The Citadel Conundrum

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the castle of Segovia, Spain lit in late afternoon sun, viewed from the valley below

   Right-wing and left-wing exploding brains just might be the result of a proposed development in northern Idaho: it's called The Citadel. Here's the proposed plan of the development:

plan of The Citadel in northern Idaho

   Before we go any further, please note that except for exercising my right to vote, I care very little for politics and hope that nobody has any clue how I voted from the things I say and write. I haven't told anyone, not even my wife, how I voted in the last election.

sunset through the Western gate of Pienza, Italy

   So with that established, let's talk politics without getting political. The Citadel site says that "Marxists, Socialists, Liberals, and Establishment Republicans may find that living within our Citadel Community is incompatible with their existing ideology and preferred lifestyles." A reasonable person might infer from this statement that the Citadel folks are likely pretty far to the right of the political spectrum, right?

   But now let's look closer at the plan of the Citadel. What you see here is a place with defined boundaries, several neighborhoods, a town green and amphitheater, a town center, a factory on the edge, farmland all around the outer walls and a farmers' market just inside the main gate. In other words, it's a town. Except for the town walls and sometimes the farmland outside, these are components you'd find in any New Urbanist town.

stone ramparts of Toledo, Spain

   Now let's look around the Citadel site a bit. If you go to the Citadel Housing Cost Calculator and plug in some numbers, you'll find that they definitely have affordable housing. The comprehensive plan shows a clear buffer zone between the inner and outer walls, and the farmland is a buffer as well. Just inside the walls, which form an urban growth boundary, the perimeter road appears to be running through a greenway. Open space is interspersed through the plan. Their land use policies are clarified on the FAQ page, as are the facts that they're open to all races and religions but intend to protect themselves and their quality of life from all threats. In other words, they're planning on building a sustainable community… maybe not precisely to the standards of the New Urbanism, but there's a lot of crossover.

main gate of Toledo, Spain

  See all the italicized words in the paragraph above? They come straight from Glenn Beck's Agenda 21 Keyword List. I'd never heard of Agenda 21 until a couple years ago, but I've been following the New Urbanism since Seaside was first published in 1981. Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented sustainable development guide sponsored by the UN. In recent years, it became a Tea Party lightning rod, and is portrayed as a conspiracy by the UN to take away individual property rights.

   But back to the Citadel. Their website doesn't list any of the leaders so I can't research them very easily, but their website makes it appear likely that some of them may follow Glenn Beck, and that maybe some of them might be sympathetic to the Tea Party. Yet they're building a place filled with things characterized by Agenda 21 keywords. To complicate matters further, Glenn Beck announced plans just over a week ago to build the city of Independence. Plans haven't been published yet, but if you read his description of the place, it embodies many of these principles as well. Confused yet?

diagonal view of the ramparts of Toledo, Spain

   The left wing is just as conflicted. I have some strong left-wing New Urbanist friends and some strong right-wing New Urbanist friends, but those on the left tend to be more vocal, so the New Urbanism is sometimes characterized as liberal. It is not. It spans the spectrum. But in any case, I've had a first-hand view of the left-wing conflictedness many times. For example, it really galled them that George W. Bush stopped at Seaside to give a campaign speech, and that Karl Rove bought a house at Rosemary Beach. And there has been much consternation by left-leaning New Urbanists about the plan of The Citadel in recent days.

last fading rays of sunset silhouetting the castle of Segovia, Spain

   Here's the bottom line: Right-wingers have no right to call me a communist for designing places that look and work like Mayberry. That's ridiculous. And it's just as ridiculous for the left to reject architecture or urbanism based solely upon the politics of the builders. Do that, and we have to reject Monticello, Mount Vernon, and the original University of Virginia campus because both Jefferson and Washington owned slaves.

   Here's an idea: politics only last until the next election unless there's a recall, in which case they don't even last that long. But buildings can last for centuries and cities can last for millennia. So if your prime interest is politics, then go and fight those short-term battles, and good luck with that. Seriously. But don't take good place-making principles and make them political. Leave the short-term principles in the short-term battles, and the long-term principles in the long-term battles, where they each belong. Town-building is too important to get caught up in politics because the towns and cities last so long. 

   ~Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

Sustainable place-making is too important to get caught up in politics because politics only last until the next election, at which point everything can change. But buildings can last for centuries, and cities for millennia. Take a look at this and let me know where I have it wrong... OK?

Jan 18, 2013 4:38pm

John Massengale · Principal (school) at Massengale Architecture PLLC

I voted for Obama, and before that Kerry, and before that Gore, and before that Clinton... 
I've never heard anyone say that Rove having a house at Seaside was a bad thing. I thought it was a good thing. I never even heard that Bush gave a campaign speech.
I have heard consternation about this plan, because outside of the LU list (which I'm not on), the idea that a walled town with a gun factory might be good thing. As you know, by definition New Urbanism can not be gated, and after the Newtown shootings guns and Hatriots are not very popular. For that matter, a lot of New Urbanists have been running into Agenda21-NU haters at charrettes. Did you know Victor and Gianni are communists? Me too, according to one person who wrote in to the Mississippi Sun to complain about New Urbanism and Mayor Moran.
So I guess I don't agree with this A Pox On Both Your Houses approach. Whenever the topic is raised, the lists always conclude that the CNU should work with both Democrats and Republicans. That is, in fact, the official position of the CNU, and the way that John runs the CNU.
I agree with you about the town, though. Interesting that this town and the Beck town pop up at the same time. And that they pop up when Agenda21 is actually a problem at many charrettes. There's a Tea Party site with instructions on how to disrupt a charrette.

Jan 18, 2013 6:00pm

George Matthew Linkert IV · Program Coordinator at Sojourn Adult Day Services

As a center-left guy being constantly told how "conservative" our city council is (by one of the city council members), I find your remarks spot on. I find it hard sometimes to try to frame these issues and arguments without digging into a political corner, or pushing someone else into their political corner. The focus has to be on an issue, and working to get the community to do what it thinks is best.

Jan 18, 2013 6:04pm

Kenneth Hitchens · University of Miami

Where you are wrong is accidentally turning the issue in to one about planners not wishing to be type cast. I believe your intent was to point out that only words can make an urban form political. I believe you are trying to shine a light on the fact that good urban design is timeless and transcends partisan politics. Rome is still relevant many millennia after its fall and its current politics are different than that of the Empire.
That's not entirely clear in your post so the risk is that you could be seen as either ignoring or not understanding the issues raised by the various factions trying to label you.
The biggest issue facing planners is one of humility. In lieu of debunking there should be understanding and facilitation. Instead of judging there should be assessing and accommodation. At present, unfortunately, this is not the case. 
An honest assessment of the exclusionary forces of inclusionary zoning would be a good place to start. It would be very eye opening if undertaken with an open mind.

Jan 18, 2013 6:25pm

Roland Beinert · University of Idaho

I am very left wing, and when I first read about this plan I laughed, mainly because so many things included in the Citadel are things conservatives have been against in the past. I do think it's an interesting plan, though. I like the idea of building condos into the walls. It's also being planned in a place very close to where I live. Moscow, ID is maybe an hour or so from St. Maries. I will be following this one closely, even if I would never be welcome there.

Jan 18, 2013 6:51pm

Virginia Fitzpatrick · Bon vivant at Retired

I think you are overlooking the elephant in the room. This goes beyond sustainability. With the fortress walls and the obvious importance of guns and gun towers, this "town" is made to appeal to those in the survivalist movement. In Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking people, he portrayed the replacement of Roman era mansions by fortresses as a sign of the fall of civilization. I am not looking forward to the day when I or my decedents must apply for a visa to visit the next township. Notice I am talking about several millennia in time. In his time Churchill was not considered a liberal.

Jan 18, 2013 7:53pm

Dean Gunderson · Urban Designer at Crabtree Group

Hi Steve,
One could point out that in 2006 the sleepy little town of Greenleaf, ID (founded by pacifist Quakers) passed an ordinance asking all its residents to own guns and keep them at the ready in case of emergency. Even several members of the Occupy Boise group (hardly an organization known for conservative sympathies) carried permitted & concealed weapons.
Idaho has a long tradition of planned towns (some affiliated with religious communities, some not). It's also a place with long and (one could say) traditional suspicion of organized government, and a reliance on the 2nd Amendment to -- in part -- thwart any overly-zealous governmental intrusion into folks' private lives. There were even hand-made signs during the Occupy protests at the Idaho capitol last year that read, "If you take away our 1st Amendment, we'll use our 2nd".
I've been chastised by some members on the PRO-URB list for (I think clearly) pointing out that there's not a lot of understanding by folks who live in larger urban areas how strongly rural folks rely on what they consider an immutable 2nd Amendment -- and how difficult it will be to enact permanent modifications to what has been termed, "the right to bear arms" (without engaging the constitutional amendment process).
To me, once one sets aside the xenophobic issues embedded in the Citadel concept it seems in-keeping with the traditions of the local culture that such a project would be proposed in Idaho (if not also in Montana).

Jan 19, 2013 12:05am

Steven Semes · Professor, School of Architecture at University of Notre Dame

This is horrifying on so many levels I don't know where to begin. I will point out that I see the plan as pure Euclidean zoning and separation of uses within a generalized anti-space which, apart from the enclosing walls (which are purely defensive) is formless and centerless. While I would welcome the integration of housing, commerce, and industry, the manufacture of guns is not what I had in mind. I don't see the parallels with any form of NU and the plan represents, to me, the opposite of civil discourse.

Jan 19, 2013 3:18am

Victor Brandon Dover · Adjunct Faculty at University of Miami School of Architecture

The most important "subversive" aspect of urbanism is designing places where people can come into conversational contact with one another again, and reinvigorate their bonds as neighbors and citizens if they choose, while simultaneously designing those places to provide for personal privacy and tranquility even amid the bustle of a prosperous, functional, profitable settlement/region. The designs by the thoughtful urbanists have been getting better at this over the last 30 years.
The greatest threat to the immediate future isn't guns, gates, or greenhouse gas. It's the decline of the quality of public discourse. Civic leadership has been weakening and wavering while rage. meanness and intolerance have become the norm in every public meeting, and on every blog and cable news show. I have watched this get worse, not better, over the last 30 years. We should welcome every effort, right or left, to improve this.
(By the way: For the record, John Massengale, I got called a commie AND a greedy industrialist in the same recent nasty public hearing, along with a couple other unprintable names. They can't all be right.)

Jan 19, 2013 5:52am

Don Broussard · Owner at Town Planning & Design LLC

Though the internal layout is interesting, the Citadel design would provide no serious military defense — unless they were attacked by a Roman Legion. Modern weapons such as mortars, artillery, and armor would pound this place to rubble. In fact, the rifled artillery available to William T. Sherman and Robert E. Lee would pulverized the walls, towers, and people. Have the designers not seen what is going on in Syria, lately? Walled cites have been obsolete since the 1700's. Perhaps these patriots are preparing for attack from the Sioux on horseback. Stone fortresses will provide no security from the "Black Helicopter" forces they seem to fear. 
Steve raises a good set of issues, as usual. Towns are technical artifacts — like a car or a computer — but political values and social choices are inherently imbedded in their design. Sound design (ie., New Urbanism) ought to be able to bridge the Left - Right divide. I hope Karl Rove would agree with me. Now, I'm going fishing.

Jan 19, 2013 9:15am

Patrick Kennedy · Owner at Space Between Design Studio

Thinking about this from a systemic standpoint, a city has to first have purpose, often which the impulse is economic due to geography. As the purpose maintains its utility, the city grows and the economy diversifies, the purpose expands towards being more comprehensively about quality of life and the economic purpose is more of a subset. Regarding this proposal, the only purpose ie its impulse, is one of withdrawal from civilized society (fitting given Beck's mindset and policy and/or paranoia).  
After purpose, a system has to have interconnections. But if the very purpose is disconnection, it is undermining its ability to sustain itself. As part of the theoretical citizens of this place's withdrawal from society, what is their economic reason for being? What value will they create for the rest of the world? Or even, what value will they create for each other beyond simply the disconnection from society? I have a hard time seeing what it might be which means this place will be nothing more than a commune and its lifespan and significance will be quite limited.

Jan 21, 2013 2:24pm

Michal Mudd · Albuquerque, New Mexico

After visiting their website several things jump out at me:
"DESCRIPTION: The Citadel Community will house between 3,500 and 7,000 patriotic American families who agree that being prepared for the emergencies of life and being proficient with the American icon of Liberty — the Rifle — are prudent measures. There will be no HOA. There will be no recycling police and no local ordinance enforcers from City Hall....
WHY APPLY FOR RESIDENCE: If living in an affordable, safe, well-prepared, patriotic community where your children will be educated in school rather than indoctrinated, consider the Citadel. Approved applicants receive a Lifetime Lease (paid off in only 30 years). No credit check. No background check. Zero down payment. Zero interest. Zero property taxes."
How will they fund their schools, their waste pickup, road maintenance, etc? No credit or background checks for neighbors toting arms around? Will they have a police and fire force or is it every man, woman and child for themselves with the American icon of Liberty of course?
It's an experiment I'm almost curious to observe, from a distance.

Jan 29, 2013 8:35pm

Andrew Hillhouse

This project is clearly in the utopianist tradition which postulates an ideal world separate from the current reality. It is not an act of "town building", it is an expression of a socio political vision that is dystopian, negative and foreboding. It may appear to collage a few NU ideas gleaned from traditional European medieval towns, but it is closer to a map of some dark computer game not a diagram of sustainable living.
My perspective from the other side of the Pacific ocean has no understanding at all of your gun culture so I find it odd that someone has to identify the elephant in the room.
Let them build it. At least you will know where they are.

Jan 30, 2013 6:35pm

Amanda Walter · Owner at Walter Communications

I'm so glad you wrote this Steve. Perhaps because of my left-of-center views, I'm too appalled by its defensive posture and reverence to guns to see it clearly, but it seems to be a glorified gated community intent on segregating -- not necessarily on the basis of race or class, but politics.

Jan 31, 2013 8:26am


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