The Doddering Deifiers of Density—Part 1

John Mirisch
Councilmember and former three term mayor of Beverly Hills

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has ever observed the cult that Yimbys and other assorted density fetishists would react reflexively any time the word “density” is mentioned in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Clearly, they are concerned that concerns about the potential impacts of density could cloud their agenda, which is aimed at limiting our collective array of housing choices, dictating that we should all live in multifamily housing and effectively eradicating single-family homes.

The fact that human beings themselves are the vectors responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic simply doesn’t dovetail with the “density is destiny” dogma.

Not only did Joel Kotkin’s op-ed on Covid-19 and density unleash a torrent of Yimby ridicule, invective and ad hominem attacks (ranging from calling Kotkin a “cretin” to a whole lot worse), it seemed to create new horizons in smug sarcasm.

The mockery went far beyond Kotkin, who seems to be a frequent target for the Yimbys since he doesn’t buy into their ideology of urban supremacism*.  They had plenty in reserve for New York governor Andrew Cuomo in response to his audacity to ascribe the high Covid-19 infection rates in New York to “density.’  The Yimby meme creators and density-obsessed op-ed writers were out in full force making fun of and blaming Governor Cuomo.

(*Urban supremacism is the opposite of urban humanism.  It is an extreme and doctrinaire brand of urbanism which is focused on the growth of megatropolises, often consciously with the understanding that this would be done at the expense of smaller and mid-size cities throughout the country. Treating human beings as interchangeable pieces, urban supremacism aims to force everyone into levels of density mandated by the high priests of the doctrine, eliminating personal choice and anything they don’t consider “dense enough.”  One major aim of urban supremacism is to eradicate single-family homes, which true believers consider to be inherently “racist” and “immoral.”  

Urban supremacists have an evangelical belief in the superiority and inevitability of megatropolises and oppose any concepts of economic balance and geographic equity, which would look to “deconcentrate opportunity” and instead would create opportunities in a wide, dynamic variety of cities throughout the country.  Urban humanists want cities and communities throughout the country of all sizes — with a wide diversity of urban landscapes and unique identities — to thrive.  Urban supremacists look at anything but megatropolises as a waste of “economic potential.”  Finally, urban supremacists look to coopt the term “urbanist,” as for them the only kind of urbanism which has any value is their own brand of megatropolis urbanism.   According to the urban supremacists, megatropolises are the true beacons of growth, with no natural end to the potential offered by the urban manifest destiny they see in the future of their ever-growing megatropolises.  Not surprisingly, urban supremacists have the financial backing of Wall St. and Big Tech, who in the name of profits and control, support the one-size-fits-all measures mandated by the urban supremacist orthodoxy).  

In pointing the finger at Cuomo’s lack of leadership, and (presumably DeBlasio’s) lack of preparedness for New  York City’s Covid infection rates and deaths, the author tries to make the point that a pandemic tragedy is not “inevitable” in New York because of – or in spite of – its density.  The point the article, almost desperately, tries to make is that: “New York isn’t unsafe by design.”

The masterful conclusion: NY isn’t unsafe by design; (it’s only unsafer, requiring massive public resources to make it less unsafe).

Talk about trying to twist things not to contradict in any way the accepted dogma and veer, even if involuntarily, into heresy.  Talk about trying to have one’s cake and eat it too by singing hosannas to density’s purported benefits, and at the exact same time trying to deny the very essence of urban density when it comes to the potential downsides.

Almost reflexively, California state senator Scott Wiener, whose campaign treasury is flush with funds from Big Tech and developers, and who is one of the main apostles of forced density and urban supremacism, unleashed a Twitter storm denying any connection between urban density and the spread of Covid-19 after Cuomo’s (and others’) statements.

Making use of President Trump’s and their own favorite playground, Twitter, the Yimbys continue to attempt to confuse the issue by suggesting that it wasn’t density, but overcrowding that was really behind the spread of the virus.

A Richard Scarryesque Yimby meme which purports to show there is a “difference” between overcrowding and density takes a page out of the Trump/Roy Cohn playbook, actually suggesting that density is, in reality, the “solution.”  

Yes, overcrowding is a distinct concept from density.  But overcrowding is not mutually exclusive from density; in fact, overcrowding can exacerbate the impacts of density.  Even eliminating overcrowding, which of course in and of itself is a worthy goal, wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the potential role of density in the spread of highly infectious diseases.

And yet.  Invoking overcrowding is not going to change the definition and intent of urban density, nor is it going to nullify the dictates of logic.

Here’s the thing the urban supremacists cannot overcome despite all of their attempts to obfuscate and change the narrative: the whole point of urban density is to bring people physically closer together.  The proximity of people inherent in various levels of density also accounts for many of the benefits of density and urban living.  How ironic that the Yimbys, who view human beings as widgets within their urban planning schemes, are here consciously ignoring the role of human beings as vectors by which other human beings can be infected.

Of course, there are many dynamic factors when it comes to the spread of a disease, including, of course, human behavior, but to suggest that person-to-person proximity is not a factor when it comes to the spread of Covid-19 is disingenuous at best.  The knee-jerk reactions of the Yimbys to suggestions that there may be downsides to density are also understandable, as they call into question the entire raison d’etre for their cult.  Like most cults, Yimbyism is ultimately about money, and if density is not a silver bullet, if in fact it is a factor to be overcome (at great expense) in reining in a pandemic, then there are all sorts of bottom-line ramifications for the further commodification of housing through statutory density (aka “free air rights”).   Expect Yimbys to attack local communities and double down on density, as even more of it will now be necessary to maximize the profits of their Wall St. and Big Tech patrons.

And – voila! – a doubling-down is just what we get with Carol Galante’s Manichean Yimby homily, “Now is the time to embrace density.”  Is anyone really surprised that she preemptively ignores the very real possibility that there could be significant changes in a post-Covid world, including the increasing prevalence of telecommuting, as well as how such changes could inform and impact urban planning going forward?  Small wonder that Galante brags about how when she was a young urban planner, she worked to make projects more “financially feasible for developers.”  Clearly, throughout her entire career, she has understood on which side her bread is buttered.  

Of course, when people like Carol Galante recite catechism and talk about “embracing density,” they don’t clarify the degree and intensity of density.  But it is clear: for them it is a religion rather than a matter of taste or good policy.  It clearly isn’t – and shouldn’t be – a matter of personal choice.

 

John Mirisch has served on the Beverly Hills City Council since 2009.  He has served as mayor three times, but is currently enjoying his role as a garden-variety councilmember.

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