Gated Communities

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My fellow liberals sometimes tick me off.

It’s a commonplace in liberal circles that gated communities — you know, those suburban subdivisions with the brick streets that don’t lead anywhere and a few dozen brick and stone, ADT-equipped McMansions, all enclosed by brick walls and wrought-iron fences —  are bad.  They’ve come to stand for conspicuous consumption, unsustainable living, and, above all, hiding behind walls and locked gates from the nation’s (on a more personal scale, one’s own community’s) social problems, rather than addressing them.  Gated communities smack of pre-revolutionary French aristocrats, and worse: tacky, bourgeois pre-revolutionary French aristocrats.

Gated communities are, the conventional wisdom goes, the white, conservative, upper-middle class’s escape from reality.  It’s much easier to be conservative when you use your economic advantage to shut out the social problems created by conservative policies.  That’s how the theory goes.

Aside from the facile, self-congratulating tone with which it is said, the thing that ticks me off about all that is that most liberals live in gated communities.

Instead of “Wuthering Oaks” or “Shady Glen” or “Wickersham Heights,” the gated communities most liberals live in have names like “New York” or “San Francisco” or “Seattle.”  Coastal cities are liberals’ gated communities.  It’s where they collect and hide from the realities of the rest of the country — places with names like “Midwest” or “South” or “rural [fill in the blank].”

“Very clever, bucko,” they might say, “but there are no gates on New York or San Francisco or Seattle.”  Au contraire, sez I.  The gates are cultural and economic, rather than brick and iron, but they’re just as effective at excluding the riff-raff.  Given the cultural and economic realities of those places, the “riff-raff” is, primarily, anybody who isn’t highly educated; even better, anybody who isn’t both highly educated and the product of a highly educated family.  There are other mechanisms of exclusion in liberal gated communities, but most of them are related, to one degree or another, to those two.  Gated-community liberals, like people who live in literal gated communities — and, let’s face it, most people anywhere — want to be surrounded by people like themselves, and the cultural institutions people like themselves create.

Google “abolish the electoral college,” and the results will be almost entirely related to coastal liberals’ efforts to accomplish that deed.  Why?  Because they want their highly populous gated communities to not be penalized for being geographically tiny subdivisions of the nation.   They want to stay safely ensconced in their gated communities with other upper-middle-class liberals, and run the rest of the country from there.

How ’bout this, fellow liberals?  Instead of turning out the lights and cursing the darkness, how about helping to change the rest of the country?  Instead of holing up in a few locations at the continental margins, how about moving out here where the rest of us live, and making a commitment to a red-state community?  If you want to change the country, instead of taking the shortcut of monkeying with the electoral college, how about teaching at a rural high school in Mississippi, and being a liberal citizen of that community, a liberal friend of people in that community?  How about setting up your medical practice in suburban Kansas City or a small town in southern Illinois, and help bring a liberal voice to that community?  How about being a journalist for the Nashville Tennessean or the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, instead of writing for one of the New York-based fluff magazines?

If you’re not happy with the way the nation’s interior votes, try coming out here and changing it.  Instead of adding to the economic and educational divide between urban and rural America by being yet another highly educated coastal city-dweller, how about bringing your education and your cosmopolitan perspective where it’s needed?  You worked hard in school and got into a great college and maybe a top-notch graduate or professional school, and you worked hard there and succeeded.  That’s great.  Truly. However, the cold, hard fact is that until several generations of some critical mass of you decide to bring all that education and so forth out here where it’s rare, you’re not going to change the nation’s politics.

Ever.

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17 Responses to “Gated Communities”

  1. ari Says:

    Huh, nice post. But gated communities still suck.

  2. urbino Says:

    Thanks. And I’m agreeing with you. I just have a larger definition of the term.

    Full disclosure: I live in a gated apartment “community.” In my defense, try finding an apartment “community” that isn’t. Also: fat lot of good it does us. We’ve had 2 carjackings and a series of daylight burglaries in the last 4 months.

  3. urbino Says:

    You don’t sound convinced, btw. How can you not be convinced?

  4. alsturgeon Says:

    Crap. And just when I’m leaving Mississippi for Malibu.

    Does my nine-plus yrs preaching at a CofC in Mississippi still count? Or my teaching in Arkansas? Surely it’ll at least buy me 3 yrs at a conservative law school in Malibu, right? 🙂

  5. Sandi Says:

    I see what you’re trying to say, JU, but it’s waaaaaaaayyyy more complicated than that. First of all, I don’t think you can expect someone who’s from New York or San Francisco and has family and friends there to move to one of the “flyover states” just for the sake of dispersing progressives across the country. Second, the idea that there are economic barriers to living in large cities would be news to the thousands of poor people who currently do so. Take DC, where I used to live — because I didn’t live in one of the wealthy neighborhoods (which are probably what you’re addressing here), I sort of stuck out, not just because I’m on the fair side, but also in terms of money and education.

    Even people who come from other places, as I do, to the city typically do so for the job market. David and I would have a hard time both finding jobs in a smaller market right now, although he is working on expanding his skill set so that we can eventually move away from this area. There are certain specialized kinds of work that are only to be found in urban markets, at least in any concentration.

    All that having been said, I do hear people talk about having access to museums and culture, and “diversity” etc. (although I don’t think that you live in a diverse place just because you ride the Metro with people of color, as some of them do) as reasons to stay here versus moving away. And though they usually don’t say it, there is the whole element of, as a friend from law school put it, “being able to talk politics without looking over your shoulder.”

    Which brings me to my next point: I lived in Mississippi for two years after law school, and it was damn lonely to be the only person who “got it” within a 50-mile radius. I mean, even Democrats there often are not particularly progressive. The conservatism of the whole place kind of seeps into (read: poisons) everything. The dating pool was abysmal; I would never have found a partner had I stayed (you know, being one of those uppity bluestocking Yankee-loving women that men like to sleep with but not marry). There are quality of life issues involved in living in less progressive places, and I would not call upon someone to sacrifice to that extent just for the sake of being a one-person experiment in diversity.

    In a macro sense, it would be interesting to study from an historical and sociological perspective why this concentration has occurred, and to see whether there is anything that can be done structurally to correct for it. But the whole idea of an individual moving to a red state to “be a good influence” is asking too much of both the individual and the red state, where the individual would most decidedly be unwelcome — nobody wants his or her influence. Obviously there are some more diverse places where this would be less true (Atlanta, Austin, Raleigh-Durham), but in general, being a liberal in the South is stranger in a strange land territory, even if you’re from there.

  6. Sandi Says:

    P.S. I started using my real name again on WordPress since I started a little blog about my son to share with family and friends and wanted to post under my real name there. Besides, the whole debacle with my previous job is fully over, thank the goddess, so I no longer have anything to hide. 🙂 For those not in the know, I am the artist formerly known as msmiranda.

  7. captmidknight Says:

    “Gated communities are, the conventional wisdom goes, the white, conservative, upper-middle class’s escape from reality. It’s much easier to be conservative when you use your economic advantage to shut out the social problems created by conservative policies. That’s how the theory goes.”
    _______
    Whose theory? It’s also much easier to be liberal if you don’t have to see the results of some of their programs.

    The liberal belief that the social problems that drive liberals as well as conservatives – along with all the other unaligned or unenlightened souls who are just afraid – into gated communities are all the fault of the policies of the evil right are just as mistaken as the conservative belief that everything was just fine until the liberals got involved and screwed everything up. I believe that both sides are deluded by their own propaganda.

    The social conditions that we face today have been with mankind, more or less, for millennia. All sorts of societies and social systems have been tried as a means to cure our social woes. Some have managed to bring some relief in certain areas, but most, partly because of the law of unintended consequences, have ended up with little or no gain, and many have actually made things worse, regardless of the best of intentions.
    I would argue that the American experiment, now a little over 200 years old, has produced more benefits for more of its people than most any other you can name, but still we have the problems that cause those who have the means to resort to things like gated communities. I’ve never lived in one, even though I could have afforded it, but I have engaged in other similar things like private schools for my children.

    “Gated-community liberals, like people who live in literal gated communities – and, let’s face it, most people anywhere – want to be surrounded by people like themselves, and the cultural institutions people like themselves create.”
    ________
    Does the fact that “most people anywhere” feel that way – and tend to act on it, if they can – mean that they are somehow less socially responsible or enlightened? Would it be better if an intellectually superior and more politically “responsible” group – liberal or conservative – legislated against such behavior, for our own good?

    I understand and share your disappointment with those who supposedly believe as you do, but whose rhetoric doesn’t match their actions. That problem knows no political, economic, or religious boundaries.

    Should be getting a lot like Spring in Memphis. Good bicycle weather – if you can deal with the allergies.

  8. urbino Says:

    First of all, I don’t think you can expect someone who’s from New York or San Francisco and has family and friends there to move to one of the “flyover states” just for the sake of dispersing progressives across the country.

    Natives get special consideration. All others I can beef with, right?

    Second, the idea that there are economic barriers to living in large cities would be news to the thousands of poor people who currently do so.

    That’s a bit of a red herring. By and large, the poor people who currently live in large cities have been there for generations, in generational poverty, and they stay, in part (though only in part), because they can’t afford to leave.

    Nobody’s going to move to a city to live in poverty. (Except maybe SF.) Not anymore. America’s cities stopped being friendly to unskilled workers a long time ago. People who don’t have the education or skills to compete with the residents of coastal cities can’t move to those places, where their cost of living would double or triple. It’s cost-prohibitive. The only people who can afford to move to coastal cities are, like you and David, highly educated professionals. The effect is that those cities become sponges, soaking up extraordinary levels of talent and education from the rest of the country.

    That’s fine. It’s everybody’s right to live where they want; to maximize the opportunities their skills and education provide them. What bugs me about it is when they then turn around and complain about the rest of the country. When they and everybody like them is fleeing to the coastal cities, what did they think would happen in the rest of the country?

    Again, it’s like turning out the lights and cursing the darkness.

    There are quality of life issues involved in living in less progressive places, and I would not call upon someone to sacrifice to that extent just for the sake of being a one-person experiment in diversity.

    I’m not calling on anyone to be a one-person experiment in diversity. I’m calling on a whole class of people to re-invest themselves in the rest of the country, instead of staying where they’re most comfortable and complaining about the rest of the country. Everything you say about being a liberal or a progressive in red states is true. It’s true because generations of educated liberals and progressives have taken their cultural, social and economic wealth out of those places to the same half-dozen cities. And it’s going to stay true until generations of them stop doing that.

    During the Civil Rights Movement, lots of educated liberals from educated families came south to invest themselves in places where there were almost no educated liberals, much less from educated families. They weren’t welcome. Their influence was decidedly not wanted. But they did it, anyway. Few of them made it a lifetime investment; they made very high-risk, short-term investments, but look at what a difference that short-term investment made.

    All I’m saying is that coastal urban liberals — gated-community liberals — who hold what that generation did in such high esteem, need to think harder about making a low-risk, long-term investment. If they want to stay in their comfortable, gated communities, I can’t blame them for that. But they need to learn to accept the consequences of leaving the rest of the country behind.

  9. matt w Says:

    Hi Urbino, just followed your link back from EoTAW, and I’m torn about this. On the one hand, I think you’re right that it’s too easy for coastal liberals to neglect the problems of progressivism in other places, and that it’s also too easy for us to be complacent about our civic virtue while living in privileged cocoons.

    But I also sense a lot of special pleading for the virtues of living in conservative parts of the country. You say “Google ‘abolish the electoral college,’ and the results will be almost entirely related to coastal liberals’ efforts to accomplish that deed. Why? Because they want their highly populous gated communities to not be penalized for being geographically tiny subdivisions of the nation.” What does geographic size have to do with anything? Why should Montana and Wyoming, say, be rewarded for being geographically huge? And of course geographic size has nothing to do with it — Texas is huge, and also screwed over by the electoral college, both because it’s populous and also because it’s not a swing state. (Which is the big deal with the electoral college — it actually doesn’t help Wyoming get its interests dealt with at all. My current state, Vermont, is the same in the other direction — what gives us our disproportionate representation is the Senate.)

    There’s a pretty basic idea behind abolishing the electoral college — one person, one vote. The idea that liberals should be have their votes diluted for living in liberal areas, especially because those areas are densely populated — this is both of questionable merit and of questionable relevance to the electoral college.

  10. matt w Says:

    …adding, I agree with the point you were making with this back at EoTAW. Just because the crazies are in retreat on the national scale doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to discredit them everywhere, particularly because there are still parts of the country where they dominate. But this doesn’t argue for giving those areas a disproportionate voice in running the country — yes, it’d force hilzoy and Burke to deal with the crazies, but at what cost?

  11. urbino Says:

    Hi, matt. Thanks for chiming in.

    As a matter of policy, I agree with you about the electoral college. What I don’t like about it, what worries me, isn’t the policy, but the mindset and the sociological side-effects (see my comment right above yours). It worries me for the country, and it worries me for the future of liberalism.

    Also, I think the Framers were right in being concerned about both population and geography. It helps reduce balkanization of a country as geographically large as ours. It isn’t always successful, of course, but the failures, ISTM, argue for giving the geographic factor more attention, not less.

    As for special pleading, when you’re a voice crying in the wilderness, you plead every way you can, just hoping to get heard.

  12. Matt W Says:

    Thanks for the response urbino. But I still have some complaints. For one thing, I suspect the gated-community problem is really a problem of people concentrating in well-educated affluent pockets in the places they live. I haven’t spent much time in San Francisco or Seattle, but it is just not true of New York that the poor and working-class people there are people who’ve been stuck their for generations. New York City has lots of immigrants. And when you’re talking about the coastal liberals’ wanting to abolish the electoral college, I suspect you’re thinking of Yglesias, who lives in Washington DC — which is by no stretch of the imagination a gated community. The problem is that he lives in Northwest.

    Still, part of what I’m reacting against is that the whole coastal-liberal complaint shares too many tropes with the Republicans’ “Real America” shtick, and I don’t think you’ve avoided all the pernicious aspects of it. Liberal cities aren’t all rich playgrounds. And they exist in the Midwest too — I mean, I’m from Pittsburgh and I’ve lived in Milwaukee, and I would have been ecstatic to stay in one of those places instead of going to Lubbock; but they don’t fit your description too well.

    I think this isn’t what you’re really complaining about, though — it’s not where the educated live, it’s where we’ve left. And that’s a problem. (Though Lubbock, again, has lots of doctors and professors — and we academics in general live where the job market takes us.) Gotta go, though, so anything I have to say about that will have to wait.

  13. urbino Says:

    I still have some complaints.

    Jeepers, you’re high-maintenance.

    For one thing, I suspect the gated-community problem is really a problem of people concentrating in well-educated affluent pockets in the places they live. I haven’t spent much time in San Francisco or Seattle, but it is just not true of New York that the poor and working-class people there are people who’ve been stuck their for generations. New York City has lots of immigrants.

    I guess this is where we have to go to the studies and see what the numbers say. I’m going on what I’ve heard or read from people working in inner cities in Boston, NYC, Detroit, and Chicago. I mean, the constant influx of immigrants I’ll grant you, but many of them end up in generational poverty. When I lived in NYC, the Bronx was a textbook case.

    And when you’re talking about the coastal liberals’ wanting to abolish the electoral college, I suspect you’re thinking of Yglesias

    Not really. I’m thinking of the whole National Election Project (though I may not have that name quite right).

    Still, part of what I’m reacting against is that the whole coastal-liberal complaint shares too many tropes with the Republicans’ “Real America” shtick, and I don’t think you’ve avoided all the pernicious aspects of it.

    I didn’t really intend to. I don’t think the “heartland” or red states are any more “real America” than NYC or Seattle or anywhere else. That’s nonsense. However, I think the resentment felt in much of red America is not entirely unjustified. Parts of this country have been left behind, and getting lectured or legislated by the parts that did the leaving isn’t terribly endearing.

    Liberal cities aren’t all rich playgrounds.

    I didn’t really mean to suggest they were. Just that there are fairly large economic barriers to moving to cities — especially coastal ones — from middle America — especially rural areas.

    And they exist in the Midwest too — I mean, I’m from Pittsburgh and I’ve lived in Milwaukee, and I would have been ecstatic to stay in one of those places instead of going to Lubbock; but they don’t fit your description too well.

    When I was growing up in Arkansas in the early 1980s, and we’d hear on the news that some union was on strike in Detroit or Pittsburgh because employees were only making $15 an hour, our reaction was: Holy crap, there are places where ordinary people can make $15 an hour?? It sounded like a king’s fortune.

    I think this isn’t what you’re really complaining about, though — it’s not where the educated live, it’s where we’ve left.

    It’s both, really, because, by and large, money and education follows the educated. When the educated concentrate themselves in a relatively small number of geographically small enclaves, it cuts the legs from under progress everywhere else.

    (Though Lubbock, again, has lots of doctors and professors — and we academics in general live where the job market takes us.)

    Which is why I want to see some kind of major, federal investment in the poor red states. Build something that attracts the doctors and professors, and helps keep the local talent local. In time, that will become better education for everyone in the area, which will lead to further investment and higher wages. A virtuous cycle, instead of the vicious one that’s existed in these places since, well, always.

  14. Matt W Says:

    On immigration, my point wasn’t that there isn’t generational poverty in New York, but that uneducated people do move to New York. From other countries, maybe, but it happens.

    When I was growing up in Arkansas in the early 1980s, and we’d hear on the news that some union was on strike in Detroit or Pittsburgh because employees were only making $15 an hour, our reaction was: Holy crap, there are places where ordinary people can make $15 an hour?? It sounded like a king’s fortune.

    I really don’t see the relevance. Steelworkers in the early 1980s may have made more money than working people in Arkansas at the time, but those jobs haven’t existed since those early 1980s. It doesn’t mean that there are economic barriers to moving to Pittsburgh now, except insofar as its hard to find a job there, and insofar as it’s hard to move anywhere when you’re poor. (Anyway, how is Milwaukee not Middle America?)

    And I also still think that you’re hung up on the picture of the red parts of the country as places that the educated flee, taking the money with them, and leaving behind a poor uneducated resentful populace. Kansas’s median household income is above the national average. So is Nebraska’s. Oklahoma’s is almost there. Utah’s is higher than Vermont’s. And things that attract the educated don’t necessarily lead to liberal outposts. Lubbock, I mentioned, has a medical center and a big university, and it’s the second most right-wing city in the US (after Provo, which also has a medical center and a university). Doctors aren’t necessarily going to be liberal. And conservative areas of the country aren’t necessarily going to be super-welcoming to liberal voices; it isn’t just liberals who enjoy the company of like-minded folk, or condescend to outsiders. (The fellow who explains to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal why Jews aren’t so pleased about Christians explaining how the three matzot symbolize the Trinity is doing the Lord’s work, but it gets tiresome. And God forbid you should install a sculpture that some lunatic might think vaguely resembles a pagan icon. What I’m saying here is, like Ari, you’re not getting me to go back. Also I’m rambing.)

    I mean, I’m not one of the people who thinks the red parts of the country should be left to go hang. I support the fifty-state strategy. And there are definitely some red areas that have cause to feel left behind. I think there should be an investment in them the way there should in any poverty-stricken area, though I don’t think they should get to go ahead of, say, Detroit. (Whose residents really have cause to feel left behind.) And feeling smugly superior to red-staters, which I just did, isn’t a progressive force. But I don’t think changing the politics of the red states is just a matter of getting liberal educated people to move there.

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