The Liberal Stereotype of Urban Revival

Recently I posted a piece about bike share and the many benefits of promoting cycling in an urban environment.  While reading comments on the post, I came across one that echos a sentiment I see quite often.

“Bike share, light rail, bike lanes… it’s all just a bunch of millennial liberal hipster bull@$%& that won’t last.  Waste of (expletive) taxpayer money.”  

The comment made me laugh for a moment as I’ve seen this sort of post a million times in reply to what I and so many like me are trying to promote.  Then I got thinking… why are these concepts associated with left wing, millennial and hipster propaganda?

Let’s look at this another way.  Below I have listed some traits, behaviors and values of an individual.  After reading, decide, based on your knowledge of political views, agendas and even stereotypes, whether this person is most likely Liberal or Conservative.

  1. Shops locally owned businesses instead of big box stores to keep money and jobs in the community.
  2. Supports local farmers by purchasing local produce.
  3. Has a strong neighborhood and community pride, and works to lift the community through hard work because he/she sees it as a responsibility.
  4. Believes in slowing down the pace of life to better appreciate all that’s around us.
  5. Believes in getting to know your neighbor and being aware of your surroundings.
  6. Uses electronics but not to the exclusion of human interaction… people come first.
  7. Walks and bikes because this is how it used to be done before the world got in such a hurry.
  8. Believes in personal, neighborly customer service instead of a call center.
  9. Grows and cooks his/her own food to save money and eat healthy.
  10. Believes in the beauty and simplicity of hand made products by local artisans.
  11. Appreciates parks and greenspace as gathering places and recreational areas.
  12. Generally believes that we need a bit more of the “Mayberry” way of living, treating others with respect, kindness and personal attention while slowing down and appreciating the things we have.

So what did you decide?  Did you say these are the desires of the super-left wing hipster who insists on shopping local, frequents farmers markets, eats at farm-to-table restaurants, grows food in the community garden, bikes to work to be more in touch with his or her city, drinks the local beer and desires a personal connection over a virtual one?  Or did you say that this person is more likely a small town or rural conservative, who likely values similar things?

The fact is, when you look at many traditional small town conservative values, they are virtually identical to the movement revived by today’s millennials and “hipsters.” Sustainability, less dependence on foreign resources, slowing down the speed of life to appreciate what’s really important, being grateful for what we have, keeping jobs local, taking pride in where we live, even longing for the days when streets were safe, these are the calling card of the small town conservative as well as the urban centered liberal.

Why have millennials adapted these traditional small town values to fit the urban setting?  I had a conversation earlier in the year with former Rome, New York city planner Jake DiBari about this very thing.

“I really think that my generation values quality of life above all else.  We witnessed 9/11, and at that time, a lot of highschoolers and college kids were focused on getting to the big cities like New York and Boston.  I think after 9/11 there was a wake-up call.  The idea that being near family, being close to where your food is produced, being close to friends and familiarity resonated with people and that’s why you’re seeing small towns and small cities starting to thrive again.  The interesting thing is, you’re seeing places like Brooklyn, like Manhattan trying to cater to that need.  They’re building trail systems, parklets… the High Line in New York is a great example…” 

While cities have adopted some traditional small town values, I am still confused by the idea that these ideas are associated with left wing propaganda.  While socially liberal urban residents are realizing that elements of small town living make their neighborhoods more inviting, enjoyable and economically sound, these ideas themselves are far from liberal.

So if the small town conservative and the urban liberal want similar things, why do we perceive each other as so different?  Most likely it is the social beliefs of these two groups that create the growing gap.  Issues of LGBT rights, poverty, racial and ethnic differences, religious beliefs and fiscal responsibility have generated a growing fissure in America, one that at times seems so vast it may never be closed.

Perhaps it starts with realizing the basic things we want are not that different.  Maybe it begins with the desire for both sides to see that many of our core desires are not that far apart.  Perhaps the realization that the young man with the long beard and the flannel shirt in the city wants a lot of the same things as the older man with calluses on his hands wearing overalls in the country.

At one time, cities were like the ones we’re trying to create again today.  Slowing down traffic, helping people live centrally for greater efficiency, encouraging cycling and creating walkabilkity, these are all things we as a nation lost sight of when we went car-crazy.  But we’re trying to bring them back.  Back to the good old days that conservatives talk about.  Back to the days where cities were communities and neighborhoods, not just vast expanses of concrete, parking lot and highway.  Call them hipsters, label them millennials, but the fact is, these people are breathing life into an urban America we always hoped would return.  This is not a liberal concept, nor is it a conservative one.  It is one in which we all can have what we really want… a better, friendlier, more beautiful and sustainable American city that we all can enjoy.