Housing Democrats

Why Democratic mayors must build America's cities by establishing an urban real estate cartel

Why not launch a new type of top-down urban identity politics, in which Democratic cities as a whole are never taken advantage of by the same developer twice?

Leaders of cities such as San Francisco and Berkeley -- which have long yearned to influence policy nationally -- could make their views known to developers about how it would do wonders for the environment, improve cities, and, coincidentally, boost Democratic chances to redevelop a brownfield in Cleveland. If such a mention occurred in a conversation that also touched on the subject of possibilities for developing large swaths of underused land in eastern San Francisco, or western Berkeley, would that be so wrong?

For this to happen, though, Berkeley -- which voted 90 percent for John Kerry -- might need to abandon the ultra-NIMBY stance that has so far prevented dense, multistory development in its downtown, along University Avenue, on San Pablo Avenue, and in its western, postindustrial bayside. Such national influence would also require removing the local impediments to approving development rights for building high-rise housing in San Francisco's eastern area, along Geary Boulevard, and down the city's other main transit corridors, many of which are now lined by single-story cinder-block buildings of little utility and no architectural significance.

Here's a new arm-twisting role for U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi: When career-minded mayors yield to anti-urban-infill neighborhood groups -- as, for instance, Gavin Newsom has yielded -- the national party should punish them politically.

And here's a way for environmental leaders to rise from the dead: When self-styled leftists block the permitting of urban apartment projects -- as Sophie Maxwell and anti-growth progressives have sought to do with legislation up for a Board of Supervisors vote Tuesday, which would prohibit new mixed-use apartment developments in the abandoned and semiabandoned postindustrial space around Potrero Hill -- yank their moral authority with celebrity-studded press conferences, nationwide letter-writing campaigns, and urbanism-themed calendars and postcards.

"To aspire to neutrality is to accept your own death," Werbach said Wednesday, as he urged environmentalists to take left-friendly positions outside their own interest groups. The same could be said for Democratic leaders, environmentalist and otherwise, who must adopt a strong, pragmatic, and unified stance in the struggle to grow America's cities, or risk extinction.

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