The urban settlement is a single species
Thank you for writing this. It puts into words a feeling I have long had. I was really into American history long before I found urbanism in college. I have long struggled with a sense that we lost something truly great about the past times where virtually everywhere wanted to *be* somewhere. It was prosperous and productive and worthy of bragging to build a railroad or a new town hall or a paved street or some sign that you were living in the next big place.
"Devil in the White City" details this late 19th century obsession and adoration for dynamism perfectly. St Louis wanted to beat Chicago for "biggest Midwestern city". Chicago desperately wanted to show it was a competitor to New York and not a cold, small burned down has-been. Dozens of other cities all wanted the prestigious title of having had figured out how to handle millions of tourists and hundreds of thousands of temporary construction jobs in a race against time. Now it is a generationally-defining event to get cities with good jobs to begrudgingly allow some new houses to replace parking lots and shuttered storefronts.
I grew up in a small town which does usually come with the benefit of being instilled with a little sense of wonder at growth. It was the talk of the county for almost a decade that the old bowling alley was going to be converted into an In-n-Out. But outside of the wonder of a new fast food chain, or a new store (we were equally impressed when the 8 years of planning and negotiating brought a Costco to the county seat) you just don't have that feeling that growing and getting bigger, while challenging, is good.
Much is made of the southwest and red states for being "better" on land use than California. I think there are specific examples where this is true (quick, someone mention Houston) but you see most of the planning apparatus is there, the cities have just not yet run out of nearby virgin land and highway funds. I'm sure rezoning and upzoning Dallas and Phoenix and Florida will be just as hard when their strip malls struggle and their housing is no longer so cheap. What does seem to make those places (or at least the one I now call home, Las Vegas) different from coastal liberal cities is that there is a much stronger air of celebrating growth. Overwhelming, the people of Las Vegas are happy that we are poaching Oakland's teams (conveniently for me I moved from the bay area at the same time, so they are coming with me) and California's housing money (though people are increasingly blaming Californians for all their problems and the traffic on I-15.)
I have to wonder how we can re-ignite this desire to grow, to be big, to be better and to achieve things in the cities already in great positions to do so. That's my hope with the YIMBY movement and the fledgling "supply side leftism" that I see trying to establish itself. Let's make a better, bigger world.