Relationships and proximity in the legislature

Planners are big fans of geographic proximity and relationship building, but one thing I have never really bought about urban mixing is the idea that you build relationships in urban contexts. You might. But you are not going to build relationships with thousands of people riding a subway. You are going to have a particular relationship, and if you see the same people every day on the subway, you may have something deeper in terms of relationship and community.

Tom Harkin is retiring from the US Senate; he has served the state of Iowa for 40 years. The money quote:

He was loath, Harkin said during a long conversation, to lapse into a misty reverie on better days, the way some old fogy might. But, the 74-year-old Harkin said, things were better back when.

More than anything, more than argument or intellect, “legislation, good legislation, good things where you really work things out and reach good compromises, depend more on personal relationships,” Harkin said. “And those personal relationships have broken down in the U.S. Senate.”

Small point: There used to be a room on the first floor of the Capitol where senators would gather alone for lunch — no staff, no reporters — and Republicans and Democrats would sit together and talk and swap stories and become familiar with one another on a more personal level.

Those lunches are no more, due in part to the way the Senate now operates.

Lawmakers typically convene for a few “bed-check votes” on Monday night and wrap up their Capitol workweek before sundown Thursday. Lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays are now partisan affairs, Democrats and Republicans dining separately with their party colleagues. That leaves Wednesday. “But that’s the day you have a fundraising lunch,” Harkin said.

Something I wish my institution understood as well: when a place becomes corporate, nobody does anything except for money.