Saturday, July 16, 2005

Local democracies

In 1963, Mel Webber published "Order and Diversity: Community without Propinquity." In this and related papers, he noted:

"The enlarged freedom to communicate outside one's place-community that the emerging technological and institutional changes promise, coupled with an ever-increasing mobility and ever-greater degrees of specialization, will certainly mean that urbanites will deal with each other over greater and greater distances. The spatial patterns of their interactions with others will undoubtedly be increasingly disparate, less and less tied to the space in which they reside or work, less and less marked by the unifocal patters that marked cities in an earlier day. ... I contend that we have been searching for the wrong grail, that the values associated with the desired urban structure do not reside in the spatial structure per se. One pattern of settlement is superior to another only as it better serves to accommodate ongoing social processes and to further the nonspatial ends of the political community ..."

This morning, I found this from Randy Cohen: "The congressman from $37,000 ... Why shouldn't our political districts reflect our incomes instead of our ZIP codes? ... Because it is our 1040s not our ZIP Codes that best express our political interests, congressional districts should be re-imagined to comprise not the people who happend to live within a few miles of one another, but whose earn within a few dollars of one another."

Granted we would be rid of re-districting controversies and granted Webber's prescient insights from over 40 years ago, Cohen's proposal scares me for its class warfare assumptions and implications.

Why not the other extreme? Just as modern data and computing can carve districts that provide safe havens for incumbents, we could also write code to draw geographically cogent and compact districts that maximize the income diversity of the voters.

Congressional (and perhaps local) politics would be more about finding common ground than manning the barricades. Representatives might have to spend more time in their districts and they might have to help to develop common visions rather than exploiting anatgonisms.