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Tuesday, July 5. 2011
Quoted by Old Urbanist in Slums, Titles and the World's Simplest Zoning Code (my bold):
Indeed, a neigborhood can not be "made." I think of planned development like Disneyworld: phoney to the point of creepy. Stepford places where you can't grow things in your front lawn.
Have you ever seen a new housing development in the US with a corner store, a cheap barbershop, or a local pub? Apparently there is a market for the unreal and sanitized.
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Some relatives went through Banff on vacation recently. The photos gave me the creeps. I'm not sure if the people were real or automatons.
Our neighbors just moved to The Villages. I can see it - from a retirement standpoint. They were done, basically, with all the effort required to maintain their home, pay the taxes, supporting the families, etc.
They were in the "plain vanilla" part of their life. They traveled 4 weeks a year, were going to still have a Bed and Breakfast in a nice location, but wanted a place to live 8 months a year that required little or no thought or effort. Too much effort and learning in the rest of their life. Can't blame them.
It's not for everybody. But it does have its appeal to many folks, and I can see why. I won't go to communities like this, at all.
By the way, I have seen some communities built that have commercial areas zoned in. I think many of the developers learned from Levittown, which suffered due to a lousy tax base. By not having enough commercial zoning, the residential taxes have become oppressive.
The communities which have McMansions in them tend to NOT have commercial zoning. I guess the assumption is if you can afford a huge house, you can afford the taxes.
Sadly, that hasn't worked out for alot of people in the last 2-3 years.
BTW, worth noting that the author unwittingly argues that self-organization can somehow be "created", though through simplified laws and rules.
One of my favorite stories in this regard was always one about the contest to see who could program a computer to design a flock of birds. Many elaborate programs were entered. Some did the job passingly, others not well at all. But in the end, the winner was a simple 3 line code, which told the birds to do one thing, not to do another, and to maintain a minimum distance from each other. It was brilliant and it worked.
Self-organization happens and it does work (one reason why statists are horribly misguided), because the rules are usually pretty simple and self-evident. But they are also open to flexibility and some degree of interpretation.
I've always felt slums existed because of government regulation. In New York, the worst of the slums came to exist when rent controls limited owners' abilities to get a return on their investment. Thus, they would not reinvest in their properties. (some would argue the worst of the slums existed during the period of growth from 1800-1940, though this is simply the process of creative destruction. By 1940, Five Points was not the slum it was from 1800-1860, when it was a stopping point for immigrants and emancipated slaves. That said, it was the removal of the Collect Pond (where tanneries used to dump their waste), which caused the most problem - and THIS WAS a government mandated project. Methane was produced by the landfill used to cover the pond, and since it was part of an underground tributary, many of the middle class homes built quickly fell apart. Poor planning and knowledge led to the marginalization of the site, something not too unusual in government mandated projects.
I have been to Cancun and Cozumel. One is planned, one is not(or was not when I was there). The planned resort was boring and lacked character (and had a major sewerage problem, with days you couldn't go in the water). The other had character, charm, and clean water. I drank the water in Cozumel safely.
From what I am aware, Playa Del Carmen started out to be pretty, but has become heavily planned. I'm sure it's not the quiet resort town it was when I visited 16 years ago.
Whether in Europe or in the New World, where do people want to go when they visit a place? To the Old Town.
Of course, there is THIS interesting twist:
While sharing an apartment in Queens for several years, my roommate was a local, born and bred in the Jackson Heights/Elmhurst region.
I will note that he is ABSURDLY Liberal...feels that CUNY was better when it was free, and the government should provide everyone with lots of 'free stuff'.
Anyway, he now lives in Albany and we communicate regularly. He recently gave me his description of "the old town" and it was NOT complimentary. He complained that the old Irish neighborhoods were gone, replaced by Dominicans and other Latinos. The German bakeries and Irish pubs were replaced with bodegas and "social clubs". The old Italian barber was gone, and the shop was empty. He lamented that the city was no longer a place for the middle class - only the very wealthy or the very poor (which I disagreed with since I know plenty of middle class folk in nearby Fresh Meadows, as well as several other areas in Queens).
I responded that his lament was astounding from not only a Liberal, but a well educated one, as well (he also got his Masters of Economics from the New School for Social Research, like me). I pointed out that the city is, was, and will be in flux. The beauty of New York City is not its stability, but its change. The New York of 1900 is not something he'd want to return to, anymore than the New York of 1960 is something anyone would want to return to (and God Forbid we return to the New York of the 1970's!!!!).
Each one existed as moments in time, and were flavored by the currents of the various demographic groups prevalent at that point. Mad Men is a wonderful story of 1960's New York, evoking the very best and worst of that era.
We seek to return to what we're familiar with and fail to appreciate what the past has become.
And then the central planners get their meat hooks into the "historic districts" and try to turn them into museums by restricting the owners' rights to the point where they pick the paint colors that they are allowed to use and the "look" of replacement windows.
I like history and old buildings as much as the next guy. But what needs to be preserved most is what allowed them to be built them to begin with - private property rights.
I'm all for historic districts - in my town, you have to agree to allow your home to have the designation, it can't be forced on you. So, property rights still rule.
That said, there is some value in preserving a portion of your architecture. My wife (from NY) comments frequently that one of Philadelphia's charms is how well they saved and maintained their old Federalist style housing. I have to agree.
An interesting timeline:
I agree that there is value in preserving old architecture which is why so many centuries-old building have been well-preserved in the absence of historic district diktats. There is already an incentive in place without handing even more power to busybody government officials who will be sure to use it in unforeseen ways in the future. I'll take my chances with freedom and my neighbors' individual decisions instead of handing over more authority to the collective.
Charm in a place comes from inconveniences that had to be worked around - intersecting streets that were not perpendicular, or an odd bend in the river, or some property dispute that created an interruption or jog in the road. There has to be an implied story, which can't be rigged. In fact, even if the story of the oddity is wrong - the narrative the children in the neighborhood imagine is usually nowhere near accurate - it creates charm and a sense of place.
Horrible places can develop charm in retrospect - as with ethnic enclaves. They are dangerous, corrupt, and low when in fullest operation. As they settle down and people start moving out, then the pubs and barber shops might take on significance.
I grew up in a fairly bad section of a mill city in a neighborhood with no definite ethnic flavor. It had no charm then, and doesn't now. But even of the old ethnic neighborhoods. on a fraction of them have charm now. Most are just dumps. I agree that government planning goes bad faster, but cheap materials and poor upkeep eventually take their toll, whether it was a "neighborhood" or not.
There was usually a reason people wanted to move out of those places.
Levittown had little or no charm when it was built.
Every house the same "little boxes on the hillside, and they're all made out of ticky tacky", identical plots. Few trees. No ethnic culture. The people identified themselves by the "section" they lived in (streets with flower names, tree names, etc.).
After many years, Levittown developed a charm of its own - the people began to alter the houses. Today, an original, untouched Levitt home is considered priceless - there are few available. Trees have been planted, grown, matured.
This was a planned community which developed its own culture, its own rules, its own style and look.
I don't think there are rules to this stuff, except to say there are some things you just DON'T do.
BTW - forest, I disagree that old architecture has survived only because of individual interest. It has played a role, that's true - but in the end, the government HAS played a role in saving worthwhile architecture. I don't believe we have to blame government for EVERY problem, particularly when it has played a beneficial role. It's when it oversteps its bounds that it becomes problematic.
It would seem if this is the kind of neighborhood desired, first you must get rid of all the urban planners, city planners, code enforcement offices (although you might be able to keep some fire code), pretty much anyone who "wants to build a great city."