The politics of neighborhoods: Walkability is for liberals

Springdale ParkThe Pew Research Center does the most interesting public-opinion work you can find these days. Last week, they unveiled a massive project on political polarization. It touched on a variety of topics, including what kind of neighborhoods people prefer.

Which would you prefer:

  • A neighborhood where the houses are smaller and closer to each other, but schools, stores and restaurants are within walking distance … or
  • A neighborhood¬†of larger houses with more space between them, even if that means having to drive to shops, restaurants and other amenities.

People whose political values classify them as consistently liberal prefer walkable, in-town neighborhoods, 77% to 21%. Those whose values put them in the consistently conservative category prefer a McMansion-style or rural community by an almost identical margin, 75% to 22%. (Among the public overall, the split is essentially even: 49% prefer the big-house/drive-everywhere neighborhood, and 48% prefer the walkable/smaller-house neighborhood.)

If you live in College Hill, these figures may make intuitive sense. Our neighborhood is as consistently progressive in its voting patterns as any in the city or county. Neighborhoods out in the urban sprawl and rural areas of the county are demonstrably less welcoming of concepts like gay marriage, integrated schools, or zoning.

How did it come about that the liberal/progressive types are the people conserving traditional neighborhoods and traditional neighborhood values, like living close enough to your neighbors to actually get to know them, while “conservatives” have so little tolerance for the way of life that defined our community for generations?

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