Blogging Bayport Alameda

January 4, 2018

A change will do you good

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

Relevant New York Times Upshot piece from yesterday because, well Alameda and our obsession with obsessing over property that doesn’t belong to us, highlights:

Homeowners in each of these places share a common conviction: that owning a parcel of land gives them a right to shape the world beyond its boundaries.

The roots of this idea are as old as nuisance laws that have tried to limit how one property owner can harm another. Over the decades, though, homeowners have expanded their claim on the world beyond their lot lines. This means they look out for schools and streets in ways that are vital to American communities. But increasingly it also means the senior affordable housing, the high-rises and the tiny homes — also arguably vital to the larger community — are never built.

The story of how Americans came to peer beyond their own properties is also, inescapably, about race. As urbanization brought blacks and whites closer together, white communities reacted with racially restrictive covenants, aiming to keep blacks and their perceived threat to property values out of white neighborhoods. The Supreme Court ruled such covenants unenforceable in 1948, but they had long-lasting effects on how homeowners looked at the world around them, and the need to control it.

“One of them was to make white people think that the value of their homes depended on living in a segregated community,” said Carol Rose, a law professor at Yale. “That outlived racially restrictive covenants.”

Zoning, rather than punishing people for proven harms that came from their property, told people what they could do on their property in the first place. And it prohibited many things — like buildings of a certain height — that had never been considered nuisances before.

Zoning effectively invited homeowners to look beyond their properties in ways they hadn’t. And it helped create the expectation that communities would change little over time — or that homeowners would have a say if they did.

In the 1990s, Ms. Been said, neighbors increasingly defended not just individual buildings against change, but also a broader sense of neighborhood “character,” with fights couched in the language of rights.

“It’s moved from just being ‘I should have a right to confront something that hurts my house’ to ‘I have an interest in this neighborhood as a whole,’ ” Ms. Been said.

No wonder it has become so hard to untangle the benefits of community “ownership” from the rising harms. We want people to be invested in their neighborhoods, but not to the exclusion of anyone else who might live there, too. We want to empower neighbors to fight a trash dump, but not to halt every housing project the region needs.

“Who speaks for the community as a whole?” Ms. Been said. “I worry about that.”

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2 Comments »

  1. I guess when this mornings’ 4.4 is doubled we won’t be fighting a trash dump, we’ll be living in it.

    Comment by Jack — January 4, 2018 @ 7:58 am

  2. Do I get special privileges to be the solo commentator?

    Comment by Jack — January 4, 2018 @ 7:31 pm


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