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Contra Kotkin

I was puzzled to see the normally astute Reihan Salaam stridently recommend an awful Joel Kotkin article from The Weekly Standard but didn't get a chance to write a rebuttal. Jeremy Reff does the trick nicely. Let me just note that deployment of "Euro-American" as an agit-prop term for people who live in dense northeastern cities is shameful, offensive, and unworthy of anyone who wants to be taken seriously in intellectual terms. It's just a kind of random slur. That aside, if you seriously can't tell the difference between old-school American cities and European ones, there's something deeply wrong with you and you have no business commenting on urban planning issues. Could anybody seriously confuse New York and Paris? Boston and Rome?

February 10, 2005 | Permalink


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Posted by: Shai | Feb 10, 2005 3:52:59 PM

"Euro-American" is a term already taken to refer to Americans of European ancestry -- i.e., most white Americans and many non-white Americans. The residents of Dallas are just as Euroamerican as the residents of NYC...

Posted by: Alex R | Feb 10, 2005 4:18:12 PM

Could anybody seriously confuse New York and Paris? Boston and Rome?

I think you're forgetting that much of the right-wing target audience has never visited any of those cities; or, if they have, it was only to hit a few tourist highlights.

Posted by: latts | Feb 10, 2005 4:23:40 PM

was that English?

Posted by: praktike | Feb 10, 2005 4:26:59 PM

As I have read and heard the term, it's used to "de-center" white ethnicity and put it on the same footing as others, including the hyphenated, e.g. African-, Asian-, Native or First American.

Posted by: Dabodius | Feb 10, 2005 4:27:11 PM

Ah, fixed already. Now I understand what you mean.

Posted by: praktike | Feb 10, 2005 4:27:20 PM

Fascinating. I had no idea that Silicon Valley was part of "Euro-America" and not an "aspirational" region. Somebody ought to tell all the aspiring Asian immigrants that one does seem to meet around here.

...not to mention the venture capitalists who obviously (*) haven't got the memo that we're all just rentier liberals resting on our laurels, living in our "luxury" 1200 sq.ft. ranch homes on 1/8 acre slices of paradise and thinking about opening up trendy shops and restaurants.

(*) "Silicon Valley’s share of national venture capital investment has continued to grow every year since 1995, rising from 14% that year to 35% by 2004."

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Feb 10, 2005 4:43:58 PM

If Reihan Salam's nose wasn't already brown, it certainly would be now for all the ass-kissing he does. Is it intended ironically? Salam also recommended a perfectly awful David Gelertner article on Disraeli in the Weekly Standard. Maybe he's angling for a job at the WS (editing Andrew Sullivan's letter page probably doesn't pay well), and putting his normal astuteness on hold.

Posted by: Ikram | Feb 10, 2005 4:53:24 PM

Didn't we have this same discussion about how great sprawling, suburban, highway-lined, and unwalkable cities were in the decade or so when Detroit, St. Louis, etc. ad nauseam were boasting about their "urban" planning marvels? Apparently, there are people who think those policies create long-term community gains.

This should be in the lifestyle section of a small town newspaper because it's just a rant about how people should move their aspirations to living a secluded life in the suburbs/country and having 2 kids, a heterosexual marriage, and a two-car garage.

It has no basis in serious policy analysis.

Posted by: Cole | Feb 10, 2005 5:23:07 PM

For the record, the article in question was fantastically dumb.

Posted by: praktike | Feb 10, 2005 5:30:54 PM

Joel Kotkin's article just tosses ridiculous unsupported things out there. What the hell are "gay bar subsidies". Seriously, what planet does he live on?

There is a legitamate point to be made about the difference between cities like Las Vegas where lower middle class can buy houses and places like the bay area that the middle class is effectively priced out of.

Posted by: joe o | Feb 10, 2005 5:33:20 PM

It has no basis in serious policy analysis.

Oh, wait. It was intended as serious policy analysis? And here I thought it was a rant about how I should move out of "Euro-America" and over to "aspirational" America, a land that differs from Euro-America in countless ways--among them the fact that paradoxically it contains a higher percentage of Americans of European descent.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Feb 10, 2005 5:34:08 PM

There is a legitamate point to be made about the difference between cities like Las Vegas where lower middle class can buy houses and places like the bay area that the middle class is effectively priced out of.

Indeed. But anyone who uses the terms "Euro" and "aspirational" to signify the contrast had better be prepared for laughter that ensues among the non-aspirational Euro-Americans of downtown Cupertino.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Feb 10, 2005 5:37:15 PM

Wow, that's an absolutely terrible article.

Bordering on irrelevance, I'd hardly call my adopted home of Salt Lake City "aspirational". I'd use words more like theocratic, segregated, isolated, intellectually mediocre, and skier-riffic.

Posted by: ptm | Feb 10, 2005 5:38:33 PM

Could anybody seriously confuse New York and Paris?

C'mon it's simple.

If you step into something unpleasant, you're in paris. The saying is that if it's the left shoe, it brings good luck.

Posted by: yabonn | Feb 10, 2005 5:43:47 PM

What the hell are "gay bar subsidies".

Well, after they stopped giving the free Cadillacs to welfare mothers, they had to do something with the money, didn't they?

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Feb 10, 2005 5:47:25 PM

I really needed to save some of the vitriol I spent on Michael Lind's equally asinine (but shorter and embedded in a vaguely more plausible argument) arguments on the same subject. Shorter Lind/Kotkin: anyone who prioritizes different things than I do is un-American.

Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Feb 10, 2005 5:48:46 PM

One clue that Kotkin is probably not to be taken seriously is that his website's bio describes him as, among other things, a "futurist."

Really, the article is stunning in its incoherence. I didn't, however, find it to be an example of "crude economic determinism" (as Jeremy Reff suggests). It's nothing nearly as systematic as that! It's methodology seems to consist of a kind of school-yard Hegelianism, according to which any concurrent occurances can be linked casually, along with some gay-bashing thrown in. It's what you would get if Derb from NRO ever had a child with Alvin Toffler's wife.

Posted by: PJS | Feb 10, 2005 5:52:43 PM

Tying this to a previous thread, Kotkin's article is just irrational red state nationalism (or tribalism if you prefer), dressed up in a pseudo-factual argument.
I find it hard to believe this article was written with the idea of persuading anyone. Its real purpose is to pander to the already converted, and enhance their sense of superiority.

Posted by: RC | Feb 10, 2005 6:52:26 PM

So are Europeans the new group of foreigners to be afraid of now? I think playing the "conservatives are racists/xenophobic" card is pretty lame but Matt is right. He was just using "Euro" as a flat out slur.

Oh and ....a widely circulated editorial entitled "It's the Cities, Stupid" in The Stranger, a Seattle alternative weekly,...

Can an alternative weekly really be widely circulated?

Posted by: Jeff | Feb 10, 2005 8:02:02 PM

Kotkin used to be featured prominently in the LA Times Opinion section, he is a windbag.

Could anybody seriously confuse New York and Paris?

Really. One is across the street from the Bellagio and the other is further down the Strip by the Luxor.

Posted by: Delicious Pundit | Feb 10, 2005 8:23:22 PM

Isn't this just David Brooks' chuckleheadery taken one step further? Maybe Kotkin's angling for Safire's seat at the NYT, or maybe the Standard's just looking for someone to reheat Brooks' leftovers.

Posted by: Adam M | Feb 10, 2005 8:50:03 PM

Just to demonstrate that not all right-wingers are kooks about cities, take a look at this extremely astute (and sensible) rant from Reason:

Live Free and Die of Boredom: Is “economic freedom” just another word for nothing left to do? .

Posted by: David Sucher | Feb 11, 2005 1:05:52 AM

I want to make sure that folks don't miss Nick Gillespie's "money quote" in that Reason rant which I cite above, so here it is:

"The simple fact is that many people—arguably most people, if population patterns are any indication—are ready, willing, and able to pay a steep premium to live in more densely populated places where things inevitably cost more money and take more time, where there are more regulations, higher taxes, bigger annoyances, you name it."

This man understands cities.

Posted by: David Sucher | Feb 11, 2005 1:19:59 AM

BTW, can anyone explain to me this difference between a "suburb," an "exurb," and an "edge city"? It was all the suburbs or "the sticks," when I was growing up.

Posted by: Michael | Feb 11, 2005 11:39:21 AM

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