Conventional wisdom has it that progressives champion urbanity and conservatives disdain it. There’s some truth to that. Progressives are far more likely than conservatives to prefer walkable, high-density communities over auto-dependent, detached-dwelling neighborhoods. Urban areas tend to vote heavily Democratic and rural areas Republican. Even in the more-competitive suburbs, those closest to downtowns tilt blue while outer-ring suburbs and exurbs are red.

But in day-to-day life, the polarities aren’t so stark. For example, plenty of both conservatives and progressives work in downtown offices, dine or go to shows downtown, and then spend most nights and weekends elsewhere. We may disagree about transportation or zoning policy, but few wish anything other than vitality and success for our major urban centers.

For these reasons and more, I confess to being dismayed at how much damage progressive politicians are blithely wreaking on their downtowns, in North Carolina and beyond.

COVID-19 was going to be a challenge for the neo-urbanist movement regardless of how policymakers responded. A viral disease that spreads primarily by lengthy interactions in confined spaces — people sharing buses, trains, offices or small apartments — was always going to hit downtowns particularly hard.

They aren’t the only places that fit the profile, of course. Immigrants working in rural processing plants and residing in tight quarters would be one example. Nursing and rest homes have proved to be a more tragic one, given the extreme disproportionality of COVID-19 death rates. For non-elderly persons, remember, the disease is no more lethal than other, more-familiar flu-like illnesses, according to the available evidence.

Still, fear of contagion would have depopulated transit vehicles, central business districts and other familiar features of downtown life for a while, at least, even if governments had not responded with draconian, indiscriminate lockdowns.

But they did.

And then, contrary to common sense and their own interests, progressive politicians allowed the protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death to devolve, in all too many cases, into rioting. They deployed city police officers poorly, or not at all, to protect downtown businesses. They made excuses for or sometimes even endorsed the actions of violent mobs that attacked public facilities and monuments.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone owning a downtown business, restaurant, bar or condo. They enjoy urban living. They’ve invested substantial time and resources into it. They’ve watched as state and local governments, understandably concerned in the face of a novel coronavirus, shut down large swaths of that urban life — shopping districts, theaters and concert venues, restaurants, the nightclub scene. Weeks later, they watch as many of the same politicians either look the other way or, more appallingly, seem to cheer as angry activists gathered in already depopulated downtowns to engage in mischief or criminality.

Would you be enthusiastic about investing more time and resources there? Or would you start looking for someone else to live, work and run a business?

Alas, the wherewithal to make such decisions is not equally distributed. Many of those with the means to relocate homes and enterprises to the suburbs will do so. Moreover, some jobs are better suited to telecommuting than others. They are also disproportionately held by higher-income individuals who enjoy significant social and political capital.

The guiding principles of modern American progressivism include egalitarianism and cosmopolitanism. I believe the consequences of COVID-19 and the 2020 riots will advance neither principle.

For modern American conservatives, whose guiding principles include defense of freedom and respect for tradition, the consequences of COVID-19 and the 2020 riots are also unwelcome. But we aren’t the ones who used a policy sledgehammer on a public-health threat best addressed with surgical tools. And we aren’t the ones who flailed around as the initial burst of righteous indignation at the death of George Floyd turned into looting, vandalism, and a new, more extreme and irrational form of cancel culture.

Our urban cores will struggle to recover from all this — as will the reputations of the urban politicians who form the core of today’s American Left.

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John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN.”

(3) comments


"It is frankly sad that the Watauga Democrat would allow this to be printed," they said so they could suppress any unpleasant opinions.

What's next? Censorship?

That's what we are really talking about here.

Fortunately, we live in the United States where differing opinions and ideas are not only relevant, they are our Rights.

Mr. Hood's article has everything to do with Boone. Open your eyes! It's a wonder a business can even survive in Boone. The local liberal government is in the process of ruining the gem of a city we have/had. Additionally, they are on a mission to defund the police. The wonderful police we are fortunate to have in our community. I'm hopeful more people in the community start to speak up and will NOT be silenced any longer by people like you.


Please do elaborate. Please explain *exactly* how the local "liberal" gvt. is ruining Boone...

I'm happy to wait.

You've done nothing but complain on here for weeks on end, yet you never respond when your points are proven to be ill-conceived; you simply continue to spout your opinion over and over and over again, never backing it up with a shred of data/evidence/examples.

So, please, provide some solid reasoning as to exactly why Boone is in such dire straights, as you see it.

*Note* I'm not being the least bit sarcastic here, I simply want to *try* and understand your point of view, that's all, but you've provided very little evidence up to this point.

Watauga Local

I'm sorry, but this opinion piece has so little to do with Watauga County. We can all have our own opinions on Covid-19 restrictions but in Boone, all protests have been completely peaceful. If Mr. Hood does not agree with the policies of the governor or the various local governments, at the bare minimum he should offer another plan to fight Covid-19 without increasing the number of cases.

Mr. Hood also does not display any sort of nuance in his discussion of "left" politics in this country. Applying the label of "progressive" and "leftist" to the predominantly neo-liberal politicians that he takes issue with, shows a complete unwillingness to actually engage with the policies and actions of those he is concerned with.

He also engages in the downplaying of Covid-19 symptoms and the death toll. It is frankly sad that the Watauga Democrat would allow this to be printed. Speaking as someone who has had Covid-19, I would not wish it on my worst enemy. Something doesn't have to kill you to ruin your life.

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