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NYTimes.com Article: Op-Ed Columnist: Take a Ride to Exurbia

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  • rickrise@earthlink.net
    The article below from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by rickrise@earthlink.net. From one of the NYT s conservative columnists rickrise@earthlink.net
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 8, 2004
      The article below from NYTimes.com
      has been sent to you by rickrise@....

      From one of the NYT's conservative columnists


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      Op-Ed Columnist: Take a Ride to Exurbia

      November 9, 2004

      Orlando, Fla.� About six months ago I came out with a book
      on the booming exurbs - places like the I-4 corridor in
      central Florida and Henderson, Nev. These are the places
      where George Bush racked up the amazing vote totals that
      allowed him to retain the presidency.

      My book started with Witold Rybczynski's observation that
      America's population is decentralizing faster than any
      other society's in history. People in established suburbs
      are moving out to vast sprawling exurbs that have broken
      free of the gravitational pull of the cities and now exist
      in their own world far beyond.

      Ninety percent of the office space built in America in the
      1990's was built in suburbia, usually in low office parks
      along the interstates. Now you have a tribe of people who
      not only don't work in cities, they don't commute to cities
      or go to the movies in cities or have any contact with
      urban life. You have these huge, sprawling communities with
      no center. Mesa, Ariz., for example, has more people than
      St. Louis or Minneapolis.

      In my book I tried to describe the culture in these places
      - the office parks, the big-box malls, the travel teams and
      the immigrant enclaves. But when it came to marketing the
      book, I failed in two important ways.

      I couldn't figure out how to tell the people in exurbia
      that I had written a book about them. Here I was writing
      about places like Loudoun County, Va., and Polk County,
      Fla., but my book tour took me to places like downtown
      Philadelphia, downtown Seattle and the Upper West Side. The
      places I was writing about are so new, and civic life is as
      yet so spare, there are few lecture series or big libraries
      to host author talks. The normal publishing infrastructure
      is missing.

      I was about to give a reading in Berkeley when I asked a
      few of the bookstore employees if they sold many copies of
      Rick Warren's book, "The Purpose-Driven Life." They weren't
      familiar with the book, even though it has sold millions
      and millions of copies. I realized there are two
      conversations in this country. I was in the establishment
      conversation, but somehow I needed to get into the Rick
      Warren conversation and I could never find a way.

      That's why I'm so impressed by Karl Rove. As a group of
      Times reporters demonstrated in Sunday's paper, the
      Republicans achieved huge turnout gains in exurbs like the
      ones in central Florida. The Republicans permeated those
      communities, and spread their message.

      My second failure is that I could never get my parts of
      blue America really curious about exurban culture. There
      were exceptions. For example, when Al From of the centrist
      Democratic Leadership Council learned what I was writing
      about, he was right on it, inviting me to speak to
      Democratic groups to describe the importance of the exurbs.
      He knew how vital they would be.

      But I couldn't get most of the people I spoke to really
      fascinated, even in an anthropological sense, by these new
      places. That's in part because I was struggling against a
      half-century of stereotyping. Movies from "The Graduate" to
      "American Beauty" have reinforced the idea that the suburbs
      are bland, materialistic, ticky-tacky boxes in a hillside
      where people are conformist on the outside and hollow
      within. The stereotype is absurd, but it closes off fresh

      The other problem I had is that I didn't adequately
      describe the oxymoronic attraction these places have for
      millions of people. On the one hand, people move to exurbs
      because they want some order in their lives. They leave
      places with arduous commutes, backbreaking mortgages,
      broken families and stressed social structures and they
      head for towns with ample living space, intact families,
      child-friendly public culture and intensely enforced social
      equality. That's bourgeois.

      On the other hand, they are taking a daring leap into the
      unknown, moving to towns that have barely been built,
      working often in high-tech office parks doing pioneering
      work in biotech and nanotechnology. These exurbs are
      conservative but also utopian- Mayberrys with BlackBerrys.

      The Republicans won in part because Bush and Rove
      understand this culture. Everybody is giving advice to
      Democrats these days, and mine is don't take any advice
      from anybody with access to the media - including me, just
      to be safe.

      Get out into the sprawl, into that other conversation. Take
      your time. It's a new world out there.



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