Blogsplaining Good Urbanism

89 thoughts on “Blogsplaining Good Urbanism”

  1. Johnnie – I enjoy your writing about US real-estate issues, and think that you might like to read this piece on the situation in British Columbia. The main idea is that when boomers run into trouble staying in their homes, the government’s response is much more satisfying than when millenials have trouble getting into homes to begin with.

    1. Interesting article. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds over policy minutiae, particularly since each region has its own squirrely culturally specific alluvial delta of loopholes and subsidies. But the big picture is remarkably similar all over. Here in California Prop 13 keeps older homeowners’ taxes frozen in time while new buyers pay full freight.

      My expectation is that the bubble (real estate, stocks, auto loans, student loans…) is going to pop with some unpleasant consequences for everyone. One man’s debt is another man’s retirement savings. The “solution” is likely to be some version of currency devaluation. Fun!

  2. Whoaaaa now, what is this Properation H nonsense?! Cali wants to give their homeless bus fare and send them to us? I’m gonna have to look at this.

    Seems like one step closer to TJ Martinell’s prediction of states enforcing their own border security.

    1. ‘states enforcing their own border security’: didn’t that happen during the Great Depression? By none other than (among other states) California? Gotta keep those Okies out. Indeed, some states criminalized importing migrants, while making it legal to deport migrants to adjacent states.

  3. Isn’t the process of receiving California’ cast offs called “Califrnication”? Why do Texans and Arizonans tolerate the building of affordable housing while Californians do not?

    1. Texas doesn’t tolerate (subsidized) Affordable Housing unless it’s built in an already overwhelmingly poor area. Their state housing agency has been in court almost continuously over it.

    2. Building a new “luxury” new home within 3 miles of downtown Austin costs less than building new workforce housing on the edge of Palmdale.

      Part of that is land value, a larger part of it is regulations.

      The primary way we make affordable housing here in Texas is making a lot of housing, so the older stuff gets affordable as it dilapidates.

  4. Is there any chance that this is a generational attitude, a generation what will pass but is still in control and messing things up?

    You know my (majority of) generational values perspective. Am I missing something? By choosing to live in a mixed-income, mixed-use (though not, at the time, very mixed race) urban neighborhood and walk and bike and use transit, I was an outlier among my generation.

    And most of those older were those who simply never left, because they happened to be born here, and live a suburban life, driving everywhere, not going to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park a few blocks away because it was dangerous, sending their kids to the same parochial school they went to, etc.

    With regard the millennials, however, so many of them want to live here that the problem has completely flipped. My kids, who are at the back end of the Baby Boom echo the way we were at the very end of the Baby Boom, are priced out because so many millennials, including those who go there first, want to live here.

    That’s the problem I see.

    Generation Greed control of our institutions is the the obstacle I see.

    They are the ones who want to keep the suburbs one family only, even as that type of housing only accommodates one phase of life and they can’t sell. And in the city, they are the ones fighting the bike lanes — because those interfere with free parking for their cars.

  5. A couple of decades ago, someone told me “most problems started out as solutions.”

    It’s stuck with me. Most of the time, the problem you’re trying to solve is someone else’s solution to a completely different problem you might not even know about. That’s why they fight against the “common sense” solution. Or maybe it was our grandparents solution to a problem we’ve completely forgotten exists because their solution worked, so we “fix” their unfashionable ideas and suddenly wonder why we have this new problem…

    The world being what it is, few things are perfect, including solutions, and there’s always trade-offs. I think there are two sources for our civic problems: one is that we force people to live together who prefer different trade-offs which sets up conflict, and two, we have such an accretion of rules and regulations, people are constrained in how they can accommodate trade-offs, making them even more reluctant to accept them.

    Financial contraction makes both worse.

    1. Joseph Tainter is a professor at Utah State who specializes in understanding why past civilizations collapsed. He doesn’t think it’s resource depletion pre se. Instead societies are faced with problems that they solve with new layers of complexity. And it works. For a while. Then there are new problems which are solved with more layers of complexity. And it works. For a while. Eventually all the accumulated complexity is what causes the collapse. Complexity is expensive. More administrators, more moving parts, more unintended side effects – and more fragility. Collapse is just a return to a previous level of simplicity – or a level of less complexity that conforms to the available resource base.

      I see all our whiz bang technology as buying us time. And it will work – until it doesn’t. Then we’ll be trapped in a world that can’t function without it. Not good. So my personal plan is to follow the advice of John Michael Greer. “Collapse now and beat the rush.” In other words, intentionally simplify your life so you have more control over the basics of subsistence. Food, water, shelter… in ways that don’t require exotic financing methods and imported goods from the other side of the planet. It’s not easy. And it will never be complete. But it is possible to become less fragile at the household level.

      1. You often see that in big businesses. Over time the various challenges they face leads them to accrete more and more rules until they can no longer function. Then they ether fail completely or are taken over. What’s really interesting is people within these organisations can see it happening yet can’t do anything about it.

      2. Except that JMG did say that “Collapse now and beat the rush” has passed its pull by date meaning that it is too late for the majority of us to gracefully collapse.

        1. I like to remind people of what “collapse” means. Joseph Tainter describes collapse as a rapid simplification of a previously complex system. And “rapid” could mean a few decades or a century as was the case for some of the past societies he studied.

          In our current context Americans could experience collapse over the next generation or two and it might not feel like much of anything on a day-to-day basis. The old “frog in the frying pan” model.

          Personally I’m expecting more of a Soviet style slow slide and crash. (I was in Russia poking around back in 1989 – 1990 and watched the wheels come off that cart first hand.) I’d say we’ve been sliding for a while already. Americans could adapt the same way Russians did. It wasn’t the Zombie Apocalypse. It was just a simplification of previously complex systems.

          1. I’m not sure Americans can simplify on a mass scale. Russia has an advantage in a common culture to which they, as a nation, hold tightly. The U.S. is more of a mass of conflicting cultures trying to act like one, leviathon-like being.

            1. No. The Soviet Union stretched from the Baltic Republics in Scandinavia to the “Stans” of Central Asia and from Poland to the Pacific islands north of Japan. There were lots of distinct languages, cultures, and religions. The Soviets had an official policy of intentionally relocating large numbers of ethnic Russians out to other regions and pulling in select non Russians to the center as needed. In other words… it was a standard empire.

              The American version stretches from Alaska to Florida and Guam to Puerto Rico. Same same.

              1. Not so much. I was not counting the various “states” within the Soviet Union, but only Russia. The other part of that, even if you do count up the SU “states”, is that they were still bound by a common cultural core–Orthodoxy, in spite of the Soviet persecutions, permeates that area. The U.S. has no such commonality (the numerous Protestant schisms in no real way present a unified culture).

                1. All of the “stans” are between 70 and 100% muslim, as are Azerbaijan & Chechnya.

                  At the last soviet census, about 135 million in the USSR were ethnic russians, while 125 million soviets were not.

        2. I don’t recall Greer saying we’re past the pull by date. In his recent writing he is still encouraging his readers to simplify and learn practical skills that support a much leaner lifestyle.

      3. Yes, I believe I’ve read some of his work. The model is accurate. I write software for a living (well, these days I mostly manage people who write it, but one of my responsibilities is guiding them through the long-term cycle they’re not yet experienced enough to know about). Software has a similar issue – complexity piles up until the system is unworkable. One of the things I explain to executives is that the real cost of software isn’t measured in dollars or man-months or any tradition units. it’s measured in complexity. You start off with a perfectly simple program that does nothing, then you add complexity until it has the features you need.

        Then you do version 2, adding more complexity until it has the new features you need. Then version 3, then… well, usually by the time you get to version 4 or 5 at the latest, the code has become so complex, nobody – not even really smart programmers – can keep it under control. Changes here cause unexpected problems there, and fixes those problems causes yet another problem over there….. There’s a measure we track, regression rate. It’s the number of new bugs created by every bug fix. I’ve inherited projects that were 1:1 – for everything we fixed, we broke something at least equally bad.

        At that point, you don’t really have any choice but to let that particular product collapse. You can build a new version mostly from scratch with the same name if you want, but you have to start over.

        So one of the things I tell my teams is they’re free to re-write one-third of the code on any given release cycle. No questions asked. Wish we could do that with government, but I’m reminded how calcified laws become every time I buy a shirt with that stupid mandatory tag on it telling me to wash in lukewarm water with like colors and tumble dry low.

        1. At the moment I’m dealing with my own “technical debt” – again. My terabytes of photos are inaccessible at the moment. Every few months the digital storage device crashes. It gets tinkered with for a few days, a patch is tried, a new program is installed, a new widget is connected, something is tweaked…

          And then the computer spends a week digesting things as the spinning wheel of death rolls. Eventually I gain access to the photos again, but all the labels and dates are randomly jumbled and I can’t find anything anymore. I slowly adjust to the new less-than-perfect consequences and get on with things. Then a few months later the photos crash again and are inaccessible once more. Rinse. Repeat.

          As a result I don’t want to use my good camera anymore and I use my old photos less and less – even though I have some great ones from around the world. I mostly use cell phone pix now. Until that crashes and burns. Fun!

          1. Sounds very frustrating (intermittently at least). Have you tried sticking them on a plain old portable USB drive? Bytes are cheap these days, and the two I bash around with me everywhere have both been 100% reliable despite my tendency to drop them on the floor and schlep them around at the bottom of a backpack full of power supplies.

        2. You are a lot smarter than most of the managers I had. We had to refactor on the sly when a software component became so brittle, it was impossible to fix or upgrade, often acquiring a reputation as an “untouchable” no one wanted anything to do with. As Dr. Zachary Smith would say: “Oh, the pain, the pain”.

  6. For at least 40 years people have been arguing strongly that growth and development were bad and that communities had the right to greatly curtail development. Petaluma was an early example. That mindset has been around for a long time now. Of course, it also had the pleasant effect (for those of us fortunate enough to be advantaged by it) of increasing our own home values by considerable amounts. Furthermore, it tended to keep nice neighborhoods fairly white, with perhaps a smattering of Asians. Blacks have been moving away from California for years and Hispanics are largely young and often without the resources (or inheritances) to buy in the nicer neighborhoods. If you think old white progressives don’t see this as beneficial to them, I’d suggest that you don’t know many old white progressives.

    A lot of people have done very well out of the current situation, and while it is tough on the young, our own young will one day inherit a lot.

    Change may come as a growing Hispanic population begins to more fully realize that to a large extent they are the ones who’ve really been priced out.

    1. From personal experience, I haven’t heard old white progressives (or conservatives for that matter) express anti-growth views in starkly racial or property value terms, although they may do so in private. It seems to me more of a general anti-urban bias among baby boomers. Progressives associate The City with overpopulation, pollution and corporate greed. Conservatives see crime, blight and bureaucrats. Both groups idealize small town America to an absurd extent.

      1. Agreed – and well said.

        The irony is that the “best” suburban communities are cosmetically more attractive, but even more critically dependent and fragile than urban cores in many ways. How long would Scottsdale hold up if the water, oil, and electricity supplies were turned off? They require Big Government and Big Business to function.

        And a cul-de-sac off the side of an eight lane arterial is in no way comparable to a traditional Main Street town. It isn’t about what a place looks or feels like. It’s about its functionality. A century ago most necessities were produced pretty close to home. Now critical food and energy are air lifted from the other side of the planet.

        Notice I call this blog Granola Shotgun. The progressives and conservatives are two sides of the same coin as you describe. They demand we maintain the current systems at all costs, even as they rail against it. Then again, hippies and red necks are oddly in agreement in their physical solutions, if not their superficial ideologies. The big productive food garden, small livestock, a few solar panels, and a hand pump for the well – all without debt – work for tree huggers and Bible bangers alike.

      2. As a certified baby boomer who grew up on a farm, I did enjoy living in some cities when young and starting out, including San Francisco, Tokyo and Sydney. In fact, I had a whale of a good time.. I think a lot of us liked the cities when young. However, once married and with family and a dog, the suburbs with leafy streets and decent schools did seem more attractive. The millennials, who are our kids, seem to be about where we were in the ’80s, getting married, having kids, and suddenly thinking about decent school districts and getting a house with a yard and even getting a dog. Now that I’m semi-retired and working from home, I’m trying the small town again. If you’re not interested in in staying out past 9, it ain’t bad.

        1. Your comments remind me of an article about a woman who worked in Porn but moved her family to Utah so her children could grow up in a “more wholesome” environment! My first thought was, “you don’t even realize how much you contributed to that “less wholesome” environment, do you?”. I think we all tend to be a bit blind at how we contribute to the issues in the area we live in.

  7. Johnny, I don’t have anything to add to your excellent big picture analysis but your blogsplaining about Sonoma County got me curious about my childhood neighborhood in Santa Rosa. Then I came upon this street view that really encapsulates the problem:,-122.7134643,3a,69.5y,80.33h,76.37t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sovo7lW0GlW28rybIbIz7uQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    The large empty lot behind the homeless bike depot (not sure what to call it) used to have a strip club named “Everybody’s Talking” back in the 80s. It was torn down in the 90s I think. Now this part of town has always been a little sleazy, but look at that view of Sonoma Mountain! You can almost imagine a nice little development of affordable bungalows, providing housing but also a nice profit. Win win, right? Why isn’t there housing here? All the reasons in your post and then some… a discussion for another time.

    1. Yes, I know this spot in Santa Rosa well. I could do some research on who owns it and why it’s still vacant. Could be the owner is sitting on it waiting for the right buyer at the right price. Could be the owner has been in negotiation with the authorities to build who-knows-what for the last twenty years. Could be a water and sewer thing. Could be four siblings inherited the property and are locked in a death match over how to slice the pie. Could be the city or county owns the property…

      1. The zoning, or lack there of in that few blocks is wild….trailer parks, SFH, a car dealer, a hotel, looks like a SFH that turned into a multi-family (permitted?), new build MF, looks like a light industrial building and some self storage thrown in for good measure, all within a half mile stretch of road.

        1. Actually, every inch of that strip of road is zoned and coded to death – and has been for the last 70 years. I’ve been to the county offices and seen the zoning maps.

          I constantly have to remind people that the nasty eight lane arterials that ribbon out across America are relentlessly regulated and perpetually code-enforced. It isn’t an accident that all these places look the same. But if you suggest we change the rules to get a different result the Upright Citizens Brigades appear with firebrands and pitchforks screaming about “social engineering.” Shrug. We get the Jiffy Lubes, self storage facilities, and Taco Bells we demand.

  8. San Diego thinks more affordable units will help solve the housing crisis. But we have a never ending supply of more people to house just a few miles south. So laws and fees are reduced and creative solutions come one at a time. Like the freeways, no overall lessening of traffic is possible with more supply. Check out the photo of a unit air dropped into a back yard for Mom to live in.

    1. If San Diego built more houses they would also have an endless supply of people to house from the east as well (much like LA).

      1. Was just going to point this out. LA and San Diego “pioneers” came from the American Midwest. So did my family in the early 70s, when California’s population was half what it is today. So did my college buddy after he got his graduate degree in Ann Arbor.

        As long as it’s perpetually 72 and sunny and you don’t have to worry about the weather forecast hourly, people will come.

        1. Have you seen domestic in/out-migration numbers in the past, ohhhh, 25 years or so? CA has had net OUT-migration for every year except one or two I believe (early 2000s) over that time.

          1. California’s population has continued to increase unabated for the last century. I was born in LA in 1967 when there were 19 million people in the state. Today there are just shy of 40 million. Native born Californians are in fact leaving in significant numbers, but they are more than replaced by other Americans (native born and otherwise) as well as international immigrants. For example, 30% of the inhabitants in Orange County are foreign born – and that group includes Indian computer coders, Honduran gardeners, and every other imaginable subset. Some people think this is great. Others hate it. “Irish, Negros, and Chinamen need not apply.” Shrug.

            By the way, has anyone looked at the out migration of Nebraska lately? It’s been hemorrhaging native born people since Word War II and is radically depopulated except for a handful of cities. Who are the in-migrants? Foreign born folks…. They work at the slaughterhouses and such.

  9. “A neighbor was distraught that the house next door was installing a two story infill accessory dwelling unit in the back yard”
    That is really terrible.
    My neighbor has just added a 3rd storey with balcony overlooking my single storey cottage.
    Not compliant with building guidelines but still approved.
    Believe me, it can wreck your life when it happens to you.
    If you have nice neighbours, treasure them.

  10. “I am not opposed to using the Prop. H tax to pay relocation costs to the Rust Belt, or any place which would take them.”

    I have the sense that a lot of the people who propose such ideas would then turn around and complain that they’re ‘subsidising’ the Rust Belt. We have a similar dynamic here in the UK – London doesn’t get a grip on its housing costs, so it sends poor families out to cheaper areas of the country, and then Londoners gripe that they’re ‘subsidising’ the rest of us. I wonder how that would change if they had to pay for all the former Londoners they’ve driven out?

    1. Well, actually… 😉 See what I did there!

      Major metropolitan areas DO “subsidize” everywhere else; mathematically they are not wrong. In the US state of Michigan 75%+ of all tax revenue comes from the I-96/I-94 corridors linking to state’s two largest cities (Detroit & Grand Rapids). That is something like ~10-15% of the land area of the state. Just about everywhere works that way; the major cities hemorrhage cash to support the rest of the region (state): schools, roads, water, etc… I am not saying even that this is a bad thing – network effect is real – or shouldn’t be. However that is the situation everywhere I’ve looked up the numbers.

        1. A lot of dedicated urbanists have a very hard time getting their heads around the fact that dense urban cores mostly exist as financial and administrative centers for the surrounding region (how big the region depends, for Seattle, it’s most of Washington State, for London is a good chunk of Europe). The jobs that generate the tax revenues Adam points to are banking, finance, government agencies, corporate HQs, and the associated services – law firms, accounting firms, PR, advertising, etc. Those jobs don’t exist if there aren’t other jobs out in the sticks and burbs that need financing and administrating and governing (whether they need as much as they get is another question).

          London and central Detroit “produce” so much tax revenue because they first make all the productivity from the surrounding landscape flow through them. The activities that generate the revenue that funnels into the administrative offices downtown happen in lower density areas (which may be part of the same city of course, and “lower” is always relative) that have room for things like factories, mills, meat packing plants, refineries and what not.

          But that wasn’t your point either. The argument that productive cities support the deadbeats in the hinterlands is sort of like the highly paid CEO complaining his taxes are going to pay welfare for the workers his company had to lay off because of gross mis-management. That’s probably a little closer.

          1. Exactly. The idea that the ‘tertiary economy’ (finance, law etc.) can exist without a secondary (manufacturing) or primary (farming and mining) industry to sit on top of is insane, yet London and New York insist that the rest of the country can’t live without them.

            1. I agree, but there’s a caveat. The ever larger and more vertically integrated factories, farms, and mines (“Get big or get out”) need working capital to invest in new equipment and such. This absolutely “could” be done with funds sourced much closer to home, but it would have to be at a smaller scale with more fine grained interactions.

              The regulations that used to prevent national and international concentration (and keep control and wealth more dispersed in many more individual hands) were dismantled beginning in the 1980s under Reagan and Thatcher. Deregulation continued unabated to the present.

              There’s also the question of sacrosanct federal subsidies for the above mentioned vertically integrated enterprises. Just try and cut any one of them and see how far you get.

              Ever increasing complexity drives ever increasing centralization. Would we (all of us) trade off less stuff (like super cheap food and hip replacement surgery) in exchange for less big city and big government domination? It’s an interesting question…

  11. I lived in Venice CA for years, was back over Xmas visiting friends. Shopped at Whole Foods on Lincoln. Ginormous. Big parking lot, which was completely jammed. parked on street in back of store and discovered it was tent city of homeless on sidewalk. Was actually really shocked.

    People in the 2 bdr 1 ba 750 sq ft $1.2 million bungalows across the street look at the tents all day and wonder what will happen to their property values.

    And of course there are no public bathrooms anywhere near.

    Why are there so many homeless now?

  12. I agree with Byron in coming to the aid of those right in front of us. Our ability to meaningfully assist people who are habituated to dependency on the government and/or in the depths of addiction is very remote. In 25 years of urban living I’ve yet to encounter anyone on the street I would remotely consider trusting in my house or around my family.

    Johnny likes to throw shade on sober communities in the desert (Antelope Acres!) but tiny houses on wheels can be had for a fraction of what we are about to spend per unit in LA.

    Why not try a 500 house prototype community outside Llano? That’s one percent of LA’s homeless population. Cherry pick those least likely to blow it.

    If Llano was good enough for Aldous Huxley…

    1. No shade to Antelope Acres. I was dead serious. I have a lot more respect for the folks who take on the responsibility of maintaining their own utilities and manage with dirt roads in the desert than the people who move to a distant suburb and expect city level services. And I’m also serious about the firearms. (I’m a gun owner myself.) If anyone tries to set up a “sober living camp” on 138 the locals are going to get creative in their response.

      There’s also a chicken and egg thing going on with the homeless population. Marginal people can function even with some addiction and mild mental illness in a low cost environment. In a place as economically unforgiving as LA it’s easier to fall through the cracks. This supports your assertion that people should live in a cheaper place. But you kinda need to be in a viable community to function unless your job is to sit in your Tiny House in the desert and wait for a monthly check.

      1. “Marginal people can function even with some addiction and mild mental illness in a low cost environment.”

        Agreed. Isn’t this an argument for a bus ticket to the rust belt and an EBT card loaded with a couple grand? As long as we are not sending an excessive number to any one city, why isn’t this fair? Lord knows LA and SF have been accepting the social service overflow of other cities for decades.

        1. Isn’t the moderate climate in much of California also a factor? You just can’t hang out outdoors throughout the year most places back east due to the extreme cold and extreme heat.

          It would be a death sentence for many…or is that the point?

          That bring to mind another point: The conditions endured by the homeless, day in and day out, would put me six feet under in no time. I think they’re kind of heroic actually…or at least tough as nails.

          1. Bingo. Where it’s generally sunny and 72, and never really cold, there is far less of an environmental penalty for homelessness.

            Also, where there are lots of high income people, there are day jobs in the cash economy for folks who function well enough…the one aspect of “trickle down” that seems to be real.

          2. Not to mention the hardship they would experience when taken away from their community of friends, the support services they know and who know them, and plunked down in a strange place they know nothing about. Yanking them out of their familiar environs would be cruel and unnecessary.

    2. So… there are enough vacant parking lots all over The Valley to absorb plenty of 500 unit Tiny House villages – all on existing sewer and water lines and within walking distance of civilization, including jobs. This is the pragmatic cost effective way to implement your solution to housing the homeless while keeping them in a place where they can integrate into society in a productive manner. Of course this won’t happen because nearby property owners will have a hissy fit – you among them, no doubt. Who wants 500 crazy drunks next door?

      You know how I think this problem is going to be solved – for real? That big half dead premium outlet mall in Tejon Ranch is already a pretty good internment camp… There are no neighbors out there except for the Ikea distribution warehouse. It has enough existing bathrooms and lots of empty big box type space for dormitories. And as soon as retail fails for real the parent company of the property might be happy to subcontract the storage of a bunch of sad rejects for a few million dollars a month in government transfer payments. No need to let the homeless even touch the funds themselves. I’m dead serious.

      Back to my earlier point. In order to provide genuinely affordable housing to folks who are able to hold down a half assed job I suggest that 500 individual Tiny House equivalents be quietly tucked away in 500 private back yards without mentioning it to the authorities. This would accomplish the same goals, be built entirely with private money, and be managed by 500 mom and pops for profit rather than a huge bureaucracy at tax payer expense.

      But I’m Blogsplaining again.

      1. Are Californians really going to tolerate spending that much money to imprison the homeless? I thought a large part of the reason that municipalities play whack a mole with homeless camps (or ignore them) is that it is a whole lot cheaper than the alternatives.

  13. After the accessory dwelling unit was built, the neighbors behind planted fast growing shrubs and the “ADU”property did the same. There is quiet and respect on both sides of the fence and no problems at all.

    The SF dwelling which initially was so upset about the 2nd unit behind them on their east side encountered another conflict from a SF property to the south. Seems the two homeowners quarreled over how many inches a new fence might be placed along a debatable legal property line. They fought and screamed and threatened legal action over a wood fence.

    Finally the fence was built, a quite lovely, high, sturdy redwood fence. The two neighbors, residing in their two single family homes, no longer speak.

    The “ADU” drama which provoked local editorials and nervous breakdowns and community meetings has amounted to nothing.

    People will fight about anything.

    1. Interesting follow up. Thanks for the recap. So in the end the drama was much ado about nothing. I wonder how many other things are illegal and culturally unacceptable that might be just fine if we tried them.

      1. And (potentially) causing other people to wonder that very same thing is the point of “blogsplaining” them, as you put it.

        Like its model, the term seems designed for nothing more than dismissing an argument without countering it. Of course, you yourself don’t do that, so why use the term?

        I grant that many labor under the delusion that “we can all agree” with them – in which case that is a problem, not the fact that they are making a proposal on a blog.

  14. “Because existing property owners don’t want affordable housing anywhere near them.”

    I’m not sure that’s always the case. Depends on what you mean by “affordable housing”. Projects? Surely not. But I doubt of many would object to small cottages, mother-in-laws and what-have-you as depicted in the first 7 photos from the Old Town portion of the City of Orange. Sadly, as you noted, none of it is replicable today. I blame that more on the cancer-like growth of the bureaucratic and regulatory state (To budding “urban planners” on here: quite frankly, we need less of you, not more. Look how well things worked when we didn’t have ANY. Or certainly those we had, exercised a very light touch, as they say.)

    Speaking of the photos…..If I had one issue with your blog posts, it would be that you don’t identify the pix. I would personally find your posts even more compelling if I can actually make a mental match of the photos with the points you are trying to make. Garmin-level GPS exactness not necessary………but… neighborhood? street? name of development? Hope you consider.

    All the best….

    1. Good constructive criticism. The first seven photos are from downtown Orange, California – home of Chapman University – not far from Anaheim and Santa Ana.

      Andy Hurvitz photos are from Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley in LA.

      The homeless photos are all from San Francisco – mostly along Market Street.

      The big apartment complex is in Santa Rosa on the edge of downtown.

      The horse trailer is in Sonoma County.

  15. It’s fun writing a blog, and blogsplaining is as good a way to describe what I try to do as anything. I have little of value to add, yet I feel the urge to describe just how incomprehensible this all seems from the way homelessness manifests itself to the cost of homes. I get that suburban Boston has prices like Van Nuys and higher…but Boston might as well be in another universe as well! When the Van Nuys post referenced a $500,000 average price for a home being “too low” to really make house flipping worthwhile I chuckled!

    Of course, I have a six floor tenement with the fire escape making my back yard and garden a fish bowl!

  16. We recently moved from beautiful rural Ontario to very urban Victoria BC (think of a mini Seattle, sort of). We couldn’t find any affordable land in the rural areas of vast Ontario without moving somewhere we couldn’t find on a map and no one else could either. So we chose to rent, only because we found a a walk out basement apartment we could afford. Our whole neighborhood is filled with these not so legal infill accomodations. Do we have more crime? Maybe a tiny bit, but not so you’d notice, does anyone complain, no, because without the additional income few people could afford to live hear and they realize this may be the best their own children can hope for. Are we grateful, YES!!! This is an unwritten social/municipal accommodation. I feel the suburb and entire city is better off as a result. Without affordable housing it’s nearly impossible to hold down a job and create a stable life for yourself and family And we have all seen what unstable looks like.

    1. Yep. One man’s lawless chaos is another man’s comfortable accommodation.

      Might I interest you in a cardboard refrigerator box under the Johnson Street Bridge?

  17. Offering the economically displaced hard-sided cages probably won’t address anything. While some may find the option of a box preferable to a nylon pack tent, it completely misses the point of what actually needs to be done. As long as we tolerate economic disparity at the scale we presently do and as long as we think we can relocate the results this problem will get worse. When we factor the number of homeless that come to the streets with mental health issues , from depression to psychoses, and the reality of the serious lack of mental health services we can see just how desperate this problem truly is and how much worse it is going to get.

    1. Honestly, the stressed middle class doesn’t care at all about the homeless or the mentally ill. They don’t want their tax money paying for any of it. And they don’t want any “solution” that included their neighborhood. Full stop. You need to adjust to that reality.

      What the middle class is concerned about is their own struggle to hold on to what they have – and a lot are failing in that effort. I see lots of formerly middle class folks landing in positions they never thought they would be in – and they’re mad as hell. We’ve entered an era of blame and punishment. Fun!

      1. “I see lots of formerly middle class folks landing in positions they never thought they would be in”

        Hand raised. And all it took was a health crisis followed by another health crisis, and here we are, reduced to getting by on the charity of family and friends.

        And Zillow says our (mortgaged) house is worth almost $600,000. Absolutely no way to extract any of that money though, our jobs will not translate to the rust belt. Even if they did, it wouldn’t matter because former Californians –who don’t even have to work– have snapped up/inflated all of the inventory in every reasonable place to live. Fun times!

        My heart goes out to the homeless, but my wife and I are too busy trying not to end up dead a lot earlier than we were planning, and it’s taking all we’ve got, and then some.

  18. Every illegal act that someone gains advantage by (the collecting of illegal rent, for example, or the ability to live illegally in a nice place) makes it harder for the honest to thrive, or even to keep up. I suppose that leads to a general disrespect for the law: “we break the law and nothing bad happens; why do we need the law, anyway?” We have lots of laws that are ignored, or only selectively enforced: illicit drugs, fraudulent banking, highway speed “limits”, immigration without documents, casual affordable housing, and on and on.

    When everyone’s guilty of something, no one is immune to persecution.

    1. The erosion of law is a genuine problem.

      I see everything playing out in long slow cycles. There was a time when small town mom and pop market driven housing worked. It wasn’t perfect. There were terrible tenement slums in some cases. But generally the private sector had the freedom to solve problems at the household level.

      Now it’s just too hard. To complex. Too expensive. So instead of seedy low rent apartments we get tent cities under the freeway. Is that better?

      What I see is a continuing squeeze on the middle class and a lot of people are going to fall out of their single family homes if they don’t take on room mates and share house with extended family and friends. We may not want that. We may not want our neighbors to do that sort of thing. It may be illegal in some cases. But I think that’s how it’s going to play out.

      1. I would take it that prediction only holds where there is a shortage of housing? For example, I don’t hear much about tent cities in Milwaukee, so how much money could a homeowner make even bytaking on a boarder? I had a friend from high school who lived in a house that was once a boarding house; his said his rent and share of the utilities were only $175 a month, and that was only 5 years ago.

        1. There are tent cities and small camps in the Midwest. Anywhere there is “urban wilderness” (rail and highway overpasses, under bridges that cross urban creeks and rivers, isolated parkland, overgrown areas along disused rail lines and behind vacant factories and warehouses).

          I was once walking along an urban creek trail in my Midwest city with some professional associates when a couple of campers approached us (non-threateningly) to tell us of a partial bridge collapse only visible from their vantage point. From the top it just looked like a pothole had formed, but one arch had partially fallen. They never asked us for anything…food, money, booze. They just wanted responsible-looking people to know something bad had happened.

          I took some pictures and sent them to a street engineer I knew. The bridge was restricted that afternoon and underwent emergency repairs. Those guys probably saved some lives. And it changed my view of “the homeless”.

      2. We bought a one family rowhouse in Brooklyn back in 1994. It was exactly what we wanted. We didn’t want to become landlords (two jobs between us in enough thank you) and we didn’t want to heat, cool, and maintain excessive space for excessive stuff.

        Then my kids moved back in after college. Now I wish I had bought a larger three family row house instead! I could be used for three smaller apartments.

        I’ve decided that in the long run the best buildings, and places, are those that can evolve. Similar buildings nearby (brownstones) were once large homes for rich people with lots of kids and servants, middle class 2-3 family homes, rooming houses for poor singles owned by absentee landlords, and 2-3 family homes for the middle class again. Ground floors of the same types of buildings have also been used for daycare, doctors, social workers, and on corners and commercial streets, stores and restaurants. But if there aren’t too many steps up or down, they could also be used for accessible apartments for seniors and other handicapped people.

        Better still would be buildings designed to evolve, and be used different ways over time.

        1. I spend a fair amount of time visiting friends and family in plain vanilla suburban homes. Four or five bedrooms, two or three baths, big two car garage… I think that’s perfectly flexible without major modifications. What’s needed is some basic interior tweaks and an attitude adjustment.

          1. Perhaps it will vary from town to town. Some will evolve, in others backward looking folks will fight change their dying breath.

            Since you’re from Central NJ, did you have a chance to look at Bellworks, the mixed-use redevelopment of the former Bell Labs? There has been some loosening up, even off I-287 in Westchester. When they are left with an abandoned eyesore and your tax base disappears, some people find change appealing.

          2. Back to the future. My mother grew up in a big multi-generational farmhouse…all my grade-school years, both my grandparents and great-grandparents lived there while my youngest uncle was in high school and college.

  19. Every ideology-driven solution to problems such as these is defeated by human nature. It is the one thing that cannot be quantified and no one seems to think will impact anything.

    The solution is always to simply deal with the person in front of you. Take care of their needs as best one can and, when enough people do this, much of the problem is taken care of. It’s not a perfect solution, it’s a human solution and it’s very difficult to implement in a “all about me and mine” society.

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