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.