Quote of the Day

The Antiplanner:

Despite continued and growing preferences for single-family homes, a web search for “single-family zoning” reveals enormous animosity to such housing. Like the animosity to the automobile, this comes from a minority of people who refuse to recognize that Americans not only want but are better off in single-family homes and automobiles.
People should be allowed to choose to live in single-family or multifamily homes based on the actual costs of such housing, not costs that are artificially inflated by planning regulations. People should also be allowed to choose to live in single-family neighborhoods, protected by either deed restrictions or zoning, if they prefer such neighborhoods. Free-market advocates who want to “restore property rights” by abolishing single-family zoning are falling into a trap set for them by the central planners who want to ignore people’s preferences and cram more families into multifamily housing.

20 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”

  1. Wikipedia certainly exposes its bias there. What used to be called “Tenements” or even “Rookeries” are now the preferred living style of the left.

  2. Well, that vision (not the suburban or one-family dwelling one) also led to impersonal high rise dorms that encouraged flunking out, drug use, and suicidal behavior on some campuses.

    On the other hand, I’ve always liked the kind of diversity of towns too small or too erratically grown to have deed restrictions and zoning laws – Houston is one of the few cities of its size like that and that isn’t characteristic of the rather narrowly defined suburban towns that circle it.

    Of course here we see some of the problems associated with single family zoning that then is ignored as 6 students join to rent an “Aggie Shack” the old one-family housing close to campus. However, I can’t imagine that those 13 story monoliths across from campus lead to the natural perspectives, the historical and human, routes to “finding themselves”.

    The effect of architecture is a lot more intense, I think, then we realize. The grandeur associated with the lovely and pensive French version of Lincoln that stands beside the tower and its sower, spreading his seeds on the capitol (building and town) made life immensely better for me for several years. And living in quirky old houses with erratic heating and scaling wall paper was less depressing than a constant reminder that we were part of a continuum of students that had come and then gone out into the world beyond. (In Austin, I rented a house previously owned by a drug dealer with an incontinent monkey – as I learned from friends later. I was lucky – it was immensely cheap, even as there were dealers on both sides, a few blocks from campus, and had quite new paneling.)

    And now, I hope to get a modular home installed next door, to move into – the essence of uniform and soul-less architecture. But it will be next to our house, it will accommodate us as we age in place, and our daughter and her husband will return to her roots and make a life in that house we’ve had for forty years. (I had bought the lot next door as an expensive whim for a lot of irrational reasons; now, it seems one of the best non-ideas I have had.) What is isn’t always what seems – this choice is more familial than any other choice we’ve made, less synthetic.

    And so, I’ve turned Jonathan’s thoughtful observation of the importance of personal choice and of a certain kind of community into a self-absorbed and personal comment that is pretty much off topic.

    He’s right – the point is, I guess, in the long run that ordinances and laws can give liberty to pursue the life you want or they can get in its way. Forcing high rises in a suburb is not making the families there free; letting individual houses completely free can diminish the sales value of a house (ask those who are left the one one-family on a block full of Aggie Shacks). Its all a balancing act for voters and planners. But some of us find quirkiness and odd architecture a pleasure.

  3. There seems to be no awareness or care what your new “quirkiness” does to the the neighbors or to their property values (retirement, plans for their children). Be quirky someplace else.

    If you don’t care about their interest, why should they care about yours? Move! The “children” will enjoy your visits.

  4. I’m a bit torn because of the history of urban renewal–people started to leave town and city centers to move out to new subdivisions, so the government decided that the “solution” was to tear down half the remaining buildings to build parking lots, and to build roads and freeways to make it easier for people to drive from the new subdivisions back into the places where they used to live and were already abandoning, making those places worse and worse places to live and destroying any chance of them ever being revitalized.
    But I also don’t care for the people who have delusions about mass transit, etc. Or who want to force zoning modifications on places that don’t want it.
    Basically big government coming in and imposing ideas on places where they don’t live and won’t have to live with the consequences always leads to really bad outcomes.
    But I so wish there were towns like the ones my parents grew up in the 50s and 60s, though, where people could walk to everything, and there were tons of small business establishments. I feel robbed. And it’s hard not to blame previous generations for their choices, of moving away and thinking that two cars and a suburban yard was the definition of the good life…

  5. Urban Renewal was really Negro Removal, in almost all the larger cities with substantial B/black populations.

    “The Crabgrass Frontier” by Kenneth Jackson is dated but still a good intro to the post-WWII urban and suburbanization issues. He said a few years ago that over time, and as he had kids and grandkids, that the single-family house and yard became more attractive to him, intellectually and personally.

    Cousin Eddie

  6. “People should be allowed to choose”, (s)he says. But people aren’t – because those who live in single houses miles from each other don’t have an option to live in a multifamily buildings – and vice-versa. There is just not enough stock of options in each geo situation/locale.
    And the choice of housing and lifestyle got so politicized, just like everything else in America, that one is pigeonholed in the package deal, either (s)he wants it or not.

    Can there be a gay man, an ardent religious RC, politically firmly on the Right, a gun-owner, an established poet and intellectual, former orchard farm manager, living neither in a single home nor a multistory condo, but on a boat he owned? Yes, I knew such a man, he died years ago – but I don’t think such a mixed-variety person could exist today.

    What if I do like to own a single home – but in a town Brian described, where I can walk to any retail and service infrastructure, and not to rely only on myself for repair and maintenance of said home, and in addition not to be forced to drive a car? Where there is a reliable transportation network, so I can delegate the risk of driving to a professional? Just like I rely on doctors and pilots, and not being thought less a person for not being able to perform an appendectomy myself? And at the same time not to suffer busybodies dictating me how tall my grass can grow, whether I am allowed to air-dry my laundry, or what flag am I hanging off my balcony and on what days. Could such a place exist now?

    We got so compartmentalized, that every manifestation of personality is judged like in account book: this is a political plus, this is minus, according to some capricious and random definition of the moment. And what’s the cut off for a mold – a 65% Right -35% Left balance? 90%-10%?

  7. Cousin Eddie: Let’s not impose race on what happened with urban renewal. My parents came from a small town in upstate New York, that was basically all “white”, though of course it was full of Italians and Polish who wouldn’t have been considered so, or thought of themselves in that way, and it was completely destroyed by urban renewal in the ways I described above. And Buffalo saw Italian neighborhoods and black neighborhoods completely torn to pieces by urban renewal, freeway construction, busing, etc. Like I said, let’s not force it into the race box–it was big government idiocy, period.

  8. “Can there be a gay man, an ardent religious RC, politically firmly on the Right, a gun-owner, an established poet and intellectual, former orchard farm manager, living neither in a single home nor a multistory condo, but on a boat he owned? Yes, I knew such a man, he died years ago”
    Alan Sullivan, no?

  9. I read him for years, hung out in the comboxes (that sadly I see now are gone, the domain belongs to someone else…), even bought a few of his books lol. He was one of a kind.

  10. I’m not forcing race on the program–it was racialized from the beginning. The USG definition of “blight” was any neighborhood where the races lived in such a manner that one had a hard time distinguishing W/white from B/black domiciles. The effect was to break up functioning neighborhoods, of course, and scatter the residents.

    That there were other, and legitimate, motives for Urban Renewal doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of those affected in the big cities were B/black.

    Your mention of the interstates is apt–in Memphis I-40 had already destroyed older established (but mostly working-class) neighborhoods when it was halted at the edge of
    Overton Park/Midtown.

    Cousin Eddie

  11. Remember that the reverse is often true, as AVI might say. Suburban residential zoning effectively eliminates the ability of businesses to locate in walking distance, which in turn drives the need to travel for shopping, and once you’re traveling it makes sense to locate as much shopping as possible in one area with ample parking.

  12. Mike-SMO
    You seem to either have an inflated idea of the neighborhood I now live in or perhaps a dated definition of modular homes – the difference between real and personal property for instance. The house with the land is likely to be in the middle range of costs for houses on our street (more on the other side – where the lots are 1/3 rather than 1+ acres.) Our house will remain in our hands and its value of importance to not just the daughter moving in there, but also the other two. We, too, care about the value of the neighborhood. But we don’t necessarily have the values of the realtors living around us, who have not been a part of the neighborhood for forty years nor intend to be for the next forty.
    Thank you for the advice but living decisions are best made by the people living them.

  13. The single thing that hurt cities the most and ended urban neighborhoods was crime. I grew up in Chicago, in a neighborhood that had a mixture of beautiful single family homes and apartments with 40 families in the structure. That neighborhood, South Shore is now the most violent part of Chicago. Murders occur daily, the commercial strips are gone and even blacks are moving away because of the crime. My sister lives in Beverly, a neighborhood of single family homes but still in Chicago. Crime is steadily escalating and I wish I could convince her to get out of the city. There are shootings and murders within a mile of her home now. Everyone else in the family still in the Chicago area is in the suburbs.

  14. I have no objections to modular homes. My wife, at a time when we were divorced, bought her son a modular home in Oregon because he had moved there and did not own a home. His business was just getting going and land was available but he could not afford to build. His construction business has been booming for 20 years and he still lives in the same home. He added on to it when his sons were still home.

    I had 10 acres on Vashon Island for a retirement home I bought 40 years ago. I was planning to build a foundation with an underground garage and put a modular home on it but I learned that Washington charges 10% sale tax on modular homes so gave up the idea and eventually sold the land. My wife, who I remarried 5 years ago, could not tolerate the climate. The same company sells most of their modular homes in Alaska because of the short building season.

  15. And it’s hard not to blame previous generations for their choices, of moving away and thinking that two cars and a suburban yard was the definition of the good life…

    For many people it still is, especially for people with young children, and for good reason. From another of Mr. O’Toole’s recent columns:

    Oscar Newman, who wondered why the low-income high-rises built in the 1950s suffered from such high crime rates when nearby single-family neighborhoods occupied by people in the same socioeconomic class were relatively crime-free. He carefully compared architectural features with crime rates on tens of thousands of city blocks and concluded that private yards and private entrances were the key to minimizing crime, not eyes on the street, which he called “an unsupported hypothesis.” Newman called his conclusions “defensible space,” and as it turned out, most of his findings—for example, that cul de sacs reduced crime while alleys enabled more crime—were exactly the opposite of what Jacobs and her followers advocated.

  16. There are completely different conversations going on here about cities, life, etc. Sure, people fled places like dense neighborhoods of Chicago due to crime, but people also “fled” dense “cities” of 20k, to subdivisions just a mile or two away, as well, not having anything to do with crime, just because they wanted a bit of their own space. Then in many cases the government came in and said, hey, people aren’t coming to your downtown stores as much, so we’ll give you this nice sweet pile of cash to tear down every other building downtown to put in a parking lot, as if that was the reason why, and small town mayors said, hey, we can’t possibly turn down that money, let’s do it, and their towns were completely destroyed, so that now there are people living in subdivisions a mile away who say that they have no reason to drive all the way into town, because there are no businesses there, and kids say, I want to leave because there’s nothing to do, and meanwhile the government gave tax breaks and other incentives to shopping malls and big box stores that they never gave to small businesses, and if you try to complain about any of this maybe not being the ideal way to organize a society, people say that well Chicago and Detroit had lots of crime.

  17. Why have people always wanted to come to America? Surely one of the primary draws has always been the availability of land – we are territorial, we like land, we like our own land. We don’t like to be told what to do with our land – we’re going to take care of it because it is ours.

    Property rights were important, primary – but also was the availability here of land. We like to live in the suburbs because we have a piece of property that we can walk around, fence if we want to, know it is something our children will have. We left countries where we were not likely to own a plot – with different laws and different economic systems and different amounts of land per person. We chose this one – for its laws and its economic system and its land.

    We like windows because we want to enjoy the beauty of the nature where we lived for thousands of years. We want windows because we like to look at our gardens and walks.

    Urban dwellers find ways to satisfy those feelings, but they are always there and the simplest way to satisfy them is to live in your own house on your own land.

    I do think “planners” forget that, forget we are individuals, forget we have our own ideas.

    The amount of land that is “federal” might also be worthy of discussion.

    “Property rights” in a planner’s mouth are different (and consciously if somewhat deceptively different) from “property rights” in either the individual’s mouth or as one of the grounding inalienable rights of our nation.

  18. “This comes from a minority of people who refuse to recognize that Americans not only want but are better off in single-family homes and automobiles”

    Is it “refuse to recognize”? Or is it “Does recognize, and are bitterly opposed to Americans being better off”?

  19. Observations:
    MultiFamily: Before I married, I lived in a multifamily area. One evening, I heard a disturbance. Big Brother (as it turned out) came to “rescue” Little Sister and her children from abuse. Lots of people watching the drama from their window “box seats”, but I called Emergency anyway. As I hung up, I realized that I had transposed directions and building numbers so when the police responded to the wrong address, I scampered down the stairs and redirected the police. The police helped Sister leave. Take-away, the so-called “neighbors” will watch but will not even “drop a dime” when you are in trouble.

    Modular: I’ve worked construction (new and remodel) and “modular” usually means “cheap”. Modular is used in full or in part in buildings in my present single family area. Modular has little resistance to fire, seismic or wind forces, or occupant abuse. I know what those buildings will be worth in a few years. Even currently, our municipal fire department no longer “fights fires”. “First in” carries backpack “supersoakers” backed by a truck with a belly tank of water. If a small fire can be knocked down, fine, if not, evacuate and let it burn. There is nothing that will survive with modular construction. The “quirky” modular will eventually end up as rental for a family or group of individuals that will trash nearby property values and the sense of “neighborhood”. “Modular” means “economical” which means “cheap”. Dress up the sales jargon all you want.

    Our area has lots of “quirky” homes that are remodels with added rooms or another floor. Now, we are getting new “modular” construction that suggests that the structure, and the neighbors, are “temporary” and disposable. That is an attitude common (in my view) in the “troubled” multifamily areas. Quite possibly, modern “stick-built” is no more durable than the modular, since both now seem to stress cheap and “temporary”. That shift seems to also encourage a distancing of the resident’s involvement in the surround even if the property is not used as a rental.

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