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The rise of localism



An article by one Brian Brown on new challenges to what used to be called "rational planning" has been making some noteworthy rounds this week. It came out of a New Atlantic conference on place and placelessness.

A few snips:
Now, however, trends have begun to shift in a very different direction. Some of the preeminent projects of rational planning are foundering or altogether failing. The entitlement crisis, the housing bubble, and other prominent stories and scandals have made Americans more skeptical of distant experts. Advances in technology and business have created new possibilities for individual and local empowerment. The pressure is on for products, services, and organizational practices that will enable consumers and participants to solve problems themselves...

Entire generations in the United States have now grown up in the society the rational planners envisioned, complete with established suburbs, schools, big businesses and foundations, and federal entitlement programs. They live in suburban socioeconomic segregation, and rarely participate in local politics (which has largely become professionalized). Some newer cities, like Houston, were designed by their planners around the car and the TV — not the citizen and the self-governing community...

Much of the recent rise of localism has come from the left, from foodie and environmental efforts on the cultural side, to the extensive use of social media to mobilize community activists on the political side. Actually, localist rhetoric has existed on the “New Left” since the 1960s, when radicals like Saul Alinsky argued that rational planning left out the importance of community organization and local leadership. Fundamentally, however, even the New Left did not abandon the left’s longstanding preference for rational planning with its emphasis on people in the aggregate — that is, in masses...

The piece descends into frivolous revanchist cant when it starts talking about Obama. There are whiffs in it of another suburban rightie associate prof swooning at the idea of a free market. But other than that, and especially as social history, it's mostly fair.