In his NYT profile of Republican Senator John Thune, David Brooks offered urbanists an especially velvet-gloved insult:
His populism is not angry. … But it’s there, a celebration of the small and local over the big and urban.
This rhetorical device is meant to imply, without quite saying, that “local” is the opposite of “urban,” just as “small” is the opposite of “big.”
Most readers of this blog probably value local government, local achievement, and maybe even locally-grown food. Many of us want cities that feel more like aggregations of localities, places where local experiences — like shops where the clerk remembers your name — are an important counterpoint to the inevitable impersonality of large-scale mechanisms like, say, efficient rapid transit.
But the Republicans have lost the cities. (As New York Governor George Pataki supposedly said to George Bush as they approached the crowds gathered to hear Bush speak at the ruins of the World Trade Center: “See all those people? None of them voted for you!”) So they may well feel that they can use “urban” in a negative sense without much cost.
Keep an eye out for rhetorical uses of “urban” as the opposite of “local.” I bet we’ll hear this trope again.
You’d expect that somewhere in that hagiography, Brooks would mention that Thune is a creationist. Somehow, in Brooks’ conception of the world, local means ignorant of a broader world than the small town and its prejudices.
Of course, in much of the discourse of the right in this country, “urban” is code for “where black people live”.
Unfortunately, the word “local” conjures up Tubbs and Edward from the British TV series ‘The League of Gentlemen’. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_League_of_Gentlemen_(comedy)#Characters In other words, a suspicion of anyone not “local”.
This is nothing new. Republicans have been trashing cities for decades. And EngineerScotty is right – “urban” is code for “black”.
It’s a false dichotomy – for instance, either Sydney or Moscow may be referred to as a “collection of villages”.