull who wrote this article wants to increase their urban turnout and ignore the rest of the country completely. In business, this is known as 'increasing your share of a declining market' and as anyone with even a rudimentary conception of marketing knows, this is a loser's game.

Moreover, the notion that urban trendnoids are the wave of the future in the cities is beyond comical. Virtually all the population growth in cities occurs among minority groups, many of whom have strong religious ties. San Francisco already is the site of a nasty verbal war between Blacks and gays. A gay real estate developer I know out there told me that the city should simply board up the housing projects and force the Blacks out, perhaps to Oakland. For every gay or apostate hick from the sticks who reads two copies of The New Yorker then imagines himself a sophisticate of the highest order who comes to a major American city, there are 100 Hispanic working class people trying to make a better life for themselves and their children.

OJ, was this article for real or was it some kind of satire?

Posted by: Bart at November 20, 2004 7:27 PM


They think of cities the way you think of Japan.

Posted by: oj at November 20, 2004 7:42 PM

Bart - no, that's The Stranger alright. Welcome to Seattle, dude. See also Dan Savage's little invective on the subject. Even given Eastern Washington's comparative conservatism, I'm still surprised that Rossi won (last time I checked).

Posted by: Mike at November 20, 2004 7:42 PM

Mike, well it certainly is strange.

OJ, if you look for votes, the first requirement is voters. Unless you are willing to play Hudson County style shenanigans, each of us gets only one vote. American cities have a decreasing number of the nation's voters.

If you are merely looking to expand the economy, you can increase per person efficiency without increasing the number of workers. There are plenty of high-growth economies where this has been the case.(Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Israel, Slovenia, Ireland) The comparison is inapposite.

Posted by: Bart at November 20, 2004 8:09 PM

No people, no power.

Posted by: oj at November 20, 2004 8:12 PM

The superstar team of Wooldridge and Micklethwait have an article coming out shortly in The Economist showing that Kerry only won the stagnant or declining cities, while Bush won fast-growing cities like Dallas and Phoenix. In fact, they say, growth rates correlate better with Rep-Dem vote margin than population density does.

Posted by: pj at November 20, 2004 8:56 PM

pj, precisely. Why can't your brother be more like you?

OJ, power is dependent on technology and money which is why nobody screws around with Singapore and only the religiously-deranged mess with Israel. Japan has had virtually a zero-growth population since WWII and they have grown exponentially as an economic power. A nation like Argentina which has seen its population nearly triple in the same period has gone from being a competitor of the US to being a Third World outhouse.

The newer economic powers may not be able to put 'boots on the ground' like the imperialist powers of the 19th century, but they can certainly exercise military force as needed. The high-tech advantages of a Japan in a war setting should certainly chill any potential adversary.

Posted by: Bart at November 20, 2004 9:03 PM

It's a strange country that the writers for The Stranger live in where "the highly educated, Jews, young people, gays and lesbians, and non-whites" make up a governing majority. I'm not sure what country it is, but it sure ain't America.

Posted by: brian at November 20, 2004 9:13 PM

It's not even the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Cloud-Cuckoo-Land perhaps?

Posted by: Bart at November 20, 2004 9:21 PM

Seattle reelected McDermott with only 79% of the vote. Keep that in mind when you read stuff like this.

One thing the writer doesn't mention is that cities love to dump their problems on someone else.Use to be the solution to air pollution was to build taller chimneys, and that urban mindset hasn't changed. For example, except for Staten Island, is there any city that dumps its own trash in its own boundaries? Another example: Seattle was trying recently to force Snohomish county to accept a sewage treatment plant local residents wouldn't even be able to use.

Another way is to dump their human problems on the suburbs. Here the newest trick is to set up "tent cities" in suburban towns like Kirkland or Bothell for "the homeless" with the cooperation of fundamentalist Religious Left Churches who claim that the "separation of church and state" exempts them from zoning and other suburban regulation.

Mass transit is always geared to the urban core, even when the service would have greater ridership if it were to be between the suburbs. Is there a Metro Rapid Transit District which isn't a defacto subsidy for urban residents by the suburbs?

Also, if cities are so great, why is there every weekend an exodus along highways like I-90 (Seattle) and I-80 (Bay Area) eastward every Friday night and westward every Sunday night? (Monday on holiday weekends).If cities are so great, why don't they want to stay home?

What the writer fails to appreciate is that those midwestern islands he celebrates can also be thought of as a sign of parasitism. The ubanist philosophy can't survive low population density, and so colonizes those areas that did urbanize because they were a market center, or had the state university or capitol. University towns are especially at risk because those are one of the few places where they can actually "reproduce" new urbanists by the indoctrination of students.

Other than that, the only areas where urbanites are creating their own new centers in that sea of blue is around their vacation properties in Tahoe and the Colorado rockies, and even then they are coopting existing towns like Jackson or Bend instead of buillding new.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 20, 2004 10:01 PM

Doesn't using "sanity" and "San Francisco" in the same sentence prove that either you don't know the meaning of the former or else never visited the latter? I recall during my visit seeing the "armies of compassion" strewn along the sidewalks like so much rubbish, stirring only to rattle their cups at passersby.

Posted by: AC at November 20, 2004 11:29 PM


Japan has been economically stagnant for over a decade now with no signs things will ever improve. Israel folded on statehood for Palestine because otherwise demographics will make Israel itself an Islamic state within the decade. They're dying nations.

Posted by: oj at November 20, 2004 11:45 PM

Bravo, Raoul!

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at November 21, 2004 1:08 AM

Typical lib.

All those benefits that will supposedly get people to move to the city will have to be paid for.

How will they pay for them?

By taxing business.

No business = no jobs as businesses, and their employees, vote with their feet.

As they've been doing for, oh, about the last 40 years.

So by all means"editors of the Stranger" go ahead with that plan.

Just means more people and business in the exurbs, and in the Republican cities of the South and Sw.

Yeah baby.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 21, 2004 2:50 AM

"highly educated, Jews, young people, gays and lesbians, and non-whites."

It would seem to me that only the "highly educated" and the "gays" are not being eroded as voting blocs by the Republicans. Isn't this the first time in history that kids are more conservative than their parents?

Posted by: Randall Voth at November 21, 2004 10:07 AM

It is funny, all those public school systems on this island chain are some of the worst in the nations. For example, Philly and Chicago are horrible school systems. Compassionate and caring my a**.

Posted by: pchuck at November 21, 2004 12:18 PM


The "highly educated" demographic is suspect, as well. Didn't those with college degrees go for Bush roughly 53:47?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 21, 2004 1:52 PM