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Sunday, November 3, 2013

The New Federalism

My friends know that I am a libertarian when it comes to culture, a social democrat when it comes to economy, and a conservative republican when it comes to politics. All within limits that I have elsewhere spelled out.

By "conservative republican," I mean I am committed to conservation: resources, families, religion, ethnic diversity, history, neighborhoods. And I hold that political power belongs to publics--not to the church, not to the state, not to the rich, not to the ethnically advantaged, not to unengaged masses, not to the princes, not even to representatives. Publics are where people come together as equals to discuss and act on behalf of their interests, their values, and their associations. I think that conservative republicanism argues for an effort to build publics and create a new federalism among them.

The new federalism is a restatement of the "principle of subsidiarity"in Catholic Social Teaching: "human affairs should be handled by the lowest and least centralized level of authority possible." It ties to a central canon of community organizing: "don't do for others what they can do for themselves." It is of course balanced by the principle of solidarity through which the well-being and dignity of all are assured. (O would that the Church would apply its social teaching to itself! But that is another matter.)

Recently Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley wrote the "Metropolitan Revolution" to show how cities and suburbs are the new locus of power and can do what national government cannot. Good thesis but perhaps more the world as it should be, rather than it is. This excellent work is the harbinger of the new federalism.

In 1790 5% of the US population lived in cities. It is projected that in 2050, 95% will. Now the urban population is just over 80%. And the whole world is urbanizing rapidly. With cities come big problems with health, safety, education, mobility, equity. I just came back from a six month tour of cities in Europe and found that while languages, religious sensitivities, political parties, economic policies of nations are quite fragmenting, the cities share the common problems and possibilities and the best of cities are embracing new urbanist approaches that build on and respect their urban heritage. As Jaime Lerner, Brazilian former governor and mayor, said: The city is not the problem. It is the solution.

It is the solution, that is, if we design our cities correctly with the density that preserves land, water, energy, with the spaces that encourages diversity, interaction, and safety, with the amenities for mobility, recreation, education, and commerce. Civilization, civil society, civility, and citizenship are possible only through cities, the cives, from which they take their names. The city or polis is the place of political power where freedom occurs among citizens speaking and acting as equals to shape their state, their economy, and their culture.

In the new federalism, it is the alliance and interaction among metropolises that is crucial. The responsibility of the nation-state and in the US that means both the federal and state governments is to protect and foster great cities, large and small, as places of equity, mobility, economy, smart growth, and power. Cities should not be limited by the culture, politics, and economics of the state. Austin, Dallas, and Houston should be able to strike different paths than the one determined by Texas. Fresno and the Central Valley league of cities are not LA and its suburbs. Cleveland needs to include its suburbs in its development and visa versa and perhaps has to look to Akron and its prosperity while the state and national congresses play a supporting, not dominating role.

In the new federalism, it is the urbanizing region, like SE Michigan (Detroit Metro), the Washington DC region, the Mahoning Valley, the San Diego region, Metro Chicago that are members of the federation with direct access to the federal government. And the federation should not stop at national boundaries. Mexico City, Toronto, Vancouver and all the cities between should be a part of the federation.

How do we get to this new federalism? (To be continued)


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