Monday, April 13, 2009

A Different View

It's generally known that places like San Francisco, New York City, and Europe draw the ire of conservatives for their "liberal" tendencies. But do they really hate those places? Or is it a reflexive action based on the views projected from a southern base?

It would seem to me that this views of these places also translates to modes of transportation that are seen as "european" or basically foreign as well such as light rail. Which to me makes it all the more amazing that Charlotte has been able to move itself towards transit expansion that is seen as the cutting edge in cities around the south, even those that have existing systems such as Atlanta. The amazing thing there is the changing political will towards a more transit centered, urbanism. I would argue that Charlotte in particular is a function of outsiders from the Northeast. The Urbanophile has laid out why outsiders have a way of making changes to a community because they can see something different.
Outsiders are willing to imagine things being different in the first place since they already experienced and indeed grew up in an environment that is different. It's sort of like visiting a foreign country for the first time. We notice how all sorts of little things are different, prompting four reactions. The first is, "Hey, things are different here." That can be a revelation itself. When we grow up and experience only one way of doing things, we tend to think everybody must do it that way or that there is only one way to do it.
A possible function of the Southern feeling towards San Francisco or Europe is that they haven't been there before and their impressions are based on what they are told rather than what they experience. How many people do you know have changed their view of their own places after seeing a foreign country? I also have to wonder how much of the south is bigger cities as well and how much the lack of cities might lead to a similar feeling.

I remember visiting my parents from college when they lived in Rotterdam for a year and being amazed at the different transportation types, streets for people instead of just cars, and the fact that my dad could just walk to work. I was amazed and I believe it was one part of how my views changed towards the ones that I have now. Before that, I just hadn't been exposed to anything like it and didn't know it existed.

It's not that they aren't open to the experience, they just haven't had it. Not sure how that could be fixed, but it might explain some of the reasons for the San Francisco and New York bashing from the South. We're generally afraid of what we don't know. What do you all think?


Anonymous said...

What about a place like New Orleans, that has one of the longest operating tram lines in Dixie if not the whole US?

Gleb said...

I think it's a little patronizing to make this line of argument, and certainly not likely to win over anyone currently hostile to transit. It really boils down to conservative = southerner = provincial and ignorant. Not a helpful advance of the debate. In the 1950s the U.S. had a fantastic transportation system by world standards. What Europe has now, many older Americans remember here.

Understanding why the right is opposed to transit is not related to this.

There are many reasons, but some include:

1) Busing. Conservatives see busing as having destroyed their schools and forcing them to abandon cities. This doesn't leave a good impression of buses, and it means that many families credit the car with allowing them to escape the disaster of late 1960s race-based urban disaster. (the causes of this disaster are beyond the scope of this blog I think, but not related to transit)

2) Eisenhower. I believe he made Republicans pro-car in the same way Bush made Republicans pro-war against people that never hurt us. See Bill Buckley, Pat Buchanon, Paul Weyrich (RIP, also pro-transit by the way) for what the Old Right had to say about both of these two guys.

3) Conservatives view the freeways vs. transit debate through the prism of the late 1960s debate over building freeways to allow whites to escape to the suburbs. The sides got chosen up along the lines of all the broader questions about race, religion, the sexual revolution, etc., etc. "No white man's roads through black men's homes." Of course it didn't matter a damn whose houses were getting bulldozed (all are equally bad), but the sides got chosen up along the racial-political sides of the 1960s. The vast majority of conservatives are not racist of course, but the battle lines are drawn where they were then.

4) Today transit is almost always tied to tax increases. Conservatives believe that the government is big enough as it is. Surprisingly, when accounting for state, federal, and local costs of government, the U.S. doesn't really have that much smaller of a burden than some European countries, and it is larger than many Asian countries, with fantastic transit systems. We need to decouple the idea that transit=tax hikes. This is a problem for getting it done.

5) Transit is tied up with environmentalism. Every time issues on the left get coupled together, the number of supporters decreases. E.g., if in order to support transit you have to not only support transit per se, but you also have to support the agenda of WWF, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, etc., we are going to have a much more difficult time getting transit off the ground. If it is sold as a program to help the poor, the venn diagrams intersect in an even smaller circle. If it requires tax increases, the intersection shrinks again. The california HSR project would never have passed if it included a massive tax hike. That initiative is an example for future success.

Younger generations on the right are very much open to transit. The chief argument consists in convincing them that freeways are government-subsidized transportation. This is not a difficult argument to make. We need to hammer home again and again that given X number of dollars for transportation, what is the most efficient allocation of that money that leads to the most desirable outcomes, both for moving people from A to B and producing livable communities? Once that question is answered, only then should we look at whether X number needs to be increased.

Kyle - Boston said...

Great post, I couldn't agree with you more. As you said, Republican ideology focuses on the most efficient form of spending. If the Republicans are looking to change one of their general oppositions, they should become pro-mass transit and pro HSR, because it is the most efficient use of taxpayer money. It may not go over at first, but the more they push it, the more the party faithful will agree.

It's hard to imagine both parties agreeing on the best form of transportation, but I can dream.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Wasn't trying to be patronizing. Your points are well taken Gleb.

Unknown said...

can't forget about authoritarian personalities. I'm sure that fits in there somewhere...

Dustin, New York City said...

As I native of Charlotte, I take strong exception to your statement that "Charlotte in particular is a function of outsiders from the Northeast."

Let me point out that the main leader who has spearheaded the development of a rapid-transit system in my hometown is its current mayor, Pat McCrory. Though McCrory was born in Ohio, he was raised in North Carolina and, as far as I am concerned, is an N.C. native.

Let me also point out that North Carolina's investments in passenger rail have been ongoing since the early 1990s under the administrations of -- oh, yes, that's right -- governors who are natives of North Carolina or, in the cases of James Martin and Bev Perdue, natives of the South. And funds for these investments were appropriated by a state legislature composed, as far as I can tell, of people who are primarily natives of North Carolina or other Southern states.

Personally, my deep interest in urban planning, transit, and passenger rail comes from growing up in a city, Charlotte, that throughout my life (I was born in 1982) has grown and changed in ways that people there never could have imagined. The process of deciding what kind of city it wants to be -- which, of course, is still ongoing -- fascinated me.

Certainly my interest has been fed as I've traveled through most of the great cities of North America and Europe. But I owe the most to Charlotte.

So don't tell me that Charlotte's progress is primarily a function of outsiders from the Northeast. Newcomers from the North and elsewhere throughout the United States and the world have undoubtedly contributed a lot to what Charlotte is today. But there are many of us for whom Charlotte is a native home who also have a broad vision of what it -- and every other American city -- can be as it sheds off the autocentrism of the past and embraces walkable urbanism and alternative forms of transportation.

And, for the record, I think San Francisco is awesome. And I got married in New York City because I like it so much. In fact, my wife and I took the subway to and from our wedding and Amtrak to and from New York from our home in Washington, D.C. -- we never once got in a car.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Thanks for your comments Dustin. There will always be an urbanism pushing element of locals in every city. My point, while perhaps not phrased as well as it should have been, is that greater amounts of outsiders push some cities over the tipping point. I'd like to hear more about Charlotte from you as a local and what you think the effects of outside influence are. Obviously I'm not the definitive source but for my own opinions, but it would be nice to get more of your take on this issue being from a city I admire from a far.

Matt Fisher said...

This sucks that GM destroyed the streetcars. I admire that Paul Weyrich supports rail transit, a rare conservative to do this. This is probably the only thing I agree with him on. Besides that, he's held anti-Semitic views, homophobic views, and was a founder of the Heritage Foundation that employs Wendell Cox and Randal O'Toole.

Here's one other thing: I've admitted in an earlier posting that I've never been to Europe before. Given that the abandonment of streetcars was a bad idea, I'd rather see them continue to operate in North America than be trashed. But what would be next? Would this form of liberal bashing move on to Mexico? And if it did, would they bash "red state" Texas, had this happened?

That question I wrote above is only a hypothetical, I should add.

Actually, four cities in the German state of Bavaria - Munich, Nuremberg, Augsburg, and W├╝rzburg - continue to run trams today. And Bavaria is considered the most conservative part of Germany! :)

Jay Heikes said...

I would have to agree with Dustin being from Charlotte as well. For one thing it was then mayor Sue Myrick and current Mayor Pat McCrory that got the ball rolling with transit. McCrory and especially Myrick are rather conservative and managed to get the large amount of the conservative base behind the transit plan as well as working with city planners on the Centers, Corridors, and Wedges plan. They succeeded in convincing the Charlotte region that land use planning and transit was a more efficient way to spend money than to build more sprawl. This came well before Northerners started their mass migration to Charlotte.

Places like Atlanta and Raleigh have just as many if not more "outsiders" from the North but have thus far failed to come up with a comprehensive transit+ land use plan.

Besides, a majority of the Northerners that have transplanted to Charlotte are not From New England or NYC, Boston or Philly. They are from Upstate NY, notably Buffalo, and other rustbelt cities that have little transit or any real need for land use planning anymore.

I think Charlotte has always been a progressive, albeit conservative place that has been ready to adapt to changing circumstances. When farming was losing ground to mechanization, Charlotte became a textile center. When the textiles began to go overseas Charlotte became a major banking center. When people began to realize that the Metro was gaining 80K+ a year they also realized the need for sustainable and efficient growth in the form of transit corridors and centers.

It also helps that Atlanta has a 20-30 year lead on us with unmanaged growth and the problems it brings. All one has to say is look at Atlanta, we don't want to be like that."

ChiefJoJo said...

I'm from NC as well and am as familiar with Charlotte as one can be without living there.

Maybe it wasn't put well, but you cannot overlook the factor that newcomers have played in Charlotte's success, particularly more recently with the repeal smackdown vote in '07, though less so in '98. I wouldn't say the Charlotte story is a "function" of outsiders, but no one can argue with a straight face that the influx of newcomers has not been crucial to the effort.

Nevertheless, as Jay said Charlotte has always been an adaptable, can-do, pro-business town. It's in the Charlottean DNA, and that is part of what separates it from, say Raleigh/Durham (Triangle) or some other SE regions.

On the leadership front, one person who hasn't been mentioned here is Hugh McColl, who basically built Bank of America (Nations Bank/NCNB), and supplied the business leadership in the mid/late 90s that gave McCrory & Co the political cover and backing to support transit as Republicans. It's much easier for a New South conservative to be a transit supporter when you have the push/backing of the likes of BofA (formerly Nations Bank), Wachovia (formerly First Union, now Wells Fargo), & Duke Energy behind you.

In the broader sense, I think we southerners are kidding ourselves to miss the correlation between the attitudes revealed in these polls and the red/blue state map-- though that is thankfully changing for us in NC! Consequently, the transit fight down here simply seems to be a bit more of a slog than it may be elsewhere.

I'm not arguing this is a good conversation to have to move the transit/urbanism cause forward--just that we ought not try to dance around the obvious information that is present before us.

Danny said...

North Carolina boy from Charlotte, lived in Raleigh, been in all 50 states and 15 countries in Europe. I'll try not to repeat things already said too much. First, two things to get out of the way about your rant:

1. The dislike of San Fransisco and NYC from the southern base you speak of more likely comes from all the people who moved here from there telling us how much nicer it is here.

2. My experiences have shown it to be much more likely that people hate the northern city dwellers, not the cities themselves or the ideas they embody. I'm not sure I've ever met a southerner who wasn't dazzled by NYC, or hates riding the underground.

On topic:
3. Someone said it best earlier when they said, desegregation killed southern city buses. A sad side effect, of an overall effective measure, compared to say Cincinnati where things are incredibly different.

As far as Charlotte's population influx of the North Easterners,Jay is correct, vast amounts arrived with IBM in the 80's from UPSTATE New York, where they are not especially liberal, or huge fans of taxes supporting NYC.

4. Raleigh doesn't share the same dire need for urban transport, plan here. Downtown(quite small really) and suburbia literally have no "slum" barrier between them. In many parts downtown slowly transforms straight into expensive neighborhoods. Some of the best high schools in the district are located within a 2 miles of the Capital Building to give you an idea. Also the west side is covered by NCSU's buses which are free to the public and quite nice and effective. Downtown Raleigh is covered by the CAT buses which are also effective. Parking is plentiful and quite a bit cheaper than most downtowns.

5. The largest change during the 98' vote and the 07' approval of light rail was not a huge influx of New Englanders, but an aggressive campaign to make downtown livable and enjoyable(led by McCrory and the banking industry as mentioned above). Over the last 15 years it has turned into a safe and clean environment for wealthy professionals to live in and also a place worth visiting after business hours, making transit relevant to the rest of the city. It has also gotten around the desegregation issue by offering transportation that isn't viewed as "City Bus," such as the day time trolleys which cart professionals all over downtown during business hours, and now light rail, helping to change public opinion over the years.

6. NASCAR! Surely you hate these guys, but one of the major lobbyists for light rail in 07 was Lowes motor speedway. The proposed plan involved the rail extending all the way to the race track one day to cart the 175,000 "drunken rednecks" (who assuredly must hate the trains) from the track to the hotels & businesses downtown, not to mention speed street and other downtown festivals geared to attract that huge semi annual crowd.

7. Every southern city is busy trying to revitalize downtown and NOT be Atlanta, give them time to grow downtown residences and businesses and then you will see more and more public transit down here. Savannah, Chattanooga, & Charleston already have great downtown bus systems.

Overall, your entry has made me think you're pretty ignorant, thus making your valid points useless. Thanks for helping the cause.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Thanks for the comment Daniel. I'll just have to take my licks on this post with a smile.

Alon Levy said...

Not sure how that could be fixed, but it might explain some of the reasons for the San Francisco and New York bashing from the South. We're generally afraid of what we don't know. What do you all think?It also works the other way around. New York is full of Southern migrants who tell horror stories of poverty and racial strife in the Deep South. Since it confirms New Yorkers' feelings of superiority, South-bashing has become normal in New York.