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A new chapter for urbanism?

Citiwire's Neal Peirce, a pioneering journalist and father of urbanism, is moving on.
Citiwire's Neal Peirce

Citiwire's Neal Peirce Citiwire.net

Citiwire founder and syndicated columnist Neal Peirce, whose unique beat for four decades has been America's cities, announced last week that he is ending his Citiwire column. It’s not exactly the end of an era, but it is a good chance to pause to consider the one we are in.

All metropolitan-oriented reporting has been affected by Peirce's vigorous, honest, straightforward journalism. Sometimes "Cities" was a lonely national beat, but Peirce, originally a Connecticut Yankee, persevered, persuading others to join him. His current team of a half-dozen writers and commentators at Citiwire includes Seattle's Bill Stafford.

But he is not satisfied just to have mentored others. He also hints at the unveiling of a new project — an online international news service on cities. If that entails the use of stringers from urban areas globally, it could provide another fertile field for Peirce and his matchless network. 

In his final column, Peirce describes the 38 years he devoted to Citiwire — traveling the country and the world, reporting on urban problems and successes and offering lessons for urban policy makers. Early on he conducted "city studies" that regional newspapers sponsored to give locals a sense of how they were doing in reference to other U.S. cities. (One on Seattle, in 1989, was sponsored by the Seattle Times and co-authored by Betty Jane Narver and Curtis W. Johnson.) 

Crucial to the Peirce approach is reporting on several urban themes at once in any place: education, transportation, business climate, taxation, amenities and especially the role of community leadership — from citizen activists to elected officials. But Neal's fascination with cities goes back even further than 1975, when he started his column.

When I first got to know him in the early 60s, he was a young reporter in Washington, D.C. with the Congressional Quarterly, describing political developments across the country, district by district. Those were the days of "clipping services," which perused local papers, then collected and sent you copies of articles on topics you had given them. They, along with long distance phone calls and a great many puddle-hopping flights to keep in touch with local wise men —whom he collected — gave Peirce an advantage over other national reporters. 

In short order, his geographical knowledge of politics became intimate and encyclopedic. Accordingly, his pre-election predictions were reliably insightful — based not just on polls, but personally compiled information. What the late Samuel Lubell was to door-to-door opinion surveys in the 50s and 60s, Peirce became to city reporting. Eventually, he grew bored with state and local politics as such and began to extrapolate patterns of change that yielded policy ideas from immediate local conditions. Along the way, he helped found the National Journal as a competitor to Congressional Quarterly and was picked up by the Washington Post Writers Group, the Seattle Times and other papers that gave him well-deserved respect. 

Peirce was an early prophet of what was to be called "the new urbanism," the human scale qualities that make certain urban neighborhoods (and small towns) more congenial than urban blight or sprawling suburbs.

Over time, he grew more liberal as I grew more conservative. An especial antagonist of the automobile, Peirce declined to applaud the replacement of Seattle’s Alaska Way Viaduct with a bored tunnel. He would have preferred that people take transit and cabs, the way he does in Washington, D.C. But regardless of the liberalism of his ideas, they are most often framed differently. Peirce tends to place himself on the side of the local and tangible over the big and abstract — sometimes a more important divide than the conventional right versus left.

You could say that Neal Peirce and his beat came in with Jane Jacobs and "The Life and Death of Great American Cities" (1961) and is going out with Rod Dreher and the Crunchy Cons. Except that he is not going out, just on.

It takes exactly such good men and women — individuals of intelligent dedication — to make communities livable. 

Bruce Chapman, Founding Fellow and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute, was U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Organizations in Vienna during the Reagan Administration.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Oct 7, 10:25 p.m. Inappropriate

I've noticed that downtown streets go in two directions. Clearly the result of intelligent design. Cavemen rode dinosaurs like cowboys.That crosscut chooses to publish this snake oil salesman does it no credit.

John_D

Posted Tue, Oct 8, 8:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Sure John, censorship, that's the ticket. Publish only voices and people you agree with -- you must be part of the tolerant "progressive" crowd.

Posted Tue, Oct 8, 1:45 p.m. Inappropriate

You used to comment under the name NotFan didn't ya? He used the word progressive disparagingly in virtually every comment.

John_D

Posted Tue, Oct 8, 1:44 p.m. Inappropriate

I didn't call for Crosscut to censor anyone. I am simply pointing out that when a publication publishes a discredited snake oil salesman it doesn't enhance its reputation.

The Discovery Institute represents itself as a libertarian think tank yet its main activity is attempting to compell the teaching of "Intelligent Design" in public schools and included in textbooks. It dishonestly argues that ID is not re-branded creationism. Bruce Chapman is a leader in the ID movement and since he is promoting a dishonest argument it doesn't speak well for his credibility on any other issue.

As far as me being a progressive--labels don't mean anything these days. Republicans are not conservative in any traditional definition of that word nor are the Democrats really liberal.

John_D

Posted Tue, Oct 8, 4:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Are all the people you disagree with dishonest?

kieth

Posted Tue, Oct 8, 9:20 p.m. Inappropriate

No.

John_D

Posted Tue, Oct 8, 5:35 p.m. Inappropriate

I appreciate Bruce Chapman's appreciation of Neal Peirce. The thing I've always loved about Peirce's work is its focus on local government, local issues, up-from-the-bottom trends and innovations. Far too few national columnists have focused on this and local is where most of the action is, and a lot of the creativity. He has championed urbanism that isn't rooted in party, left-right or whatever, but in ideas and trend-spotting. I look forward to seeing his new project come to fruition.

Posted Tue, Oct 8, 6:59 p.m. Inappropriate

"The thing I always love about Neal Peirce's work is its focus on local government, local issues, up-from-the-bottom trends and innovations. Far too few national columnists have focused on this, local is where most of the action is, and a lot of creativity. Peirce has championed an urbanism not rooted in Party, Left-Right whatever, but (up)rooted in ideas and trend-spotting. I look forward to his new project fruition and appreciate Bruce Chapman's commendation piece."

This is called: Knute accepting an editor's rebuke mortified.
I AM OFTEN a credible editor but mostly a whistleblower.
=STOP THE DBT=
Or face fear above the dbt forever...

Wells

Posted Thu, Oct 10, 3:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Editted last paragraph above. Read it 'holes.

Wells

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