Regionalism: Obama’s Quiet Anti-Suburban Revolution

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The con­sen­sus response to Pres­i­dent Obama’s Knox Col­lege speech on the econ­o­my is that the admin­is­tra­tion has been reduced to push­ing a menu of stale and timid poli­cies that, in any case, won’t be enact­ed. But what if the admin­is­tra­tion isn’t actu­al­ly out of ideas? What if Obama’s bold­est pol­i­cy ini­tia­tive is mere­ly some­thing he’d rather not dis­cuss? And what if that ini­tia­tive is being enact­ed right now?

A year ago, I pub­lished Spread­ing the Wealth: How Oba­ma Is Rob­bing the Sub­urbs to Pay for the Cities. There I described the president’s sec­ond-term plan to press a trans­for­ma­tive “region­al­ist” agen­da on the coun­try. Ear­ly but unmis­tak­able signs indi­cate that Obama’s region­al­ist push is well under­way. Yet the pres­i­dent doesn’t dis­cuss his region­al­ist moves and the press does not report them.

The most obvi­ous new ele­ment of the president’s region­al­ist pol­i­cy ini­tia­tive is the July 19 pub­li­ca­tion of a Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Urban Devel­op­ment reg­u­la­tion broad­en­ing the oblig­a­tion of recip­i­ents of fed­er­al aid to “affir­ma­tive­ly fur­ther fair hous­ing.” The appar­ent pur­pose of this rule change is to force sub­ur­ban neigh­bor­hoods with no record of hous­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion to build more pub­lic hous­ing tar­get­ed to eth­nic and racial minori­ties. Sev­er­al admin­is­tra­tion crit­ics noticed the change and chal­lenged it, while the main­stream press has sim­ply declined to cov­er the story.

Yet even crit­ics have missed the real thrust of HUD’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary rule change. That’s under­stand­able, since the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion is at pains to down­play the region­al­ist phi­los­o­phy behind its new direc­tive. The truth is, HUD’s new rule is about a great deal more than forc­ing racial and eth­nic diver­si­ty on the sub­urbs. (Region­al­ism, by the way, is actu­al­ly high­ly con­tro­ver­sial among minor­i­ty groups. There are many ways in which both mid­dle-class minori­ties in sub­urbs, and less well-off minori­ties in cities, can be hurt by region­al­ist policies–another rea­son those plans are sel­dom discussed.)

The new HUD rule is real­ly about chang­ing the way Amer­i­cans live. It is part of a broad­er suite of ini­tia­tives designed to block sub­ur­ban devel­op­ment, press Amer­i­cans into hyper-dense cities, and force us out of our cars. Gov­ern­ment-man­dat­ed eth­nic and racial diver­si­fi­ca­tion plays a role in this scheme, yet the broad­er goal is forced “eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion.” The ulti­mate vision is to make all neigh­bor­hoods more or less alike, turn­ing tra­di­tion­al cities into ultra-dense Man­hat­tans, while mak­ing sub­urbs look more like cities do now. In this cen­tral­ly-planned utopia, steadi­ly increas­ing num­bers will live cheek-by-jowl in “stack and pack” high-ris­es close to pub­lic trans­porta­tion, while auto­mo­biles fall into rel­a­tive dis­use. To under­stand how HUD’s new rule will help enact this vision, we need to turn to a less-well-known exam­ple of the Oba­ma administration’s region­al­ist interventionism.

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For more on Region­al­ism, see “Region­al­ism — The Blue­print for Your Serf­dom” by Michael Shaw

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