Democracy Thrives in Vibrant, Liberal Areas Because Empathy is Higher

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Have you ever wondered why Texas cities are more liberal than outlying areas?  It’s not a Texas thing.

Large urban environments are typically more ideologically liberal around the globe. Like a blast zone, liberal ideals diminish the further away you get from an urban environment.  But why?  The clichés of vibrancy, higher average education, and these days, younger populations.  But research is beginning shed a slightly different light on the phenomenon.

In a nutshell, liberalism today can be equated with empathy. The regular immersion and interaction between the daily lives of diverse peoples makes it easier to empathize with the effects of policies and ideas on people you know. Conversely, the further people are from those affected by negative actions, the easier it is to accept them. Call it skin in the game.

From the media we select, to friends (sometimes family), to the very real estate we inhabit, humanity has built its own echo chambers (often referred to as “bubbles”) in recent decades.

As a nation we cared more about war when there was a draft that (most) everyone was subjected to. When it was your children or your neighbor who was conscripted, you paid more attention. Would the Vietnam protests have changed the course of that war without mandatory service? Would the U.S. still be in Iraq and Afghanistan were there a draft? Would we have gone at all?

I hear you asking what this has to do with real estate. Simple. The vibrancy brought about by urban environments is not only great at attracting good restaurants and sidewalk-littering scooters, but it’s also good at breeding empathy, which today unfortunately equates to liberalism. Unlike the faceless online world, real life is generally kinder when real people are face-to-face.

Cities required empathy born of proximity

But urban liberalism isn’t as strong as it once was because city living itself has become more isolating. Blame mobile devices. Dating and delivery apps (sometimes the same thing) keep people home more. Ditto a younger urban population and gaming culture.

Housing and household-wise, in some cities, multi-family residential units are being combined — one unit is created from two. Also, average household size is decreasing, so even if you had 100 apartments, 50 years ago there’d have been more people residing in them. To get the same level of vibrancy (and there is a critical mass needed), you have to build more units to get the same number of people in a given area.

The Census reports that from 1960 to 2014, the average household size dropped from 3.33 to 2.54 people while during the same period the number of single-person households doubled to 27.7 percent or approximately 34.2 million. Before you think it’s all young people who are delaying marriage, it’s not. Those aged under 35 accounted for about 17 percent of single households while those above 55 comprised nearly 58 percent. Over the next 10 years, it’s projected that over-55 single households will grow from approximately 22.5 million today to 26 million by 2029. Older people are living longer and so a higher chance that one will die and live on alone for quite a while. (Is isolation from the world one reason why conservative principles find greater purchase in older people?)

All of these are isolating phenomenon that past decades didn’t feel as much.

Add to that the death of Main Streets (and even malls) from delivery services and giant, impersonal warehouse stores and the humanity of day-to-day personal interactions is decreasing. And that’s a big problem if believing we’re all people is important.

Mulhouse: From Grim to Great

Mulhouse is a French town of 110,000 people on the Swiss-German border that was once considered France’s “grimmest town.” The town revitalized its city center that had been abandoned by residents for far-flung suburbs. It successfully brought life back to the town not only from rehabbed residential, but pulling suburban shoppers back. In the past eight years 470 shops and businesses opened – three-quarters of which were local independent shops – one of the few French towns with more store openings than closings.

Mulhouse also revitalized local parks and restored tree-lined streets. The town contains 136 nationalities all interacting with each other against a backdrop of a revitalized town center. Mulhouse went from a place to avoid to a magnet.

The revitalization took a decade, during which time French political leaders coincidentally connected rundown, disassociated towns with their boarded-up shops and few services with the rise in populism – in short, social isolation and its resulting lack of empathy.


We’ve all seen the tons of apartments that have shot up since the Recession ended. We’ve all wondered if too many have been built. The mathematical answer is “no” we haven’t, because believe it or not, we’re still filling the hole left from underbuilding from 2008-2013 during the Recession.

The societal answer is still “no” because isolation and bubbles are a real problem. The erosion of our ability to “walk a mile” in someone else’s shoes is dehumanizing and ultimately destabilizing. Most of us already have little empathy – but plenty of fear and disdain – for the homeless, immigrants, and those with mental health issues.

I look forward to Dallas becoming ever-more dense (with better architecture), where ideas are exchanged and the daily osmosis of experiencing a diversity of life makes us better people.

I’ve traveled plenty in my life. At first it was about seeing things, but what really sunk in was that the world over most people want to live a decent life without having to worry about dinner or their family’s safety. Many get mixed up conflating governments’ voice with that of their citizens.

We celebrated our country’s freedom last weekend. Let’s all agree that it didn’t occur in isolation or without empathy. Its liberal (and liberating) ideology and organization relied on the vibrancy of cities.

Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.

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Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

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