Journal of Comparative Urban Law and Policy


Increasing polarization and division are the greatest challenges to the U.S. today, because they prevent cooperation in decision making about growing problems of major consequence. The related long swing in rising individualism is assessed for how it undermines common purpose. We survey the ideological divide and how it intersects with preferred urban development patterns, negotiation styles (compromise or hard line), and diverse views on mitigations for stemming the COVID-19 pandemic. An especially potent factor was rapidly changing racial projections, the reckless framing of which led to exaggerated perceptions of “demographic threat” and a widened partisan divide. Renewed civic infrastructure is needed for public communication that spans diverse groups to build shared understanding and new sense of common purpose. A broad suite of strategies is identified at different interpersonal scales of interaction and engagement for narrowing the divide. The overarching strategy redirects attention to commonalities and hopeful outlooks, instead of spotlighting festering division for sensational news or to promote separate interests via wedge issues. Solutions involve narrative construction and rhetorical devices for highlighting interest connections and shared benefits, as well as structured small group meetings for humanizing opponents, taking small steps toward finding common ground, and building small bridges toward mutual understanding. These endeavors seek to build social capital for further strengthening shared middle ground in other deliberations that may follow.

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