Can ‘Localism’ Restore Sanity to U.S. Politics?
April 11, 2018
I live in one of those old towns that was not built for cars. Its Main Street is narrow, hedged in with historic stone houses and walls. As commuter traffic has intensified over the past several years, it’s become increasingly dangerous to walk along Main Street.The mayor of my tiny Virginia town has worked incessantly to fix this, by fostering walkability and traffic-calming measures since he ran for town council in the 1990s. I’m determined to help him: I want to walk with my daughter to the playground or the farmer’s market without fearing for her safety.
Our mayor is liberal. He drives around town with an Obama ’08 bumper sticker on his car. I am a conservative, pro-life Christian; in 2016, I voted for Evan McMullin for president. But our partisan political differences mean nothing when it comes to caring for this town and making it better. Here at the local level, our interests intertwine: They are practical, achievable, even apolitical.
This is localism, a bottom-up, practically oriented way of looking at today’s biggest policy dilemmas. Instead of always or only seeking to fix municipal issues through national policy, localism suggests that communities can and should find solutions to their own particular problems, within their own particular contexts. The best walkability solutions for Washington, D.C., may not work in my town. Urban revitalization efforts in Detroit will need to look different than those efforts employed in rural Iowa.
If we’re to find hope and unity for our politics in this fractured era, localism may be the perfect place to start.
It hands ownership and power back to those who are most likely to feel hollowed out and powerless in the face of federal stasis. As the Brookings Institution fellows Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak write in their new book “The New Localism,” this approach empowers postindustrial cities and dying towns to fix their problems from within, without federal bureaucracy or funds…
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