In the past week I’ve been asked twice why, essentially, I have to be so mean:
Steven [sic!], I’m struck by how well you couple true insight with meaningless insults that undermine your credibility to those who don’t share your point of view.
Stephen– I like your work here quite a bit, but I find the tone is sometimes accusatory and demeaning rather than informative. I think you should explain why the NY Times is “wrong” rather than saying they “utterly humiliate” themselves.
First of all, I apologize for not giving these topics – and many others – the time they deserve. Up until early January I was unemployed and had a lot of time to write, and this blog really grew, but since I started interning at Reason I’ve had much less time. Beyond that, I certainly won’t deny that I’m more bombastic and harsh than most land use bloggers. But why?
One reason is that I think that the issues that Adam and I write about are far more important than they’re given credit for, and, quite honestly, it makes me angry. There are plenty of people who make a living writing about green energy, about racism and tolerance, and about culture, but few people recognize the land use origins of all of these debates. Would we have gay marriage by now if zoning and state road building projects didn’t turn us into a suburban nation? To what extent do our land use decisions impact our energy consumption and the forces of global warming? To what extent does anti-density zoning affect racial segregation? These are all interesting questions, but they aren’t ones that are often asked by journalists and commentators, who instead choose to spend their time rehashing tired but news-worthy themes.
A second reason is that I become frustrated by the liberal insularity of the land use/transportation world. While there is a conservative/libertarian wing of the planning blogosphere, represented by New Geography and the Antiplanner, it is very much segregated from the much more vibrant liberal wing. This lack of disagreement fosters a relative complacency – liberal tenets like inclusionary zoning, participative democracy, and the general need to regulate desired outcomes into existence are challenged too rarely.
I should probably also address the issue of the New York Times and journalism in general, since both comments were made in response to something negative I said about the Times. As the paper of record in one of the most important and real estate-obsessed cities in the world, it really lets me down in terms of its coverage. And while I’m able to take a step back and analyze the incentives facing developers, politicians, community groups, and even think tank writers in a detached manner, I think I most identify as a journalist (in spite of how wonkish this blog is), and it’s harder for me to see the incentives that conspire to keep most of journalists covering land use so ignorant. I think it comes from the necessary belief (at least, necessary to my sanity) that they can be convinced and changed and that there isn’t some sort of inevitable, inherent force holding them back. I’m less inclined to hurl epithets at, say, Bertha Lewis or Bruce Ratner, because I don’t expect them to be anything other than reactionary, self-interested parties. But with journalists, I guess I just expect more.
In the end, I guess I try to weigh the chance that someone will be shaken out of their complacency by my inflammatory rhetoric against the chance that I’m going to scare someone away. I hope I’ve reached the right balance and that maybe a little anger in the planning blogosphere is a good thing.