October 26, 2005


Exurbanites Occupy an Unsettled Place in Va. Politics: New Enclaves Lean GOP, but Residents Seem Isolated From State, Local Government (Stephanie McCrummen, October 25, 2005, Washington Post)

Jamie and Stephan Lechner liked their house in Germantown well enough, but in recent years, they said, the neighborhood began to change in ways that made them feel less comfortable. There were some discipline problems in the school where Jamie taught. There was a shooting in a low-income area not too far from where they lived and other, smaller signs that made them think things were headed downward.

And so, with their twin boys near school age, the Lechners did what they figured anyone of means would: They packed up and moved to a place billed as a retreat from all that: Dominion Valley, a new, gated, golf course community of $700,000 homes on the rural edges of Northern Virginia, a place where the singular issue of traffic dominates and where the last memorable conflict was whether jeans would be allowed in the country club.

"We had conflict," said Jamie Lechner, referring to her old Germantown neighborhood. "And we wanted to move away from that. . . . That's why we're here -- to be sheltered."

As another election season beats on in Virginia, most political analysts agree that fast-growing exurban areas such as western Prince William County will remain a boon to the Republican Party. But the ultimate effect of new, private, often homogenous enclaves remains uncertain, because they have yet to define how their everyday interests play into state politics.

In recent Virginia elections, 15 to 17 percent of the vote has come from cities, 20 to 23 percent from rural areas and 58 to 62 percent from the suburbs, said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Of the suburban vote, he estimates, at least 25 percent has come from new communities in the outermost suburbs, as opposed to denser areas such as Fairfax County or eastern Prince William.

And yet behind the landscaped gates of Dominion Valley, where lines were two and three hours long in the last presidential election, voters said that few local issues besides traffic and sprawl rise to the level of requiring a political solution. Many said they would vote in the Nov. 8 elections more out of civic duty than passion, using long-held party affiliations as a guide.

"We never discuss politics," said Nina Kraemer, who was hosting a scrapbooking get-together at Dominion Valley's sports complex the other night. "I don't know, I guess something would have to spawn a conversation for one to occur. We talk about traffic -- we talk about that to the nth degree. We're afraid to go to the Target because we might not get back to the bus stop on time" to meet the children after school.

In the last presidential election, George W. Bush won 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties in the United States largely by appealing to social values through such issues as same-sex marriage. In the governor's race, Republican Jerry W. Kilgore is following a similar course with his death penalty ads, while both he and his Democratic opponent, Timothy M. Kaine, have made traffic a central theme.

So far, though, neither candidate's message seems to have penetrated very far into the consciousness of Dominion Valley voters, who struggle to recall what either man stands for and, sometimes, even to name either man. [...]

The Lechners were of a similar mind. They liked the diversity of their Germantown neighborhood, they said, but they did not want to subject their children to what they perceived as racial conflicts and other problems they associated with nearby government-subsidized housing.

In moving, they traded an area that was about half-Democrat, half-Republican for one that is mostly Republican, as they are. They left an area that was about 59 percent white for one where at least 83 percent of their neighbors look like them. And they left an area where residents are dealing with issues of cultural and economic diversity for one where such problems, for now at least, are abstractions.

"At a certain point, you want your kids to grow up in Mayberry," Jamie Lechner said. "And this is as close to Mayberry as we can get."

In his book, "Democracy in Suburbia," University of Chicago political science professor Eric Oliver asserts that, in general, the absence of conflict in suburban areas tends to go hand in hand with diminished participation -- not necessarily in elections, but in other parts of civic life, such as volunteering. "It turns citizens into consumers, basically," he said in an interview. ". . . They disconnect and disassociate themselves from the greater community in which they reside."

Furthermore, he said, a dynamic emerges that pits one region against another for resources. "If you have a city," he said, "you have different groups of people contesting for public resources, so there are class divisions in what people want from government. . . . When the community is homogenous, those core issues go by the wayside."

Sabato said homogeneity may simply mean that citizens' interests are represented more clearly and forcefully, as is evident in the emphasis on transportation in the current election.

"Delegates and senators and members of county boards know pretty clearly what their individual districts want them to do," he said. "These are automatic votes: Are you pro-growth or anti-growth? They know what to do because there isn't as much internal conflict."

The problem, he added, is when the balance of power tips too far one way, and other interests are eclipsed.

"As exurbs become more powerful, more populated, more legislatively represented, there is the danger that the hidden concerns of the central cities and older suburbs will be ignored," he said. "We do tend to leave our problems behind, always searching for that new frontier that doesn't have any. Of course, there is no such thing."

In Dominion Valley, residents say they are very much aware that their community hardly reflects the problems of society.

"This is not a bubble," said Lisa LaBelle, who moved to the development three years ago from Massachusetts. The evidence, she said, is in all the charitable work that residents of Dominion Valley do. There is a drop box in the sports pavilion for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, she said. People opened their wallets to help the family of a boy who had cancer. She recently helped raise $10,000 for breast cancer research.

"There is a lot of giving of ourselves, in terms of time or money, to the community," she said. "I think people are always going to be touched, no matter where they live."

When it comes to politics, though, LaBelle, who runs a real estate investment business with her husband, thinks more strictly in terms of her immediate interests as a small-business owner, which she thinks are more affected by national politics.

"I think we're driven because of having a small business," she said. "So I think in terms of taxes and how policies are affecting small businesses."

Here's an inchoate thought--please add yours or links to folks who've talked about in more systematic fashion: might it be that massive government was a necessary cost of urbanization, that in population agglomerations where so few people will be able to know or trust one another but where social interactions still have to be as safe as possible, we require government to fill the gaps? The politicization of everything would then just be an inevitable function of all our efforts to control this artificial skein. The process of deurbanization though returns people to smaller communities where social cohesion is easier and can be provided by the efforts of individuals, associations, churches, etc. , and thus government can be shrunk and politics diminished. What we may be seeing, first in the move outwards to suburbia in the 50s/60s and now in the move to exurbia or micropolitan areas is a 21st century version of Jeffersonianism in which republican values are found to thrive once people are not concentrated in cities. The policy implications are enormous, beginning with Republicans needing to bite the bullet and try to make the black inner city underclass into suburban home owners.

Conservative New Urbanism (Paul M. Weyrich, September 19, 2005, Accuracy in Media)

Many conservatives dislike cities, for reasons I understand and sympathize with. Sin and the city is an old, old story; you can find it in the Confessions of Blessed Augustine. But cities are also the birthplace and necessary home for high culture. Without living cities, we will not have symphony orchestras and great music, classic theater, art museums, serious public libraries or any of the other venues high culture requires. Nor will we have the good used bookstores, artistic and literary cafes, salons or other informal but important places where ideas can be exchanged and culture can grow. No, the Internet is not a substitute; there can be no full replacement for people talking face-to-face.

Just as the next conservatism needs to make the culture its centerpiece, it needs to include high culture. Conservatism ought not be indifferent to whether future generations get to see Shakespeare's plays, hear Mozart's music or see Dürer's engravings. And if conservatives want that to happen, we need cities. God knows we dare not entrust culture to the universities.

That brings us to the problem we face: America's cities are in bad shape, most of them anyway. First the upper class, then the middle class, then anyone who could afford to moved out (busing, which wrecked the public schools, played a central role in the exodus). Cities cannot live if no one but the underclass lives in them. Nor can they survive if we continue to export our industries, to the point where cities offer no manufacturing or business jobs.

Over the past several decades, a movement has arisen to restore our cities and even to build new urban communities, towns, as an alternative to suburbs. It is called "new urbanism." As a conservative, I think new urbanism needs to be part of the next conservatism. But I also think we need a conservative new urbanism, which differs from much of what now goes under the new urbanist label.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 26, 2005 9:22 AM

Far beyond Lapland's icy waste, or to the ends of the lonely, desert sands--that's where I long to go when to get away from the circumlocution, deception, evasion, code-words and hypocracy presented by this article and what followed.

The elephant in the living-room is so close that one can smell the peanuts on his breath, and still we do not see rectification of names.

Only the worst of these Clintonesque dissimulations in the article appears where a set of displaced persons is quoted as saying, "They liked the diversity of their Germantown neighborhood, they said, but they did not want to subject their children to what they perceived as racial conflicts and other problems they associated with nearby government-subsidized housing."

What had happened, of course, was that the victims quoted in the article, having already fled one alien invasion by moving to the near suburbs, had the plague brought to their doorstep by the government, and were forced, once again to load the covered wagon and once again to trek forth.

The ethnographic percentages mentioned in the article are related to cultural tip-over. Tip-over is one of those things like pornography: you know it when you see it. You start to see police cars rushing about the streets with lights flashing in a way you never did before. You learn of neighbors beaten and robbed, of houses and cars broken into, and finally your children are terrorized in school, and it is time to go.

The proposed answer: ". . .[t]ry to make the black city underclass into suburban homeowners."

Absolutely not. American of African ancestry are already welcome in suburbia and exurbia. My community, a near suburb of Philadelphia, is most thoroughly, and rather happily, integrated racially. Blacks, Whites, Latinos, East and South Asians mix quite freely.

What we do not welcome would be the importation of alien hordes of grungy street critters who have not passed the economic test which all the rest of us have taken. They may make themselves into suburban homeowners by exercising the discipline and moral force which the market demands. We would go to Finland to get away from those who will not.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 26, 2005 10:57 AM

"... try to make the black inner city underclass into suburban home owners."

Turning inner city blacks into home owners, if not specifically suburban, was an important part of Bush's message on rebuilding New Orleans.

It wouldn't be surprising if many of the families who live into Dominion Valley are minorities. That's the difference between now and the earlier middle class movement to suburbia. In those days, a lot of people moved out of the cities to get away from blacks and now middle class blacks are part of the migration. We really have come a long way.

Posted by: tefta at October 26, 2005 11:00 AM

The issue is less de-urbanization than de-massification. Huge cities were an outgrowth of many factors, major among them was the the need for proximity in order to make things, provide services, and reach customers. People concentrated (mostly?) for economic reasons.

Today, physical proximity is no longer critical as transactions can flow easily in volume over great distance at very low cost. The economic driver for concentration has been largely reduced.

Liberated from this constraint people can now re-sort how and where they live based on criteria other than economic necessity. These norms will reflect more varied cultural attachments and represent more fully the personality of the people involved.

As communities with a similar cultural attachment emerge they will exhibit a distinctive "soul". The soul of the place will, depending on its truth and vigor, determine the role and extent of political (state) power and not be at its mercy.

Posted by: Luciferous at October 26, 2005 11:34 AM


My feeling about you since I began reading your blog is that you should get out more, especially to the inner cites. Why you continue to impute racism as the driving force for urbanization is so 20th century.

Simply put, people don't like scumbags. They don't like living with them, around them, having them in their backyards, and especially they don't like them being in close proximity to their kids.

Having a bunch of scumbags around doesn't happen just because there may be a lot of people around (your city thesis) nor does it happen because there may be black people around (the basis principle behind racism) it happens because government, historically speaking, has manufactured them. It will do it in big cities and it will and is doing it in the burbs. You big government statists are the culprit.

Posted by: Perry at October 26, 2005 11:48 AM

Urbanism is completely unnecessary in America today. Its demise cannot come soon enough. Watch for the political and social benefits of a downsized New Orleans on Lousiana as a whole to get the idea.

Posted by: M. Murcek at October 26, 2005 11:52 AM


You have a wonderfully lyrical and unconventional turn of phrase. It's most refreshing.

Posted by: Brit at October 26, 2005 12:03 PM

In my post,

urbanization should be de-urbanization

Posted by: Perry at October 26, 2005 12:04 PM

"What we may be seeing, first in the move outwards to suburbia in the 50s/60s and now in the move to exurbia or micropolitan areas is a 21st century version of Jeffersonianism in which republican values are found to thrive once people are not concentrated in cities."

There's nothing inchoate about this. In the future it will be seen as the central social reality of our time, an integral continuation of the earlier 200 and more years of movement West. The few historians who inquire into the subject will wonder how the media managed to miss it's significance while it was happening.

To understand the sort of environment cities have always offered in the US you only have to reflect on the fact that so many Americans, generation after generation, decided the frontier, with all its dangers, was nevertheless a better place to raise their kids.

Posted by: ZF at October 26, 2005 12:12 PM


It wasn't the driving force behind urbanization, industrialization was.

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 12:57 PM

OJ how can you be against automobiles and for deurbanization? Cars are the technological sine qua non of deurbanization.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 26, 2005 1:01 PM


He thinks everybody has time for a two hour bus or train commute every day. Besides, it's a good way to get to know folks.

Posted by: Rick T. at October 26, 2005 1:25 PM


Cities should ban all vehicles except for delivery trucks, taxis, buses, and emergency equipment. they should be glorified office and theme parks.

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 1:29 PM


I corrected to deurbanization, which was the point of your post.

All this banning and central planning, reminds of the Soviets.

Posted by: Perry at October 26, 2005 1:59 PM

OJ: Define "cities".

Posted by: John Resnick at October 26, 2005 2:01 PM


Deurbanization is only partly driven by racial considerations but to deny that it is at least in part driven by them is ludicrous.

Communism requires urbanization.

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 2:04 PM


Why? They know who they are.

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 2:05 PM

Heh. So, obviously NOT Hanover. Somebody ELSE'S car should be banned. Doesn't that sound familiar?

Posted by: John Resnick at October 26, 2005 2:10 PM

We're one of the largest micropolitan areas in America, so even we have an excellent mass transit system in a town of just 10,000 people.

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 2:15 PM

That's funny. In a "Town" of 12,000 people (14,000+ during harvest) we couldn't possibly begin to need a mass transit system much less use one.

Posted by: John Resnick at October 26, 2005 2:17 PM

What! No commentary on the obvious trend that America is becoming a nation of frightened White Rabbits?!

"We had conflict," said Jamie Lechner, referring to her old Germantown neighborhood. "And we wanted to move away from that. . . . That's why we're here -- to be sheltered."

Oooooooh! A conflict! Run Away! Run Away!

The U of C prof was on target.

..."They disconnect and disassociate themselves from the greater community in which they reside."

These people are living in a nation where the MSM, 2/3rds of the Democratic Party, and 100% of their Child's public school system is actively trying to destroy their civilization, and all they can think to worry about is 'growth' and 'traffic'?!

Sorry OJ, I know that there are some positives about a nation where people can vote with their feet. But hunkering down in their narrow little HoCom (homogenous community) doesn't solve any problems. What you run from will chase you.

Look beneath the surface of the initial voting trends, and you see an emasculated population that will vote for which ever fear-monger promises to protect them from the latest bogey man.

The article describes the kind of people who want to make schools stop using "red markers" because it might hurt their babies' feelings.

We have a strong economy & peerless military, but articles like this make me think that this nation has been hollowed out from within.

Posted by: Bruno at October 26, 2005 3:30 PM


Yes, the point is that homogeneous communities leavened with imported minorities are likely to be healthier than the warehousing of minorities in cities.

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 3:43 PM


Thus micropolitan.

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 3:46 PM


No real disagreement there, but will they import...and if so, are they just importing 'like minds'?

Lou eloquently points out that we have no problem with "color", only bad behaviors. Isn't that just like the fake "diversity" of the universities, where there is no diversity of thought? (openly, anyway)

A close friend who lives in such an exurb talks about the restrictions in his deed. No widely varying colors on the houses. No sheds. No Campers. Is it voluntary? Sure.

Is it socially healthy? I'd argue "not". Like you, I have my moments of wishing I could force people to be smarter and more broadminded.

(you want to force people out of cars and I want to force them out of their narrow worldviews, but it's easier to tax gas than lack of thought)

In my fantasy world, every American kid has to do at least 4 "summer camps" in the Congo & Sierra Leone. [For the first 10 years of my program, parents have to attend these camps as well.]

A man can dream....

Posted by: Bruno at October 26, 2005 4:17 PM


The exurbs are much more than these gated communities which sound awful.

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 4:21 PM

"We're one of the largest micropolitan areas in America, so even we have an excellent mass transit system in a town of just 10,000 people."

Have you ever actualy *used* the Advance Transit system? I have many times and it is not what I would call "excellent." "Frustrating" and "time-consuming" are two adjectives I'd use. And "not free" anymore, apparently. Oh, and don't forget "not stopping in Centerra Park anymore, so I either need to hoof it over from DHMC and risk my neck crossing Route 120 or wait another 45 minutes for the DHMC shuttle."
Believe me, nothing would make me happier than to be able to take a bus to work and spend the time reading, but Advance Transit is, at best, a half-hearted mass transit system. It isn't as bad as Long Island Railroad during the 60's, but Lord, it ain't good.
PS: Don't forget "indecipherable and ever-changing route maps."

Posted by: Bryan at October 26, 2005 4:38 PM

Interesting. So how does the gentrification of the inner city and early (older) surburban neighborhoods fit into this thesis? We live in an older neighborhood, it's racially diverse, lots of home rehabbing, no mass transit and plenty of SUVs. Crime is waaaay down, property values are up.

We must be swimming against the current.

Posted by: jefferson park at October 26, 2005 4:39 PM


Ever take Dartmouth Coach to Boston? it's awesome.

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 4:40 PM

Doesn't gentrification usually occur in areas that have been depopulated? Yuppies don't move into Cabrini Greens.

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 4:48 PM

Usually? Maybe so, our neighborhood wasn't depopulated -- just rundown.

Posted by: jefferson park at October 26, 2005 4:52 PM

No, because I don't go to Boston every day. I do go to work every day and the traffic nightmare that is the Hanover/Lebanon corridor is what needs to be alleviated. Pie-in-the-sky fantasies of interstate bus transit aren't going to do it.
Robert Moses should flatten the whole damned town and push a six lane highway through. Just a bunch of overpriced hippie boutiques anyway.

Posted by: Bryan at October 26, 2005 4:53 PM

It's where Yogi was talking about when he said "no one goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 4:58 PM

As long as the current residents of Cabrini Green had moved out, of course they did.

There was an article a few years ago, black middle class moving into the revamped areas and the poor black accused the MC black that the MC black didn't want the PB as a neighbor.

Posted by: Sandy P at October 26, 2005 5:16 PM

Sandy P:

Of course they don't.

The poor, of any race or creed, make lousy neighbors.

Capable people who have fallen on hard times rarely remain poor, and the chronically poor have disastrous habits and behaviors.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 26, 2005 7:48 PM

"Capable people who have fallen on hard times rarely remain poor, and the chronically poor have disastrous habits and behaviors."

Which is the cause, and which the effect? Are poor people slobs, or are slobs poor? Note that places like Hollywood/Brentwood/Santa Monica etc. can be used as a counterargument for both thesis.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 26, 2005 8:27 PM

Here's a Left-partisan but interesting look at American national policy towards urban areas:

Understanding Katrina: Perspectives from the Social Sciences

Also, although people might be fleeing Eastern cities, they're joining Western and Southern cities.

Las Vegas, Colorado Springs, Phoenix, San Diego, Atlanta, and other cities are experiencing rapid growth, some explosive growth, as the population of the U.S. shifts west- and southward.

Those migrants aren't, by and large, moving to little towns in the middle of nowhere.

Even when people do move to small or midsized communities, those towns are often part of a "metropolitan area" - less than an hour's drive away from a big city.

So, the "exurbanists" aren't usually yeomen, they're just as dependent (or MORE) on the anchoring urban area as the downtown hipsters - they just like to live in more restful surroundings.


Running away is often a very good survival tactic.
"Bugging out" has its place in human affairs - discretion is the better part of valor, etc.

Withdrawing from a larger mixed group, and forming a more concentrated group with greater control over local affairs, has been a successful strategy for eons for religious groups, ethnic minorities, and homosexuals.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 26, 2005 8:27 PM

Raoul Ortega:

Both dynamics reinforce the other, but by far the greater effect is that slobs end up being poor.

There are many people who grow up in poor surroundings, sometimes in dysfunctional families, who become successful themselves, but it's a rare middle or upper class kid that is or who becomes a slob, that stays middle or upper class.

Creation is often a long slog, an accumulation bit-by-bit, and destruction can be lightning-quick.

A million dollars can take a lifetime to gather, but only a decade to disburse, and far less time than that, for addicts.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 26, 2005 8:41 PM

"Cities should ban all vehicles except for delivery trucks, taxis, buses, and emergency equipment. they should be glorified office and theme parks."

And the deurbanized masses will need their cars.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 26, 2005 11:57 PM

Mike H.,

I don't disagree that "running away" is a strategy. As some one who lives in an "old" suburb of Chicago, however, the only difference between exurbs & inurbs is a slightly younger & slightly more conservative tilt (which will soon tilt left, IMO)

By being able to "run" from every external problem, people seem to be becoming morally & intellectually weak - though I don't have the time to explain or study the process.

It is just an observation.

Posted by: Bruno at October 27, 2005 8:31 AM