Minor Landscapes and the Geography of American Political Campaigns

[Image: The population density of the United States, ca. 2000, via Wikipedia].

If you'll excuse a quick bit of landscape-inspired political speculation, I was reminded this morning of something I read last year on Boing Boing and which has stuck with me ever since – and that's that there are more World of Warcraft players in the United States today than there are farmers.
Farmers, however, as Boing Boing and the original blog post it links to are both quick to point out, are often portrayed in media polls as a voice of cultural and political authenticity in the United States. They are real Americans, the idea goes, a kind of quiet majority in the background that presidential candidates and media pundits would be foolish to overlook.
If you want a real cross-section of Americana, then, you're supposed to interview farmers and even hockey moms – but why not World of Warcraft players? This is just a rhetorical question – it would be absurd to suggest that World of Warcraft players (or architecture bloggers) somehow have a special insight on national governance – but, as cultural demographics go, it's worth asking why politicians and the media continue to over-prioritize the rural and small-town experience.

[Image: A street in Columbus, Wisconsin, the small and, at the time, semi-rural town in which I grew up, photographed under a Creative Commons license by Royal Broil].

In a related vein, it's often said in the U.S. that certain politicians simply "don't understand the West": they're so caught up in their big city, coastal ways that they just don't get – they can't even comprehend – how a rancher might react to something like increased federal control over water rights or how a small-town mayor might object to interfering rulings by the Supreme Court. Politicians who don't understand the west – who don't understand the rugged individuality of ranch life or the no-excuses self-responsibility of American small towns – are thus unfit to lead this society.
But surely the more accurate lesson to be drawn from such a statement is exactly the opposite?
One could even speculate here that politicians from small towns, and from the big rural states of the west, have no idea how cities – which now house the overwhelming majority of the American population – actually operate, on infrastructural, economic, socio-political, and even public health levels, and so they would be alarmingly out of place in the national government of an urbanized country like the United States.
If the United States – if the entire world – is rapidly urbanizing, then it would seem like literally the last thing we need in the White House, in an era of collapsing bridges and levees, is someone whose idea of public infrastructure is a dirt road.
Put another way, perhaps coming from a ranch or a small town is precisely why a certain candidate might be unable to govern a nation that is now 80% urban.
It's a political collision of landscape management strategies.

[Image: Urban areas in the U.S. Map courtesy of NASA].

On the other hand, perhaps this juxtaposition would be exactly why a rural or small-town candidate could be perfect for the job – fresh perspectives, thinking outside the box, and so on. After all, a good rancher is surely a better leader than a failed mayor.
Or, to take an even more aggressive stand against this argument, surely the administrative specifics of your previous professional life – you were a doctor, a minister, a novelist, a governor, a business owner, a soccer dad – are less important than your maturity, knowledge, clarity of thought, and judgment?
Even having said that, though, I can't help but wonder if a candidate might "understand" one particular type of settled landscape – a small town, a thinly populated prairie, an icy state with a population one-fifth that of Chicago – but not another, more heavily urbanized type of landscape (i.e. the United States as a whole).
So I was reminded again of the opening statistic from Boing Boing – a statistic that I have not researched independently, mind you, but that appears to be based on this data – when I read that President Bush had stopped off this morning to speak about the credit crisis "with consumers and business people at Olmos Pharmacy, an old-fashioned soda shop and lunch counter" in San Antonio, Texas.
The idea here – the spatial implication – is that Bush has somehow stopped off in a landscape of down-home American democracy. This is everyday life, we're meant to believe – a geographic stand-in for the true heart and center of the United States.
But it increasingly feels to me that presidential politics now deliberately take place in a landscape that the modern world has left behind. It's a landscape of nostalgia, the golden age in landscape form: Joe Biden visits Pam's Pancakes outside Pittsburgh, Bush visits a soda shop, Sarah Palin watches ice hockey in a town that doesn't have cell phone coverage, Obama goes to a tractor pull.
It's as if presidential campaigns and their pursuing tagcloud of media pundits are actually a kind of landscape detection society – a rival Center for Land Use Interpretation – seeking out obsolete spatial versions of the United States, outdated geographies most of us no longer live within or encounter.
They find small towns that, by definition, are under-populated and thus unrepresentative of the United States as a whole; they find "old-fashioned" restaurants that seem on the verge of closing for lack of interested customers; they tour "Main Streets" that lost their inhabitants and their businesses long ago.
All along they pretend that these landscapes are politically relevant.
My point here is not that we should just swap landscapes in order to be in touch with the majority of the American population – going to this city instead of to that town, visiting this urban football team instead of that rural hockey league, stopping by this popular Asian restaurant instead of that pie-filled diner (though I would be very interested to explore this hypothesis). I simply want to point out that political campaigning in the United States seems almost deliberately to take place in a landscape that no longer has genuine relevance to the majority of U.S. citizens.
The idea that "an old-fashioned soda shop" might give someone access to the mind of the United States seems so absurd as to be almost impossible to ridicule thoroughly.

[Images: From the fascinating series of electoral maps produced by M. T. Gastner, C. R. Shalizi, and M. E. J. Newman after the 2004 U.S. presidential election].

Of course, I understand that there are electoral college strategies at work and so on; but what I think remains unchallenged throughout all of this is the idea that small town voters somehow offer a more authentic perspective on the political life of this country – and not, say, people in West Hollywood or the Upper East Side or Atlanta or even Reno. Or World of Warcraft players. Or people who eat sushi. People who read Harry Potter novels.
"President Bush stopped off today with a group of people who read Harry Potter novels – the eleventh-largest demographic group in the United States – to discuss the ongoing financial crisis..."
Which group is larger, more important, more likely to vote, more demographically representative of the United States?
Call them micro-niches or whatever new marketing term you want to invent, but it seems like American politicians are increasingly trapped in a kind of minor landscape, a geography that is demonstrably not that within which the majority of Americans currently live.
"Barack Obama campaigned today in the early 1960s by visiting a small pancake house near Springdale..."
In any case, the entire political premise of the last eight years seems to have been one of landscape: big city dwellers near the Great Lakes and the ocean coasts simply don't understand small town communities, and they're embarrassingly out of touch with the everyday big skies of lonely ranchers on the plains. But while this might be true – and I don't think it is, frankly – reversing this belief is surely even more alarming: the idea that someone whose background includes ranches and small towns should go on to lead an urban nation in an urban world seems questionable at best – and potentially dangerous in actual practice.
Again, though, there seems to be no adequate way to measure how political exposure to certain settled landscapes might affect a candidate's ability to govern – and so this post should simply be taken as a kind of geographic speculation about democracy in the United States.
But it does raise at least one interesting group of questions, I think, including: what are the real everyday landscapes of American life, if those landscapes no longer include old-fashioned soda shops and small-town hockey arenas – or do such everyday landscapes simply no longer exist?
And if there are no everyday landscapes, then surely every landscape we encounter is, by definition, extraordinary – so we should perhaps all be paying more attention to the spatial and architectural circumstances of our daily lives?
Further, if political candidates have managed to discover – and to campaign almost exclusively within – an American landscape that seems not yet to have been touched by the trends and technologies of the twenty-first century, then why is that – and is it really a good indication that those candidates will know how to govern an urbanized, twenty-first century nation?
Finally, if urban candidates – or coastal candidates, whatever you want to call them – "don't understand the west," which is simply cultural code for not understanding small town life and for being out of touch with the moral hardships of the American countryside, then surely that's not altogether bad in a country that is 80% urbanized?
Put another way, it would certainly be frustrating to think that a candidate doesn't understand how a cattle ranch or an alfalfa farm operates, or that a candidate has no experience with a small town and its parent-teacher associations and so on – but it is extraordinarily troubling to me to think that a candidate doesn't understand how, say, New York City functions – or Chicago, or Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Atlanta, or Phoenix – let alone the globally active and thoroughly urbanized economic networks within which these and other international cities are enmeshed.
Surely, then, it is small town candidates and politicians with ranching backgrounds who are demonstrably unqualified for the leadership of an urban country?
Surely we need urban candidates for the twenty-first century?

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OpenID Bean said...

It's particularly glaring in politics, but in a broader sense, American culture in general seems to have a false nostalgia for small town life. What is the theory behind suburbia but a Dinseyfication of "small town ideals" built for city-dwellers? (It's no accident that Disney themselves got into the suburbia-building game and produced some of the most egregiously archetypical examples.) But that picture-perfect ideal of small town life never existed outside of the television. Obama wouldn't be campaigning "in the early 1960s", but would have to be campaigning in the fictional town of Mayberry. Small towns haven't held a majority of the American population since 1910.

For these ideas to continue receiving the cultural traction that they do a significant percentage of our overwhelmingly urban population must continue to buy into them. I think, to some degree, it all goes hand-in-hand with the reaction against "elitism" in politics. Which is equally (if not more) baffling. Don't we want the people running things to be smart, thoughtful, well-educated, and reasonable?

October 06, 2008 6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, Bush went to the "Olmos Bharmacy" not "Pharmacy"... It used to be a historic pharmacy/soda stop for much of the last century, but was renovated a little while back as a wine bar with nightly tango lessons.

Not quite the small town soda shop for rubes you imagined Bush went too. I guess this just highlights that politicians and critical bloggers both don't understand how much rural/small town America has and is changing.

Perhaps your stereotypes and perceptions are as outdated as everyone elses?

October 06, 2008 8:04 PM  
Blogger Claud Reich said...

Reminds me of Rome, and how it idealized the "simple farmer" more and more as it moved into late Republican and imperial government. That which is elsewhere and vanishing is always simpler and more comforting than the real and present. If the central government were disintegrating, they'd be campaigning for the glittering, lost cities.

October 06, 2008 8:05 PM  
OpenID cjtimmer said...

Pardon the digression, but...Geoff, you grew up in Columbus?! (I'm from Madison.)

"I simply want to point out that political campaigning in the United States seems almost deliberately to take place in a landscape that no longer has genuine relevance to the majority of U.S. citizens." Amen.

I'd love it if the campaigns had the chutzpah to stage rallies in big box parking lots, mall food courts, cloverleafs, etc. That's where people are, anyway--and we could get over the dumb dichotomy about authenticity that pervades all this; that those places are somehow less real, less authentic, and less important than the vaunted diners and bowling alleys of yore.

October 06, 2008 8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geoff: I found this to be one of your more interesting entries, but I think you've missed one critical point: what were the densities of these places when most of these voters were growing up? My hometown is similar to yours in that it's formerly rural. Now it's a sprawl with something like 80 thousand people, but when I was young, it was a small business street, a couple of neighborhoods, and a lot of farms. (For a little emphasis on the speed of this transition, let me add that I am currently 26.)

I think the small-town emphasis is partly meant to appeal to nostalgia. People think of those scenes as being more real than, well, reality, because it's what they remember best. Some may never stop thinking of themselves as "small town" people, even when that town has been absorbed into an interstate conurbation.

So, my suggestion for understanding this is to revisit those maps, with data from the 50s and 60s, when the baby boomers were young. Or, for that matter, the 30s and 40s, when the current elderly were young. (They're another big voting demographic.) And also, wait and see, because if I'm right about this, we should start to see it die out within the next couple generations or so.

October 06, 2008 9:09 PM  
Blogger progressive reactionary said...

Fantastic commentary... I'm into the idea that American politics in general, and this election season in particular, can be viewed through a geographic (and thus spatial - or even architectural) lens. "Landscape of nostalgia" -- love it.

While I do agree with you, I'm not completely sure that this false nostalgia has fully run its course. It's worth noting that many of the rising stars in the Democratic Party, and indeed many of those largely responsible for the party's resurgence in recent years, are rural populists who have tailored themselves to appeal to precisely the nostalgic impulse that you argue is no longer relevant. I'm thinking of people like Brian Schweitzer and Jon Tester in Montana, Mark Warner and Jim Webb in Virginia, etc. etc. In a away, their success is that much more intriguing to me because of the way they have adapted to this landscape and (hopefully - the jury's still out) redirect its obsolescence towards some greater purpose.

October 06, 2008 10:43 PM  
Blogger CG said...

I'd like to add that this nostalgia for small-town life has been a trope of American politics since the beginning -- the citizen-farmer, the agrarian frontier, and so on. If I were an American historian, I'm sure I could pull out a long list of quotes of politicians extolling rural virtue as far back as the dawn of the Republic. I think the rural-centric geography of political rhetoric is part of the skeletal framework of American culture. It's not nostalgia for a lived experience at all, but for a founding-mythic one which we all have to genuflect towards.

That said, I think it's also worth pointing out the absolute *hegemony* that urban symbols have over American popular culture. Sure, we have a movie here or there about small towns, but for every one of those there are a dozen movies involving gangsters, or New York glamor or Los Angeles. In music, it's the same.

After all, The only time we see country music surface in Time or Newsweek is when it's political country music.

So yes, politicians live in a small town mythland, but urban myths are where our real cultural fascinations lie.

October 06, 2008 11:03 PM  
Anonymous C-Monster said...

wonderful. i've been thinking much the same thing lately, but in a far less articulate (or well-argued) fashion....

October 07, 2008 12:32 AM  
Blogger Mike Laursen said...

Our problem isn't really who is governing. Our problem is the scale of the country. It's all off. The United States is much larger than a functional country needs to be. Doesn't matter who is in charge, they are too distant and unaccountable. Our huge economy and military attract egomaniacs, exploiters, and mis-adventurers.

October 07, 2008 1:26 AM  
Blogger timquinn said...

Politicians need to speak to probable voters, and, given the amount of polling done for politicians, they likely know who they are.

They also must appeal to voters who can be appealed to. You or I will not be swayed by a rally or an advertisement.

So these tactics you speak about are carefully crafted to speak to a pretty narrow segment of the population; people who can be moved to vote or change their vote. I suspect these are emotional voters. If that is the case, the strategies used make sense.

October 07, 2008 4:31 AM  
Anonymous Dan Hill said...

Cracking post Geoff. There are similar tendencies here in Australia, a country which is even more urbanised - one of the highest rates of urbanisation anywhere - but also has the same romantic, nostalgic association with 'the land'. Despite the fact that 'the land' is/was always contested, in a particularly brutal way, is economically unsustainable, and is increasingly impossible to actually live in. Complex.

October 07, 2008 7:54 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

I think the more important question that needs to be asked is what does government DO for these small town/rural citizens of our country? For all the lip service they get paid, I don't see much opportunity and support for the rural poor, to give one example. Moreover, what is being done to combat poverty period: rural, urban, suburban? Sure, rail against sentimentality, it's bogus, but don't forget real people live in these places. People with a similar lot in life, lack of economic opportunity and education, as those who are similarly disadvantaged but living in cities.

October 07, 2008 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Aaron said...

Mike Laursen said, "Our problem isn't really who is governing. Our problem is the scale of the country. It's all off. The United States is much larger than a functional country needs to be. Doesn't matter who is in charge, they are too distant and unaccountable. Our huge economy and military attract egomaniacs, exploiters, and mis-adventurers."

That's why this country was set up with states having the authority to govern themselves with little interference from a central government. Now, with a powerful central government, when exploiters gain control of an economy or military, they have far too much control.

Decentralization allows for innovation and quick responses to problems. It also acts as a fail-safe or buffer for widespread crises. Economic and political systems are more stable in a "perfect internal disorder" or equilibrium than they are in a centrally controlled and ordered society.

October 07, 2008 11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quick addition to the above posts.

I think it might be specifically because the majority of the populace is in the large cities that politicians seek out idealized country settings to proseltize about their love for America, the greatest nation on Earth. Upon the conclusion of their campaign they will return to the urban centers from which they emerged to work with the media [whose inclinations are naturally always towards negative stories] to present a dire picture of the cities, about to fall into an abyss of crime and poverty/moral terpitude, and only they can save you [with the help of a little tax increase no doubt].

If they were to try and campaign in the cities, in real life, they might have to answer for some of the problems facing people. Instead they seek out a perfect American idyll, which faces no problems that couldnt be solved by a little shaking up of Washington.

October 07, 2008 11:47 AM  
Blogger Alexis Madrigal said...

This is a beautiful, stunning piece. But what I think it leaves out is that there are the geographies of living and the geographies of production and distribution. People live on the coasts and in cities without having to see the vast infrastructures responsible for getting them their fruits, fuel, and power. The people living in that infrastructure on the outskirts and exurbs are presumed to have a knowledge about the dark parts of the economy because they live closer to them.

Not to say that candidates should be campaigning in those places, but just to say that I think we grant a certain authenticity to those ranchers/wildcatters/factory workers because we sense our disconnection from our own infrastructure, the product arteries and veins. It's displacement but with the sense of disembodiment.

October 07, 2008 2:20 PM  
Blogger Chris Kannen said...

I think CG is right, the urban-rural conflict stems from the beginnings of the country when Alexander Hamilton, a New Yorker, opposed Thomas Jefferson, who favored an agrarian society and hated cities. The Electoral College definitely favors Jefferson's states-have-the-power view and the rural U.S., and syncs up with the modern GOP theory of "keep the gov't out of my life." Maybe Obama will be the first president to be perceived as more urban than not, since he was raised all over the place and cites Chicago as formative as opposed to Texas and Arkansas?

The ironic thing is Jefferson also said the law belongs in the hands of the living generation, and that it should be re-worked every 19 years!

October 07, 2008 5:02 PM  
Blogger eebss said...

Your blog came to my attention today upon following a link from 'The Morning News'. Imagine my surprise as I scrolled further down the entry to see a photo of MY hometown, Columbus! Fabulous blog...a new Favorites. Cheers!

October 08, 2008 3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the US in terms of population. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_by_population

October 08, 2008 5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple commentators already made some of the points I was thinking about: the nostalgia, American mythology, etc. Politicians make these sorts of appeals thinking that because these situations seem genuine or fundamentally American, that they can overcome the cynicism with which a lot of voters view their campaigns.

On a tangent (which may be a point similar to that made by alexis madrigal), it is significant that a lot of people still buy into that mythology...we don't seem to identify with most of the salient aspects of our society, at least not in a fundamental, emotional way. That is an issue in itself I believe worth exploring. Why is that?

October 09, 2008 12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this piece a lot, but I also think one reason national political candidates (Palin aside) pander to the rural is because they almost always come from urban areas. It's assumed that they DO understand Chicago and New York, so they strain to show they ALSO understand other places and experiences.

October 09, 2008 12:24 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

This article reminds me of an article I read that was a post-mortem of the 2004 election called "the Urban Archipelago, Its the Cities Stupid." Basically, it argued the Democrats should focus on urban areas and forget rural issues and voters.

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=19813

October 09, 2008 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The photo op of a political candidate in a small town, eating at a local restaurant, engaging rural America certainly embraces that sense of Americana that older Americans recall fondly and may still be nostalgic for in the deep recesses of their brains. However, given the economics of 2008 I often wonder why we don't see more shots of politicians walking around Walmart, Target, Costco Superstores, etc talking to shoppers who probably best respresent modern day urban and suburban voters--watching their pennies and shopping for bargains...

October 09, 2008 9:55 PM  
Anonymous eatingbark said...

I more or less agree with the notion that I think is being expressed here -- that political culture is responsible for or complicit in constructing an imaginary landscape -- "landscapes of nostalgia" -- which then become the terrain on which the political campaign is acted out.

The question implied here though, by the two possiblities of responsiblity and complicity, is interesting. Surely this insight isn't one that has eluded the politicians -- surely they are aware that they are playing a game, campaigning in an imagined terrain. So there are two possibilites: either voters are being willfully deceived about the nature of modern america or they are willfully complicit in sustaining an illusion - because they WANT to participate in that illusion, or because something about that illusion is attractive to them. I think it's more of the latter than the former -- the comments above get a bit into why this might be so (references to the Jeffersonian ideal, etc.), but I might add that there could be very positive goods -- real goods -- contained within the construction, which people may rightly desire (a sense of community and place, an imagined social equilibrium, etc.).

I think this possibilty -- that there are real goods embedded in the illusionary landscapes, in addtion to real dangers (such as ignorance of urban matters) and the meta-danger of the illusion itself -- is perhaps easier to see in another context, when you consider that that is a temporal dimension to these landscapes of nostalgia. That is, the nostalgia is not just for another place, but for another time. And though that place and time may never have existed as we might imagine or will it to, it still has an extremely powerful hold on us. A recent article by Rod Dreher gets at this while talking about Mad Men:

"In his 1995 book The Lost City, about Chicago in the 1950s, Alan Ehrenhalt warned against the way nostalgia and poetic memory tempts contemporaries to falsely idealize the past. Though Ehrenhalt chastised liberals who demonize the world of the Fifties as nothing but a nightmarish corseted burlesque of Joe McCarthy, Jim Crow, and Cardinal Spellman, he rapped conservatives for idealizing it as the last good decade before the Sixties ruined everything.

“We don’t want the 1950s back,” Ehrenhalt wrote.

"What we want is to edit them. We want to keep the safe streets, the friendly grocers, and the milk and cookies, while blotting out the political bosses, the tyrannical headmasters, the inflexible rules, and the lectures on 100 percent Americanism. But there is no easy way to have an orderly world without somebody making the rules by which order is preserved. Every dream we have about re-creating community in the absence of authority will turn out to be a pipe dream in the end. This is a lesson that people who call themselves conservatives seem determined not to learn."

His point is that the very real psychological and social comforts available to people who lived in traditional neighborhoods in those days – neighborhoods whose disappearance gave Ehrenhalt his title – didn’t just happen. They were purchased at the cost of individual choice and mobility. However much latter-day conservatives might complain – with justice – about the loss of community standards in our atomized, vulgar, deracinated society, few of them would be willing to accept the kind of cultural authority necessary to regain the lost city, and that lost time."


Dreher is dealing with the flipside of that dream (the real dangers embedded in the illusion), but I think that it is also important to be fair in criticizing the illusion (not that I'm saying you weren't, Geoff), because there are real, valuable things contained within those landscapes of nostalgia, which people might rightly desire -- and an argument that acknowledges that is more powerful.

October 10, 2008 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Rettaw said...

Just to complement the number sources, blizzard announced 10 million subscrubers of WoW January 22 2008, 2.5 million of those in North America (http://eu.blizzard.com/en/press/080122.html).

Given that North America goegraphically means Canada, USA, and Mexico there probably aren't more WoW players in the USA than farmers since at least Canada has a substantial digital presence. Still the numbers should be comparable.

October 11, 2008 12:47 PM  
Anonymous Jbeau said...

Insightful post, Geoff -- both for your observations and the questions posed. I think it's important to remember that politicians trade in symbols and images. The American myth is resilient and singular, yet variable given all the various ways it is instrumentalized and subsequently interpreted. We understand that Joe Sixpack and Holly Hockeymom are situated in the landscape of small-town, rural America. We also understand (or are repeatedly reminded) that these figures in this landscape represent certain values -- authenticity, hard work, individual responsibility, faith, and so on. Of course, there is a a difference between the myths politicians use and the everyday experiences of people.

So, with such a large percentage of us living in cities, why is the Main St. myth of America still so compelling? Certainly, there is evidence of the American Dream being lived out in cities as well -- the immigrant story, part and parcel of the myth, is intertwined in the life of the city. I think maybe it ultimately does come back to a matter of landscape. Cities are messy, compact and dense, cacophonous and multilingual, complex. Conversely, there is a clarity and simplicity in the great expanse of the American West and Midwest -- the vast frontier -- within which the lone farmer and rancher and tight-knit community eke out a life for themselves. I wonder if it is that ratio of large space to few inhabitants (aboriginal to the Euro-American story) that continues to lend support to the power of the American myth as a political symbol. Anyway, there's a lot here (in the comments, too) to consider and further research. Inspiring, really.

Lastly, there's a somewhat relevant opinion piece in Philadelphia's City Paper this week calling attention to McCain's lack of urban policy. Essentially, Broad St. falls through the cracks amidst the Main St. - Wall St. dialectic: http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2008/10/09/what-about-broad-street

October 12, 2008 12:10 AM  
Anonymous exurban escape said...

I love this post so much. Thank you.

It occurs to me that there's an absolutely heartbreaking irony at the heart of this disconnect between idealized and actual American landscapes. The same politicians who constantly evoke the image of small-town America are making policy decisions that destroy small-town America. The folksier they get, the more they espouse land-use freedoms that lead to sprawl, franchising, placelessness.

Case in point: Sarah Palin's love of "Wasilla Main Street" and the way she cultivated it into an urban and environmental wasteland. http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/09/19/palin/index.html

"'Sarah’s legacy as mayor was big-box stores and runaway growth,' said Patty Stoll, a retired Wasilla schoolteacher... “The truth is, Wasilla is just plain ugly, it’s not a pleasant place to live. It’s not thought out. And that’s a shame.'"

These kind of politicians love small towns and wide open fields. They love them so much, apparently, that they think those landscapes can survive any kind of abuse. They love them and they destroy them.

And now I need a drink. Thank you BLDGBLOG!

October 12, 2008 3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The candidate went to a prison, to reach out to the one in a hundred Americans currently incarcerated."

October 12, 2008 7:35 PM  
Anonymous Chris Weagel said...

I think America is more suburban than outright urban at this point. Or, population-wise, it's very close.

I live in an older suburb of Detroit.

Here's my landscape as of 2005:
St Clair Shores Tour, 2005

October 19, 2008 11:40 AM  
Anonymous Arquitectura-g said...

Really interesting article, I don't know but it may be more impressive if you are american, from europe we see it from the distance and density.

October 20, 2008 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Neil said...

An incisive Harvard professor I used to be friends with had - I don't know if this is typical or not - access to Amazon's sales data and he could watch sales of his books in mapped real time after they made each appearance on National Public Radio or the like. He says that regardless of topic the strongs sales always responded in the northern Great Plains and intermountain north, with the trend sweeping downward as it made an L across Texas and the South Central states. I don't know how many of us urbanite pluggers "understand how cities work in the whatever" - roughly zero that I've met - but the professor's conclusion over time was that rural America has more free time and more disposable income to become better informed than those Americans who feel their environment is making them privy to knowledge. If the hurried multitasking of we in this forum is any witness, he's right.

November 02, 2008 6:59 PM  
Anonymous djmedinah@yahoo.com said...

All of these comments, more or less, add some value to the post. But what is really incredible is a throwaway line in the post itself, concerning how the reason why presidential candidates go in search of older landscapes has something to do with the "electoral college." This is presented almost as a sideline, and most of the other posts seem to take note of it in the same way--a kind of wonderment. It is, one can only suppose, a real indictment of the American educational system that intelligent, thinking people (who else is reading this blog?) could really not understand why national campaigns go in search of a kind of mythical America. The answer is to be found in the Constitution itself, which even educated people are at best half-aware of these days: a vote in a rural state is worth several times one in an urban state. This is precisely why, for instance, Al Gore could win the popular vote and lose the election. Do you really think that politicians are just playing with fantasies about 1950s America, or whenever the "Golden Age" was? No. Politicians are quite aware of how, in particular, to win elections, and in America that means that Suzy the Diner Waitress' vote is worth a great deal more than yours, because electoral college votes underrepresent large population states and overrepresent small population ones. Politicians, that is, aren't the ones out of touch; urban leftists who aren't even aware that the game is rigged against them are.

November 22, 2008 4:21 AM  
Blogger spuck said...

Uh, well, not to rain on your parade, djmedinah, but since the electors line up in proportion to the seats in congress plus imaginary rep and senators for D.C., what you call a game is what you call rigged only on precisely the sense that the Senate is rigged, and I don't think anyone is seriously calling that wise move an underhanded or unjust one.

December 10, 2008 2:43 AM  

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