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There is at least a third definition in the "fight", hinted at in some of the comments above: urbanism as referring specifically to the form of development, without being restricted by definition to areas within the political boundaries of large central cities. Given this definition, "suburbs" and "towns" located outside those boundaries may be more or less urban, and slogans like, "Future suburban developments should be more urban" make sense. What is the argument for this third definition? First, it is less arbitrary. For example, whether "dense, gridded, walkable, usually pre-war" neighborhoods fall within or rather outside the political boundaries of a given central city is dependent on things like local and state annexation/consolidation policies, as for that matter are whether many low-density, autocentric, post-WWII neighborhoods fall within those political boundaries. While the relative size and reach of the central municipal unit within a large metropolitan area is an independently interesting policy issue, it is not (I believe) what discussions about urbanism are really about. Second, it gives urbanism relevance outside of the sharply limited geographic areas located within the existing central cities' political boundaries. This is really quite important because even if there is a dramatic and sustained shift in population and development trends, it will still be the case that a very large percentage of future growth and development will occur somewhere outside those boundaries, and it would not be conducive to good policy outcomes if urbanism, simply by definition, had nothing to say about how that development occurs. Finally, in a related point, restricting urbanism to the political boundaries of large central cities also means restricting the political constituency for urbanist policies to the residents of large central cities. That can be a poor political strategy given the number of relevant policy decisions that are made at higher levels of government (county, metro, state, federal, and so on), particularly when you consider the first point above (that some central cities have not annexed/consolidated nearly as much of the local pre-WWII core area as others, and therefore contain a much lower percentage of their metro's population). For that last reason alone, this is an extremely serious issue. If you are an urbanist who happens to live within the political boundaries of your local central city, and particularly if your local central city has been relative expansive, you may not immediately see why this matters. But you really will be alienating a very large number of potential allies if you insist that true urbanism cannot happen outside of such political boundaries, enough such that within many counties, metros, states, and in fact nationally, you would be making urbanists into a permanent political minority by definition.
Toggle Commented Jan 14, 2014 on word wars: urbanism, urban at Human Transit
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