Fighting alienation, new urbanism, and working class neighborhoods

BY:Zach Carlson| May 19, 2024
Fighting alienation, new urbanism, and working class neighborhoods


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

Of the myriad of issues facing our working class recently, one I have seen little attention given to is what I’m calling the burgeoning New Urbanism Movement. Over the past few years, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic, people from all backgrounds have found a new interest in urban design, study, and development. The general interest and demand of these groups revolve around improving pedestrian and bike safety, reducing urban sprawl, encouraging mass and public transit, encouraging infill development, and up-zoning urban areas. It also goes beyond the figurative, and literal, nuts and bolts of urban design. This movement encourages community connections asking its members to talk to their neighbors, become active in their local neighborhoods, and discuss day-to-day policies that affect how they live and experience their town, city, or neighborhood. This New Urbanism Movement has been spearheaded by national groups like Strong Towns, local groups like the Bloomington Revivalists, established prior to their Strong Towns affiliation, and the Chattanooga Urbanist Society, and individual content creators like Not Just Bikes, City Nerd, City Beautiful, Oh The Urbanity, Alan Fisher, and many more smaller content creators.

In a brief overview of the urban development and design in the United States, we have abandoned city centers, urban cores, and tight knit working-class neighborhoods for the suburbs largely since the 1950s. Using Strong Towns’ language, this is the start of the “suburban experiment” where vast amounts of people moved out of the city and into these newly constructed residential centers focused around single family homes and the automobile. The reasons for this are numerous. In part, there was an objective need for new and increased housing stock, and it was cheap to do so. However, there was also a want from white Americans to escape the “crime ridden and dirty” cities for clean secluded suburbs that, also conveniently, did not include any minorities or the working poor. Following these developments those in charge had to find a way to move people from where they lived in the suburbs to the city center to work. Racist city planners then established new highway routes through “blighted” neighborhoods to quickly bring white workers from their homes to the city center without ever driving through these areas. Home, to work, to back home, and nothing else in between. These “blighted neighborhoods” also happened to be largely minority, mixed, and working-class areas in the country’s many cities. This style of development has continued to this day.

Some may be asking, “So what? That’s for some city planner to worry about.” Urban development has been a direct contributor to both our party’s success and decline. Our strong, dense, close-knit, working-class neighborhoods prior to the 50s helped elect working class champions to office such as Huey Long, Victor L. Berger, Frank Zeidler, Ben Davis, and Peter V. Cacchione. It allowed our Unemployment Councils to more easily create mass demonstrations and protests, re-homing evicted families during the 30s. It made union organizing easier, not having to drive 30 minutes out in 7 different directions to talk to 4 separate workers. Conversely, suburban development drove the party’s supporters out into isolated and alienated areas, gutting some of our core neighborhood support while reducing our access to the public space.

The New Urbanism Movement also helps address many of the concerns raised prior in convention discussion, particularly climate change. It shifts our cities’ development to reduce sprawl that consumes farmland and nature areas, encourages public transit and biking, and reclaims abandoned spaces. All push back against the systems that accelerate climate change. A typical suburban single-family home produces far more emissions than a transit oriented single-family home, even less for multi-family developments that can range from duplexes to high-rises. It also helps address our housing crisis and fights against racial housing disparities. It can help clubs build their neighborhood connections. It would also help eventually run our own candidates and launch electoral campaigns.

The New Urbanist Movement, however, needs more working class and principally left influences. As mentioned prior, people of all backgrounds have been involved in this. That includes realtors, landlords, developers, libertarians, and the ever so annoying liberal. A Current Affairs article dove into the short comings of Strong Towns, calling it “right-libertarianism dressed in progressive garb.” Their focus on market-based solutions, “small bets” and reforms, and ‘economic vitality’ can often ignore the needs of the working class, disregard concerns of gentrification, and, while cognizant, not actually address systemic economic, racial, and gender inequalities. This is where our principled working-class perspectives are needed. Do we allow these groups go on beautification campaigns or do we make them tackle absentee landlords that let their buildings decay?

We should not turn away from or ignore this fight. There is no shame in being a “Sewer Socialist,” to learn about, advocate, and organize for urban development. Dorothy Healey, long time member and leader in Southern California, spent days and nights learning tax code when she ran for county tax assessor in 1965. She received 89,000 votes running on a platform against regressive taxing structures, where working class folks paid a greater percent in property than their wealthy counterparts, offered rebates to senior renters, and increasing the industrial property tax rate to make up the difference. If we ever wish to run for city, county, or state government, we need to know how the systems operate. We must offer material solutions to people’s problems.

This is only the briefest overview of the importance and need to engage in the new urbanist movement to retake our communities for the working class from the automobile.

To this end I ask the party to:

  • Make a concerted effort in joining with the New Urbanist Movement to ensure a working-class character.
  • Ensure the New Urbanist Movement intersects other movements for environmentalism, racial justice, gender equity, and queer liberation.
  • Task the Political Action Commission to create an introduction on city governance and issues.
  • Task the Education Commission with creation of a Marxist urbanism series or subcommittee.
  • Encourage all members to get to know their neighbors!



    Zach is chair of the Illinois Bloomington-Normal club. He holds a Master’s of Science in History with a focus on 20th Century left, labor, and party history. He is also a union delegate with the Chicago IWW.

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