Aaron M. Renn, an "independent writer on urban affairs based in the Midwest," looks at famously progressive U.S. cities and finds a tragic flaw: too many white people, not enough vibrancy.
He's probably right about the facts. The conclusions he draws put me in mind of Sydney Smith's anecdote about two Edinburgh women disputing from opposite balconies. They would never agree, Smith quipped, because they were "arguing from different premises." Renn and I would interpret the situation he cites rather differently.
Why is it that progressivism in smaller metros is so often associated with low numbers of African Americans? Can you have a progressive city properly so-called with only a disproportionate handful of African Americans in it? In addition, why has no one called these cities on it? ...
Why move to the suburbs of your stodgy Midwest city to escape African Americans and get criticized for it when you can move to Portland and actually be praised as progressive, urban and hip? Many of the policies of Portland are not that dissimilar from those of upscale suburbs in their effects. Urban growth boundaries and other mechanisms raise land prices and render housing less affordable exactly the same as large lot zoning and building codes that mandate brick and other expensive materials do. They both contribute to reducing housing affordability for historically disadvantaged communities. Just like the most exclusive suburbs.
Renn has a fair point about progressives enjoying the relative prosperity and amenities usually associated with un-diversity while congratulating themselves on their inclusiveness. Of course it's easier to make politically correct noises about African Americans and immigration when you are comfortably insulated from the real-world consequences of large non-Asian minority populations.
But he apparently believes that it's immoral for a city to have any zoning for quality of life. Minimum lot sizes and quality materials, that's raa-aa-aa-cist! No one should be allowed to live anywhere that isn't affordable for "historically disadvantaged communities"!
The other day I took a virtual tour of São Paulo, Brazil, on Google's Street View. Now there's a city Renn should be over the moon about. He can luxuriate in the sardine-like density. No racist building codes, lots of shanties held up by will power.
Imagine a large corporation with a workforce whose African American percentage far lagged its industry peers, sans any apparent concern, and without a credible action plan to remediate it. Would such a corporation be viewed as a progressive firm and employer? The answer is obvious. Yet the same situation in major cities yields a different answer. Curious.
He finds it curious. In the unlikely event he should read this, perhaps I can satisfy his curiosity. The Federal Superstate can beat corporations into hiring their quotas of minorities because to the corporations it's just a cost of doing business. They pass the cost on to the customer. But despite their best efforts, the federales haven't yet managed to force people to live with quotas of vibrancy. People are kind of fussy about their neighborhoods. Ridiculous, of course, but that's people for you.
If people really believe what they say about diversity being a source of strength, why not act like it? I believe that cities that start taking their African American and other minority communities seriously, seeing them as a pillar of civic growth, will reap big dividends and distinguish themselves in the marketplace.
This trail has been blazed not by the “progressive” paragons but by places like Atlanta, Dallas and Houston. Atlanta, long known as one of America's premier African American cities, has boomed to become the capital of the New South. It should come as no surprise that good for African Americans has meant good for whites too.
Well, different premises.