Darien, Connecticut, one of the townships discussed in Snob Zones
Darien, Connecticut, one of the townships discussed in Snob Zones

At Seattle Transit Blog, we often play host to arguments for density and affordable housing played against neighbourhood and community groups who fight to keep things in “character” and “scale”. In her book, Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice, and Real Estate, Lisa Provost has taken a look at how zoning rules in small towns across New England have often been used to block any housing that is new, moderately priced or moderately sized. Straight away, the book shows the arguments and techniques used to fight housing are nearly identical to what is attempted here, even though the towns in the book are often orders of magnitude smaller than Seattle and thousands of miles away.

Snob Zones is a collection of in-depth case studies of project and zoning clashes in small towns in Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts – the book takes its name from Massachusetts law 40B, the so-called “anti–snob zoning act”. In each case, when developers arrive with plans to build housing, be it $300,000 condos or a moderately-size retirement home, local residents fight the proposals by turning up to review meetings and arguing, organising communication drives to local politicians, and passing strict “character” rules that are nearly impossible to pass.

More below the fold.

The result? In Easton, Massachusetts, a development of 1,000-square-foot cottage-homes to be priced between $250,000 and $340,000 were rejected in part because neighbourhood groups argued the development would be a “mini ghetto” and a “glorified trailer park”. In Milbridge, Maine, seasonal workers sleep in cars and tents because there isn’t housing, meanwhile multi-family housing developments languish in permitting purgatory. At one point Prevost speaks to a demographer who says, “This is a world where facts are irrelevant”. In nearly all examples in the book, the NIMBYs and CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) have the upper hand.

We are fortunate in Seattle that neighbourhood groups don’t have the sort of iron grips on development their counterparts in these New England towns do, but we do still have “liberals” like Bruce Meyers of NW 58 Street in this article:

“And I discovered a couple of weeks ago,”said Bruce Meyers, “that it was going to be some type of apartment.”

And not just any apartment. But a 43-unit boarding house across the street from the townhouse Meyers bought four years ago.

Entirely without self-awareness or irony, Mr Meyers has moved into a new construction townhouse and has nearly immediately started to fight to keep any new neighbors from arriving.

Prevost’s conclusion?

“Even though the workforce housing of today bears no resemblance to the public housing highrises of the past – the poster child being Chicago’s notoriously crime-ridden Cabrini-Green – local opposition is still one of the greatest impediments to its construction.”

Spot on in my book, whether you’re in Ossippee, New Hampshire, or Seattle, Washington.

65 Replies to “Book Review: Snob Zones by Lisa Provost”

  1. One additional force at work, when it comes to partisan-thinking politicians, is the politics of party-based demographic social engineering.

    Simply put, the partisans are trying to “crack” the swing districts held by the other party. That means controlling the types of new housing stock to make sure people who would demographically tend toward their party is who they try to “pack” into the swing districts. Democrats want to see more affordable and “workforce” housing in Bellevue and Kirkland, for example. Republicans want to see Bellevue and Kirkland become more suburgatory, and full of automobile commuters.

    Simultaneously, Democrats may see building more “workforce” housing in Seattle as a waste, given that Seattle districts are already packed with Democrat, or even Green or Socialist (as Kshama Sawant’s showing in the primary suggests), voters. They probably want to push more of this demographic out to Bellevue.

    Where this exercise falls apart is every ten years when redistricting commissions redraw the lines to restore balance to the two-party Sithdom, leaving all the demographic engineering to have been an exercise in pushing on string.

    I’m certainly not arguing against building more “workforce” housing in Bellevue. But I’m also arguing that more “workforce” housing should be allowed in every neighborhood of Seattle, including the rich and not-quite-as-rich neighborhoods alike. For the partisan-thinking politicians, consider how pushing the affordable housing out of Seattle means the suburban politicians will increasingly outnumber you in Olympia, unless you allow Seattle’s population to grow.

    But really, shouldn’t new housing construction be about allowing people to move where they would like to live, rather than trying to push people to move somewhere they don’t particularly care to live?

    1. “Democrats may see building more “workforce” housing in Seattle as a waste, given that Seattle districts are already packed with Democrat, or even Green or Socialist (as Kshama Sawant’s showing in the primary suggests), voters. They probably want to push more of this demographic out to Bellevue.”

      No. Workforce housing in Seattle would be best because the neighborhoods have a built-in tendancy toward the most transit options and walkability, which leads to the best quality of life. But Bellevue and the other suburbs have to be part of the solution because the cost of real estate is less there, making it more possible to build workforce housing at the scale that meets the need. The problem in the suburbs is that they lag behind in the walkability and transit-oriented aspects, making it harder to get around without a car. Look at the Southcenter proposal a few months ago (parts 1 and 2): it’s a pretty good residential area but it’s so small, and it’s not that close to the transit center. Why not convert a few of the big-box lots closer to the TC to expand the residential area, and move the stores to a multistory big-box building like Northgate North.

      The other issue of course is that a lot of people work in the suburbs, and it would be great if they can find workforce housing near work, in the same city.

    2. Workforce housing means a lot of minimum wage slaves perpetually condemned to live in slave ship housing with no hope of accruing land or capital.

      1. This makes no sense. The wage slaves are wage slaves because we (as a society) aren’t paying them enough and have allowed their employers (and lenders) to abuse them. Workforce housing is one of the only ways they can start to break OUT of that cycle — market-rate housing, by contrast, consistently eats up any increases in wages.

    3. Do you have a way to make them rich enough to acquire land or capital? If not, then they need housing they can afford. The market is only building luxury apartments. And as you’ve seen yourself, living in Kent is not an option if you’re working in Bellevue or Redmond, don’t have a car, and don’t work right next to an ST Express stop.

  2. “local residents fight the proposals by turning up to review meetings and arguing, organising communication drives to local politicians …”

    Sounds like Wallingford

    1. Here’s the amusing part….Wallingford is worker’s housing…or it used to be. The Sears Craftman was the equivalent of the trailer part — a mail order home. Wallingford was the neighborhood for people who worked at Gasworks when it was a working coal gasification plant!

      That’s why those homes are so close together and small square footage. No middle class person from the turn of the century would live in such things…they would be in the big houses on Capitol Hill!

      I guess it’s a statement about overpopulation that what was formerly worker class is now sought after by the middle class…and the “worker class” are being shunted into slave quarters by the criminal minds who run this town.

      1. Wow, John, you had me until the last sentence. No one is being shunted into slave quarters. But the zoning laws have an exception that allows Apodments (or dormitories) to be built. These are popular, because there really aren’t enough alternatives. If we loosened the zoning laws, then folks could afford to live in bigger places. This includes regular apartments. Get rid of the parking requirement, and regulation related to the number of units and you would see a lot more affordable apartments (and fewer Apodments).

        One thing I would really like to see is way more small houses on small lots, especially in the suburbs. There are plenty of places in Seattle, let alone the surround suburbs, where these types of houses (or lots) are not allowed. Even SF5000 is small compared to many of the lots in Seattle (and the surrounding areas).

      2. These are popular, because there really aren’t enough alternatives.

        Yes, eating porridge every day is popular if there is no food and you’re starving to death!

        But the question still is — is that how we want to live. Given that we are not merely discussing “transit” here but social engineering (or rather transit is the code word for SE), then saying that “apodments” are some kind of inevitable social result becomes absurd.

        Clearly we could have built out LINK to all the suburbs in rapid time, at a much lower cost per mile, but instead the powers-that-be choose to centralize and compact and focus on the shortest and most expensive runs, dragging out processes that should have taken years into decades!

        Then they turn around and start doing “in-fill” into very expensive per sq. foot land, when, meanwhile, we’re surrounded by acres and acres of available places to build real sized apartments and small plot homes — the types of things people really want.

      3. Where in the suburban fringe do you see large apartment complexes and small-lot houses? Nowhere! Expanding the urban growth boundary would lead to the lowest-density housing and McMansions. A few apartment buildings would come to the highway interchanges after the area grows, but you won’t going to find a new Queen Anne or Central District in the exurbs. At best an old town center would be revived, but its small-lot neighborhood would not be expanded. Instead, large-lot houses would just go around it. I wish we could expand the kernels of old town centers, but there’s so much momentum against it that it’s not realistic to believe that just allowing more growth in the exurbs will lead to it.

      4. The best example of a new small-lot walkable exurban neighborhood is the Issaquah Highlands. The lots aren’t as small as Seattle, there aren’t that many walkable destinations, and the main access point is a transit center with a huge parking garage and four-lane monster roads, but it’s better than most exurban development over the past decade. (And there is a bicycle trail that I guess leads to downtown Issaquah and the forest trails, so JB would like that.)

    2. A bit like Wallingford until recently, when Wallingford residents came out opposed to a suburban style 1-story drugstore proposed on a lot in the heart of the commercial area, arguing that what was appropriate was a multi-story mixed use builing with more housing and less land deveoted exclusively to parking. Just saying that some communities change their minds when they start to see the benfits of compact and diverse housing options.

  3. What the Provost is advocating is antithetical to what STB promotes. The towns she’s profiling are former farming towns in outlying areas. Norman Rockwellesque towns. The developers she writing about, if given their way, would be adding to sprawl.

    1. It’s not quite so. People obviously want to move to these beautiful towns and live (and, dare I say, work) in these places. Their baristas have to live somewhere, too, so why not in town?

      Do we want them all living in mansions, or do we want them to have the choice of a living space that minimizes their footprint?

      1. I don’t disagree. Homeowners, renters, and homeless (to a lesser extent) alike are all doing our part to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the Earth. I have no idea whether homeowners or renters are doing more procreating per capita.

    2. Sort of true, but it illustrates the same techniques. Also, those small towns are not like small towns in the west

    3. Maybe true for Maine and so forth, but the whole state of Connectict is a suburb of New York City, and has been for about 100 years.

  4. Thanks for pointing out that particular article. Obviously, the neighbors get it that the people who would move into the apodments would be getting the sort of living situation they actually want, except for some who delusiionally think they will be all be bringing cars with them. This is in stark contrast to the concern trolling in Capitol Hill, where some disinenuously tried to portray future renters as victims of the developer.

    If they are truly worried about the parking (and I believe their fear is real), then make residents of certain housing types (e.g. apodments) ineligible for nieghborhood parking permits. Just make sure that when people see the apodments, and move in, they are informed about the neighborhood’s parking system, and how they will be excluded from it. Or, simply have an annual auction of the on-street parking permits.

    I was delighted to see the mayor stand his ground. The mayoral primary may forever be remembered as the “Steinbrueck Moment”, when politicians got to see how starkly unpopular NIMBYism is with the electorate in this town, even when cloaked in such language as “doing density right”.

    1. NW 58th St. isn’t currently in a RPZ, so in that particular case, it would be impossible to deny the residents a permit. That might also add to the argument against building an apod in that neighborhood. If the City were to limit apods to RPZ neighborhoods (and that seems to make sense), the apod buildings would be allocated a limited number of permits that could be used by the apod residents.

      1. My apartment switched to charging extra (a very nominal amount) for parking spots. But my rent didn’t go down. (In fact, in just went up.) I’m surprised more apartment owners haven’t taken up the opportunity to start charging for reserved parking stalls as a back-door way around the city’s rent stabilization laws.

        Does the city charge for permits in RPZ’s, or are they free to the right people? Shouldn’t the permits cost at least enough to cover administrative costs of the program? Suggesting that the permits cost enough to maintain the asphalt under the car so permitted might be asking too much.

        But consider all the businesses saying they need parking in bus lanes in front of their businesses. Let them buy permits for space around the corner. Problem solved!

    2. Making it impossible for people in “certain types of housing” to get parking permits would be outright discrimination. I sure hope nobody actually in office in Seattle would even consider it.

      1. If your housing is your car, you can’t get a permit to park anywhere in this town, even in places where permits aren’t supposed to be required. That law has an impact on rents, too.

  5. There’s a very rational basis for this – basic economics says that when supply goes up, price goes down. Hence, when new homes in an area get built, all other things equal, the price of homes in the area (both new and existing) would be lower than had those new homes not gotten built. This is great for people that are looking to move into the area, but if you already own a home there, an increase in the housing supply is actually bad for you in the sense that when you eventually sell, your home won’t command as high of a price as it would otherwise.

    So, even before you get into concerns related to traffic, parking, or other issues, existing homeowners are always going to be biased against new development, and will look for every excuse available to try and stop it. When existing residents get a say in community meetings, while perspective residents don’t, and almost all existing residents are owners rather than renters, which is typically the case for SFH neighborhoods, (for renters, the incentives are the exact opposite – an increase in the housing supply means paying less money in rent every month), what you see is opposition to new development.

    Of course, farmland and forest have no nimby’s to resist development, so the end result of all this is sprawl.

    1. Hemingway’s quip about “broad lawns and narrow minds” certainly seems to be at work in those New England communities, but the reality is that there are important differences between those communities and Seattle. Most importantly, very little population growth is happening in NE while Seattle grows rapidly. In Seattle the demand is for more housing and supply is tight. In New England, demand is much lower, so communities work to limit supply.

      Public transportation is also non-existent in most of those communities (Darien is on Metro-North and has some bus service, but the other locations are off the transit grid). So the point that building more housing will increase sprawl is certainly valid. The uproar in Darien concerned a plan to build affordable senior housing in the middle of a SFH neighborhood. With limited transit and near-zero walkability, how appropriate, useful or sustainable would that housing be? Those seniors are still going to have to drive to the nearest WalMart to get their groceries and supplies.

    2. “if you already own a home there, an increase in the housing supply is actually bad for you in the sense that when you eventually sell, your home won’t command as high of a price as it would otherwise.”

      The irony is that these houses were dirt-cheap thirty years ago, and still more affordable twenty years ago. So any old-timer who says that, is effectively locking out newcomers from the same kind of deal he himself got. “I’ve got mine so screw you.” What’s worse is that if he has children or grandchildren, other people are doing the same thing to them.

    3. I agree, but I think this argument is rarely stated. I rarely run across concerns about property values. Partly this is because property values are going up steadily, but also because Seattle is a very left leaning city. I think if the argument was simply renters versus owners, people would vote against their financial self interest, and choose the renters. As I state below, I think lots of people simply don’t understand how this hurts renters, especially poor renters. You will often see comments such as “the people moving in are rich” or “money grubbing developers” but you rarely see anyone actually accepting the fact that, all other things being equal, renters in the area will pay less if the apartment is built (even if they don’t live in it). It is possible that there are folks who know full well that they are just choosing to increase the value of their own property over the well being of renters, but I doubt it. My guess is that the folks who argue about increased traffic, parking problems or ugly buildings are either ignorant of the effects on renters or feel that is is a necessary trade-off (and would support that trade-off regardless of their own finances).

      Furthermore, barring a boom-bust cycle (or bubble) the value of the existing houses would not go down if apartments are built. Unless, of course, they somehow make the neighborhood less desirable (and you could say the same thing about any number of things — like the neighbor who paints his house an ugly color). However, as you stated, they probably would not go up as fast if apartments are built to match the demand. This is because building an apartment always incurs a cost. If the land plus the cost of development does not equal the value as an apartment, then the house will remain a house. In other words, being able to convert a house to an apartment adds (potential) value to the property. Of course, a boom-bust cycle can change everything and things can get very complicated.

    4. It is rational, which is one of the ways democracy sucks, if you get a majority government, you can really screw over the minority.

      1. Or the not-yet-there.

        On the other hand, the alternative seems to be for the minority to really screw over the majority (see: Tea Party). This is one reason why I think more and more highly of range voting (or proportional representation, but I have other concerns about that, among them its inability to actually solve the tyrrany-of-the-majority problem).

      2. Range voting (or approval voting) are the best systems for single-winner elections, like President and Mayor.

        If you’re trying to create some sort of legislature or council, then you need proportional representation of some sort. A mathematician devised reweighted range voting to try to get the benefits of range voting and proportional representation at the same time.

    5. Well I’m a homeowner, and while it may not be in my self-interest (I think it is), I don’t look for every available excuse to try to stop development in my neighborhood. You have a good point but maybe tone down the assumptions a little.

      The reason that I do think it is in my self-interest to support denser development in my neighborhood is that I and my property value will benefit from greater density. I will have more services in walking distance, the people who work at those businesses will also be my neighbors, which enhances community, infrastructure investments (especially transit) will hopefully be targeted to more dense areas where they will benefit more people, and the tax base will be stronger overall. All of those things both increase my quality of life and make the neighborhood more desirable, which increases property value.

      On the micro, you are right about the relationship between property values and new housing, but on the macro, there are a lot of other factors that make it more complex.

  6. Unfortunately, using terms like “snob zones” may make the zoning discussions worse. There is a lot of ignorance and stereotyping going on with the zoning debate. To begin with, lots of the folks who support strict zoning fail to realize that this hurts the poor. In a city like Seattle, it is quite likely that many of the people who support those restrictions would be more accommodating if they realized that this was the end result. Part of the problem is that reaching this conclusion is not obvious, but involves the complex activities of the market. In other words, the same people who think that we should double or triple the amount of funding for food stamps will fight against a new Apodment in their neighborhood. Furthermore, these same people have no problem whatsoever with the new residents being poor; they just don’t want that type of building being built.

    It’s also important to understand that there is usually a trade-off with every public policy. Raise gas taxes to pay for transit and the poor are hurt by the tax increase, but benefit from the service. With some policies, the poor are hurt more, but liberals simply accepts this as a short term pain for long term benefit (a good example of this would be a high carbon tax).

    The same is true for zoning. I have great sympathy for folks who want to keep their neighborhood pretty. I walk a lot, and when I’m not walking in the mountains, or one of the parks in Seattle, I’m cruising through the neighborhoods. As much as I like the urban, cosmopolitan shops that are found here, I really like the predominately residential neighborhoods. The mix of housing and landscaping styles make for fun walking. I get it, and I understand why neighbors want to preserve it. I think it is quite reasonable to balance this desire for preserving the size of buildings (i. e. limiting the size of new buildings) with the rights of renters.

    But much of our zoning is designed to preserve parking or prevent congestion by making it more difficult to add units. For example, in many neighborhoods, you can build a very large single family house, but not the same size duplex. The same is true for apartment buildings, which are limited as much by unit number as they are by external dimensions. Perhaps the worst example is our terribly restrictive mother-in-law apartment laws. If you want to preserve the look and feel of a single family neighborhood, then encouraging mother-in-law apartment is a great idea. This gives residents and opportunity to stay in their house, while giving renters more opportunity. It is mind boggling that we choose to tightly restrict this common sense form of housing.

    As much as I hate traffic and like free parking, I just don’t think it is worth making life harder for renters to serve those goals. I would like to see zoning in this city only consider the health and safety of the residents when considering internal design. In other words, if you are allowed to build a three story building, then you should be able to add as many apartments inside that building as you feel fit (again, as long as you don’t harm the health and safety of the residents). In contrast, reaching some sort of compromise with the external dimensions and the design make sense. In some neighborhoods (or some streets) three stories is just too high. In others, eight or ten make a lot more sense. But in all of those cases, I think we should greatly liberalize the rules that govern the number of people who are allowed to live in those buildings. You shouldn’t have to jump through hoops just to make a building that includes a dozen residents, while someone who builds the exact same size single family building can just build it.

    Along with this change, we should simply get rid of the parking requirement. Again, this is a trade-off. But having renters pay more just so we can enjoy parking hardly seems like a fair trade-off.

    1. It’s just a book title, and it shouldn’t have to apologize for being humorous. It’s part of book marketing. There’s a difference between a book pointing out that restrictive low-density zoning is a kind of de facto snobbery, vs people adopting the phrase casually for NIMBY situation.

      1. I agree, the book doesn’t have to apologize, nor am I asking it to. I’m just saying that I’ve discussed zoning dozens of times, and it is quite obvious that there are plenty of people who simply don’t understand how restricting zoning hurts the poor. I had to spend a lot of time on this very blog explaining to someone that his opposition to an Apodment being built hurts the poor. He (correctly) said he was not trying to hurt the poor. He was also not a snob. He simply didn’t understand the complex nature of economics and how it relates to rent. It is this ignorance that hurts the debate more than anything. If not for this ignorance, we could get down to the real trade-offs involved with zoning. But instead, we get stuck with silly side issues, such as how much the developer will make on the deal.

      2. It’s not just a book title. The original anti-snob zoning law “has been directly responsible for approximately 80% of the affordable housing built in Massachusetts outside the major cities” in the last decade.


        The law isn’t perfect and, unfortunately, it does have the potential to encourage sprawling development styles on the outskirts of previously-compact small towns (our stopped-clock concern troll above is actually sort-of correct on this point).

        But the primary, and inarguable, benefit has has been to prevent communities from becoming wealth monocultures of the sort seen from Connecticut to California: places where residents (and their impressionable offspring) may be completely walled off from the economic realities of the rest of society. The law has been a victory in the war against willful ignorance.

    2. To begin with, lots of the folks who support strict zoning fail to realize that this hurts the poor. In a city like Seattle, it is quite likely that many of the people who support those restrictions would be more accommodating if they realized that this was the end result.

      Perhaps in some cases. But in plenty of other cases, it’s motivated ignorance (or, I suspect, faux-ignorance) that allows people who imagine themselves to be progressive to pursue an agenda of using restrictive zoning laws to create artificial and unnecessary scarcity, thereby inflating the value of their own property, without being forced to admit to themselves or others what they’re doing. I’ve long been frustrated that the discourse surrounding development and zoning in Seattle and elsewhere seems to be conducted without any willingness to confront this.

      I think it’s worth considering that the anti-development NIMBY forces benefit from this kind of naivete about their knowledge and motives. If they are legitimately ignorant of these basic facts, it’s almost certainly an ignorance motivated in no small part by self-interest in avoiding cognitive dissonance, and we shouldn’t coddle or enable that sort of thing. They’re screwing over poor people and the environment in order to increase the value of their investment, and they have no right to avoid confronting that fact.

      1. If you feel that way, then why aren’t they rezoning the mansions on Capitol Hill for apodments? Or Montlake? There’s far more territory there where you can build housing. Hell, whatever happened to Sand Point…you could built scores of apartments for low income people there!

        Seems to me like the neighborhoods like Ballard and Wallingford are being targeted by Blockbusters.

      2. If you feel that way, then why aren’t they rezoning the mansions on Capitol Hill for apodments?

        Why are you confusing me (a lowly blog commenter) with they (the zoning powers-that-be)?

        At any rate, I have no problem with zoning that allows such buildings to be divided into several apartments. Some of them already are, so I don’t even know the extent to which current zoning doesn’t permit that.

        Seems to me like the neighborhoods like Ballard and Wallingford are being targeted by Blockbusters.

        You do seem to enjoy living in your own little world, John, where no one actually wants to live in dense neighborhoods and they’re way to expensive and these two facts don’t contradict the other at all. But words actually have meaning, and you don’t get to re-define them at your pleasure. Do a little reading on ‘blockbusting,’ come back, and try to express whatever it is you think mean that sentence to convey, but without using the wrong term. To state the obvious, blockbusting has nothing whatsoever to do with allowing increases in density.


      3. That’s what it used to mean.

        But today I redefine it to mean, driving out single family homeowners by inserting a high density unit in the middle of homes where it doesn’t belong.

        The reason is the same — to drive people out of their homes and buy them up at reduced prices as they panic sell.

      4. You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. For this goofy theory to have any plausibility whatsoever, we’d have to see evidence of sales at reduced prices in Wallingford and Ballard. Of course, quite the opposite is happening: there’s more units moving in precisely because these areas are highly desirable. There are a handful of whiny homeowners trying to use the government to artificially inflate their home values by restricting competition who’ll try to convince you otherwise, but the evidence suggests the precise opposite of your theory is actually happening.

      5. I live in Wallingford. There is a twelve-unit apartment directly behind my single family house. I guess I’ve been blockbusted, except they were there first. And have never given me a moment’s trouble other than the time someone moving in blocked my driveway while I was on my way to an event where I had to wear a tux.

        Reports of the inability of single family houses to coexist with multifamily are greatly exaggerated.

      6. They have created Apodments in Capitol Hill; one of them was a former “mansion”. From an architectural standpoint, it was probably a big loss, but what people complained about most was the number of people moving in and the parking. Of course, as with all of these debates, it often gets lumped together (e. g. “I hate this change. It was a nice pretty house, with one family inside. Now its an ugly building with lots of people. People who will make it hard to park. And screw up traffic. Whaaaaa!”). They seem to gloss over the fact that the building could have easily been replaced by an even uglier same building, but with fewer residents. But either way, the Apodment exception is being used throughout Capitol Hill, and some of the locals have complained.

  7. GMA is the ultimate restriction on low cost housing. Couple that with mandated caps on real estate tax and you have an entire state of Washington that is a Snob Zone, in that it costs a newcomer — even with skills — far more to live here than a long timer who is grandfathered in.

  8. Solution to snobbery problem: shut off all the credit cards and limit home loans to those with means to pay them off. Poor- especially those who now think they’re middle class-would suddenly discover how thoroughly they outnumber every other income bracket, and alter their politics accordingly.

    Sounds pretty conservative too, doesn’t it?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Unfortunately, as we see from the “Keep the Government Out of My Medicare” people, it is quite possible for people to have political views completely contrary to reality. So even if people discovered how poor they really were, they might still have crazy politics — for instance, they might fall for the scam artists who claim that the gold standard is the cure for everything (actually, it would make things worse).

  9. What I gather from this post is that people in communities should have no say over what their communities look like. They are just being “snobs” and NIMBYs. And contrary to what a few people above say, a title may serve to call attention to the book for marketing purposes, it can also make a potential reader become immediately predisposed to think the author is kind of a joke. I find name-calling right off the bat is usuallya bad technique for persuasion.

    People travel from around the world to visit beautiful European towns in Italy, France, Switzerland, etc. What makes those places so appealing is they have coherence. There also have strict limits on what can be built or changed. That works for these places. You go to a Berlin, Paris, Rome, etc. and you see a mix of areas with strict limits and areas where new development can occur. Conflating the situations in small towns with big cities is down right dumb. The argument for looser controls in large urban areas center around the efficiencies and infrastructure available in cities to support significant growth. Small towns are built around a totally difficult system. Put a 10 story apartment building in the middle of some of these small towns and frankly you ruin what makes the town an appealing place to live. People move there to have someplace intimate, friendly,personal (very unlike most cities these days).

    Reading some of the posts these days on here it seems like no one can think in anything but absolutist terms. You’re either a nimby or a neoliberal, regulation free development promoter. Not only is this unhelpful, but it’s quite sad, because it risks ignoring the better approach which is to carefully plan and develop with purpose, not some base attempt at increasing density because existentially this may make it better for transit etc. I admit there are plenty of people (like the 58th St. guy) who aren’t helpful to the process, but I’m also unsure what has happened to places like Ballard is really the best. Non-descript apartment buildings while cheap and easy to build, have turned Ballard into a generic neighborhood of ok restaurants and gastro pubs and bank branches and chain drugstores. Ballard was appealing in many ways because it kept a link with its roots. It had a personality. I’d love to see dense development that works within this identify and augments it rather than transform it to just a new urban growth area that could exist in any large city in America. Rather than making it an us v. them argument maybe we should be thinking about how to influence the design and planning decisions to make dense, coherent neighborhoods, something so called “nimbys” and “density advocates” can probably find some common ground with.

    Just a last quick illustration of this. People like to talk about Arlington, VA as a model of how to do dense development and transportation planning in concert. They’ve done a great job accepting and building for density. The problem is that density has resulted in a loss of any character (or inhibited its development). Arlington is one giant generic suburban paradise built vertically rather than horizontally. It solves part of the transportation problem, but it really isn’t that interesting of a place to live. Its dense neighborhoods are more reminiscent of giant soviet apartment blocks than the older urban downtowns of NY, Philadelphia, or Boston.

    1. What I gather from this post is that people in communities should have no say over what their communities look like.

      This post says nothing of the sort. It suggests that perhaps there is too much local control over new development, and that control is routinely abused. Neither of these claims logically imply that local communities should have no say at all. Nuance is hard, but please try.

      1. That’s kind of the underlying argument there. If locals are often dominated by nimbys and nimbys are categorically bad, we should do something about local control even when there are laws in place that try to limit local control. I’m not sure how this is an unreasonable interpretation of the message of a post lauding a book such as this without any contribution itself of nuance. It was intended to be direct, but it is by no means a complete misinterpretation of the jist of the post.

      2. That’s kind of the underlying argument there.

        No, it’s not. Simply repeating this claim doesn’t make it any more true.

      3. Thought experiment: imagine an experiment where children, starting at the age of six, had right to decide whether to go to school or not. If someone wrote about the effects of this policy, focusing on the problems this policy caused, would you be tempted to respond to such an essay with: “What I gather from this post is that children should not have any rights at all?”

      1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I’m speaking to an undercurrent in a lot of these posts against the “nimby activists” out there. People with reasonable complaints are lumped in with the more unreasonable folks. This post reviews a book calling people snobs. The comments seemed to to undermine any concern over such development in small towns with extreme examples about people who call these developments trailer parks and others in urban settings who move in then shortly there after what no development like theirs to occur. People who oppose growth are considered to be people against public housing or affordable housing. There was no nuance about the battle really going on in small towns that is much more diverse and complex than this discussion recognizes. Maybe it is because I know first hand what some of these discussions in small towns are like (and not represented by that caricature/example), but I’d like to see a little nuance about the issues rather than a giant finger point at the worst of the worst.

        Maybe that isn’t your intention, but the subtext is definitely there and I think it may undermine the ability to move forward with good dense urban development that maximizes not only transit but the character of our communities.

      2. Look at the San Mateo penninsula. People have successfully hindered almost any growth or density for half a century, and that has led to $3000 rents in San Francisco and almost as much in the suburbs, and people have to commute 30+ miles to find a place they can afford to live. I’m sure not “everybody” opposes growth and apartments, but enough people do that it de facto chokes the region.

    2. “People travel from around the world to visit beautiful European towns in Italy, France, Switzerland, etc. What makes those places so appealing is they have coherence. There also have strict limits on what can be built or changed.”

      They are also walkable and and have a higher level of transit than the US, both in these cute old towns and in the new neighborhoods built for an expanding population. So they don’t cut off growth completely and let rents rise astronomically, they don’t allow low-density sprawl, and they don’t force people into sprawl if they can’t afford old-town rents.

      1. I agree with everything you said. All that was made possible with deliberate action that didn’t just look at density, but transit, housing policy, and a broader land use policy.

    3. Reading some of the posts these days on here it seems like no one can think in anything but absolutist terms.

      Perhaps you mean to say “dualist” terms, and if so, yes I whole-heartedly agree!

      Again, I say. If money is not a consideration, no one would want to live in an apodment when they could live in a large, well lit, apartment in a nice, low rise classic brick building with thick walls, floors and ceilings. Nor do most want to live in an isolated, large plot suburb with no walkable resources.

      Yet the two choices being offered are are those extremes!

      If people mostly desire a combination of large apartments, and small plot homes, then why aren’t we building more of those and LINKing them up with transit systems?

      1. Please ask the Kent City Council that. Ask them to expand the emerging dense neighborhood around Kent Station, and to allow new small-lot houses somewhere.

  10. I live in a small community near Seattle and have seen both sides of this.

    On one hand I’ve seen community activists complain about a dozen condos increasing traffic on streets which have average density too low to bother measuring. There are zero parking problems here now. Building codes require new buildings to fit within height restrictions so they don’t block views, but even within those restrictions every building is going to block somebody’s view of something.

    On the other hand the same activists successfully stopped a truly disastrous building project which had an open-air “courtyard”, meant to satisfy its public space requirements, which wasn’t actually open to the sky. It was just a breezeway through the building of the appropriate square footage to attempt to satisfy the building code.

    I think on sum it’s better to have activists who occasionally bring up some ridiculous arguments in order to counter the builders who will always try to cut corners. The county is the ultimate arbiter of whose arguments hole more weight.

    1. I had an idea that if *every* project required prior approval on a “flat” basis (no zoning code, just “planning board must approve”), it would become less possible to kill good projects; with a constant flow of projects, NIMBYs would have to focus on the worst. Not sure this would work but it’s an idea.

  11. 8 Indisputable Reasons Why We Don’t Need Offices

    Looking back a decade or so ago it was absolutely essential to have an office, or more likely, a cubicle. That’s where we had meetings, saw our coworkers, and just got work done. But today do we really need corporate offices? New technologies allow us to “connect to work,” meaning that all we need to get work done is an internet connection.

    Employees are working from co-working spots, cafes, and home offices all over the world without ever having to step foot into a corporate office.

    In fact the 2013 Regus Global Economic Indicator of 26,000 business managers across 90 countries, revealed that 48% of them are now working remotely for at least half of their work-week.


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