By Sonya James
Posting in Cities
Is the correlation between walkability and liberal politics meaningful? Bill Oremus finds out.
"Why don't conservative cities walk?" This bold question from Slate writer Bill Oremus is rocketing through our virtual waves.
The cities that ranked the highest? All liberal. New York, San Francisco, and Boston are in fact the most liberal cities in the country. The lowest ranking major cities? Well, Jacksonville, Oklahoma City, and Fort Worth both voted McCain. And according to Oremus, all the lowest scoring cities lean conservative, while the top 19 voted for Obama in 2008.
Is the correlation meaningful? "Don’t conservatives like to walk?" Oremus asks.
His first impulse was to look at size. And while big cities are both liberal tilting and more walkable, this doesn't fully explain the finding:
Houston, Phoenix, and Dallas are among the nation’s ten largest cities, but they’re also among the country’s more conservative big cities, and none cracks the top 20 in walkability. All three trail smaller liberal cities such as Portland, Denver, and Long Beach. And if you expand the data beyond the 50 largest cities, the conservative/liberal polarity only grows. Small liberal cities such as Cambridge, Mass., Berkeley, Ca., and Paterson, N.J. make the top 10, while conservative cities of similar size such as Palm Bay, Fl. and Clarksville, Ten. rank at the bottom.
So Oremus substitutes size for density. If a city is plagued by sprawl - like Houston, Pheonix, and Dallas - walkability is low despite their size. The downtown cores of New York, San Francisco, and Boston were built in the pre-car era. They are old cities with outer limits hitting up against the smaller towns and cities surrounding them.
But what is the correlation between density and politics? Are liberals moving to dense and walkable cities? Or do liberals build cities to be more walkable - like Portlanders supporting public transit that limits sprawl.
Oremus suggests that for the most part, the factors making a city walkable are the same as those making it liberal. Basically, these cities are older and on the coast - thus hubs for international commerce and immigration. Diversity leads to tolerance.
Unwalkable cities are mostly scattered across the south. These cities were historically dominated by agriculture. "Whereas industry breeds density, immigration, and social mobility, agriculture requires vast plots of land and leads to an entrenched social order dominated by the large landowners," Oremus argues.
If we take a step back and look at global walkability, the United States as a whole scores dismally. The average Australian takes 9,695 steps per day. The average Japanese takes 7,168 and the average Swiss takes 9,650. The average American? Only 5,117 steps.
"Why do we walk so comparatively little?" asks Vanderbilt, who published the original series, "The first answer is one that applies virtually everywhere in the modern world: As with many forms of physical activity, walking has been engineered out of existence."
Images: Creative Commons
Apr 20, 2012
Conservatives don't assume that their chosen mode of transportation is socially, intellectually, or morally superior to the means someone else uses to get around. Conservatives believe free citizens should be able to live where they want, travel however they want, whenever they want, as far as they want without government interference, incentives and subsidies. Statists believe they have the moral authority to force the majority, who do not want urban and public transportation, to pay for the minority of those who do want it. Conservatives believe government has over stepped its power when it decides to take money from one sector of the economy and give to another that it deems superior. Conservatives who live in rural and suburban areas are opposed to their money being confiscated by a central government and being given to urban and public transportation projects in cities and states they do not live in. Statists believe in constraining and limiting freedom of movement and in forcing people to high concentration housing through over regulation of automobiles, artificially high gasoline costs and tax penalization. Conservatives believe that freedom of movement has driven the greatest free market economy in the world.
Public transit increases transportation capacity during peak times, without expanding roadways. Phoenix = wider freeways = lower congestion = incentive to move further outward in order to find affordable housing = increased congestion. Rinse and repeat. Portland = network of public transit = lower congestion = incentive to move further outward to find affordable housing = increased congestion (on public transit) = more rail cars / buses / street cars per hour at peak. What controls sprawl mostly in Portland, is zoning. Liberally speaking, zoning is the antithesis of conservative dogma of absolute freedom.
The liberal city of Jacksonville FL. Rated worst in the country. With the exception of a 16 year period starting in 1995, Democrats have held the mayors office and dominated city politics in Jacksonville since 1881.
Um, you're talking southern Democrats in Florida, whose roots lie strongly in the reconstruction era (and not on the side of equal rights for blacks) and would not be as "liberal" as northern Democrats would be.
That is the gray area that many people miss when they try to use broad statements like - - conservatives do not like to walk. - - More often than not it is incompetence and poor urban planning that is behind the problem being discussed. Those attributes can be found on both sides of the political spectrum.