AEI domestic policy director speaks on the importance of community

Roughly 25 Yale students gathered in Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Thursday evening to hear public policy entrepreneur and researcher Ryan Streeter speak on the importance of local community to the American identity and advocate for more policymaking at the local level to increase life satisfaction and heal the civic disintegration of our age.

“Americans are really localists by heart,” Streeter said. “What makes a community a successful place leads us to where we need to turn our attention to in creating policies.”

Streeter’s talk was jointly organized by the Yale Politic and the American Enterprise Institute, a D.C.-based conservative think tank dedicated to research concerning government, politics and social welfare.

Earlier in his career, Streeter, currently the director of domestic policy studies at the AEI, served as the senior adviser and director at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a fellow at Hudson Institute, special assistant to President George W. Bush ‘68 at the White House Domestic Policy Council and deputy chief of staff for policy to the then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

Streeter commented on current politics, such as the recent midterm election results. But conversation with students ultimately steered towards the influence of media in politics and ways of creating national unity.

Brigitte Fink ’20, AEI event organizer, cited Streeter’s unique views and emphasized the need for more conservative speakers on campus.

“He has a lot of background on issues in current American policy that bring an interesting perspective to campus that might not otherwise be heard,” she said. “This is a topic I feel I haven’t heard much about previously.”

David Jimenez, senior associate in academic programs for AEI, worked with Yale students to coordinate the event, helping students work out the financial logistics to bring Streeter to New Haven.

“We try to make it very academic and professional. The goal is not to be incendiary or be controversial for the sake of being controversial, but to expose students to the best work coming out of AEI and other major center-right think tanks like the Manhattan Institute.”

Streeter emphasized the role that local communities played in the American conception of self. He added that when asked where their sense of community came from, about three-quarters of Americans said it was attached to the specific area where they were from.

In general, according to Streeter, Americans were found to have more optimistic perspectives about the trajectory of their individual towns and communities than the country as a whole, both politically and economically. While only about 43 percent of Americans said they thought the nation was moving in the right direction, when asked if they thought their local community was on a positive trajectory, 73 percent of Americans agreed.

A similar phenomenon occurred when people were asked about financial matters — the majority of Americans thought that the national economy was declining but believed that their individual financial situations were improving.

Streeter also made the point that “human scale” in community matters. Individuals in amenity-rich environments — towns with bars, restaurants and gyms — are overall happier and tend to have more friends.

Streeter said that this showed that proximity has a profound effect on the perception of the individual and that more attention should be focused on the ways in which well-designed communities can help alleviate general feelings of dissatisfaction and social isolation.

“People who are happier with their lives generally tend to be more aspirational, productive and rate their lives as good in almost every category,” Streeter said.

He concluded that the dynamics of satisfactory community design were difficult, if not impossible, to manufacture purely through national policies. Streeter claimed that local efforts would further drive social progress and increase social cohesion.

Ahmad Zaidi ’21 told the News that he enjoyed Streeter’s emphasis on the importance of community in his talk.

“I think he offered some really interesting perspectives on something I hadn’t really been thinking about. Especially because we often talk about building communities at Yale and in general, but we’ve never really talked about how national policy should be shifted in a way to advance that,” Zaidi said.

Mohammad Makhmudov ’21 agreed with Streeter’s presentation of the depth of communities’ ties.

“It’s a natural thing that you’re going to be closer to the people immediately around you and that you’ve grown up with. I’m from Georgia, and I would generally feel closer to someone else from Georgia,” he said.

The American Enterprise Institute was founded in 1938 by Lewis H. Brown.

Meera Shoaib | meera.shoaib@yale.edu .

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