I have to respond because Brook's column this morning is speaking directly to me.
"You may not know it to look at them, but urban planners are human and have dreams. One dream many share is that Americans will give up their love affair with suburban sprawl and will rediscover denser, more environmentally friendly, less auto-dependent ways of living."check, check, check ...
He goes on to say that while planners would like to impose "Amsterdam" on the American people, a new study by Pew indicates that Americans may not actually want that. I happen to think that David Brooks is one of the most vital public intellectuals on the scene right now, but I think he is misreading this data.
The trouble with building a case out of survey results of what people want is that, in real life, we cannot always get what we want. There are trade-offs, and the true test of a value system lies in what you are willing to give up to achieve your ideal. Do I want the 6000 sq. ft. palace or a 400 sq. ft. apartment? Uh ... I'll take the palace. I'd like there to be a wilderness preserve surrounding me, and I want to be within a 10 minute trip to healthy grocery stores. It would be nice if I could walk there. And I'm all for social equality and environmental sustainability too.
When the American dream is disaggregated and privatized ("what is your ideal community?") it makes it difficult to get a good grasp on what people are willing to give up to meet the social, environmental, and economic constraints of life here on earth.
This is not to knock the Pew study. These are important measurements, particularly the question of which cities are seen as ideal communities. It's also interesting that Americans see the ideal communities they have formed in their minds as superior to the one's they live in. It is, however, almost always the case that these surveys of ideal communities end up pointing toward a mish-mash of privatized quasi-utopias, that is American suburbia.
That's why this kind of "American Dream" is curious thing for a Conservative like Brooks to champion. Aren't Conservatives supposed to be the hard realists pulling the starry-eyed utopians away from their fantasy worlds of endless possibility? They are supposed to be concerned about the limits or human potential and the hard choices that come with economic constraints. As Brooks writes,
"They offer the dream, so characteristic on this continent, of having it all: the machine and the garden. The wide-open space and the casual wardrobes."Cast in this light, maybe the planners aren't so much the crazy idealists after all?