Who are the ‘urbanists,’ anyway?

Aaron Renn has a provacative post, asking if “urbanism is the new trickle-down economics.” He writes:

Have urbanists used this as a call to arms to put all of their energy into helping those left behind in the knowledge/creative class economy? No. Instead, urban advocates have gone the other direction, locking onto this in a reductionist way to develop a set of policies I call “Starbucks urbanism.” That is, the focus is on an exclusively high end, sanitized version of city life that caters to the needs of the elite with the claim that this will somehow “revitalize” the city if they are attracted there.

First, who are these urbanists? And why are they acting as one ideologically coherent bloc?

What does the word ‘urbanist’ mean, anyway? Merriam-Webster simply calls it ”a specialist in urban planning,” but I would broaden the term to simply be people who are interested in cities. Given the diversity of opinions within that population, Renn’s broad brush misses the mark.

Then there’s the ideology. There’s an irony in Renn criticizing the role of urbanism-as-trickle-down and the reductionisim of urban policy, mirroring trickle-down’s reductionism of economic policy. Renn takes no care to distinguish the diversity of opinions on all things urban, instead lumping all urbanists under this label. He doesn’t lump all economists together as if were in favor of trickle-down policies.

This isn’t the the only example; there are plenty of cases where New Urbanism is falsely equated with urbanism (as in – an interest in cities) – and even more that innaccurately describe what New Urbanism is (the N and U are capitalized for a reason). San Francisco’s SPUR publishes a magazine entitled The Urbanist. There is also the distinction on the market orientation of urbanists (‘demand-side urbanists’ - as phrased by David Schliecher and Witold Rybczynski) and a whole host of other factions with interests in the city.