Blue

This week, the state of Virginia goes to the polls. The outcome will be very interesting to watch from both a local and a national standpoint. It will be interesting to see how purple the traditionally conservative state has become, and the extent to which Northern Virginia is able to assert itself politically. As a Washingtonian, I’m hoping a bluer statehouse in Richmond will improve the rationality of the commonwealth’s policies on taxation and transportation.

As I was home watching the Redskins game yesterday, however, I got to see my first television advertisements for the campaigns, and it became clear how ugly an issue immigration has become in the NoVa suburbs. This distresses me, because while many of the counties surrounding Washington have moved left on a host of political issues, they continue to view immigration in a very restrictionist and punitive way that fails to resonate with most urban voters.

I had generally assumed that serious opposition to pro-immigrant policies was an economic phenomenon, the more tragic since it’s so often based on faulty assumptions about the economic costs of immigration. In recent weeks, however, I’ve begun to think the issue may be aesthetic, at least in suburban areas.

As best I can tell, a lot of the anger related to immigrant populations has to do with concerns over residential behavior. Immigrants tend to have different expectations about things like household size and use of suburban, residential land than their native neighbors. This breeds conflict, and leads to a lot of the local statutes on “overcrowding.” It’s interesting to contrast the dynamic with that in center cities. Crowded homes are par for the course in Washington; the group home is a time-worn and fun way of life for young urban professionals. Moreover, cityscapes are made to be chaotic messes. Row homes crowd together with small and large apartment buildings. Pupuserias look at home next to other random urban business jumbles. Households of all ages, incomes, and backgrounds mix–perhaps not easily but with great regularity.

Suburbs are a different story. Residential subdivisions have sameness built in; neighborhoods often strictly police decorative flourishes. Shopping centers are carefully manicured and share pre-planned facades, meant to be part of a whole. While suburban counties are often diverse, individual neighborhoods and subdivisions rarely are.

I don’t mean to put down suburbs with this assessment, but it’s interesting to imagine how urban design can influence social interactions.