The best explanation ever about why change in our cities is so slow

Burnham Plan
Public Domain Burnham plan for Chicago, unbuilt of course

President Obama recently released a Housing Development Toolkit, in an attempt to solve the affordable housing crisis facing so many cities these days. It is a fascinating document that addresses so many of the issues we have discussed in TreeHugger regarding density, transportation and zoning. It concludes:

The growing severity of undersupplied housing markets is jeopardizing housing affordability for working families, increasing income inequality by reducing less-skilled workers’ access to high-wage labor markets, and stifling GDP growth by driving labor migration away from the most productive regions.

It is a wonderful report that says all the right things and pushes all the right buttons, just as many planners and writers and urban thinkers have been saying for years. And it will go absolutely nowhere, as so many other great plans have over the last century and a half.

Because in one long brilliant paragraph (no, it is actually one long sentence), Henry Grabar of Slate summarizes just a few of the forces aligned against change, that ensure that nothing ever happens, and that is sending me to the liquor cabinet early this Friday afternoon:

The problem with this report, unfortunately, is that it does little to confront the large, diverse, and effective coalition that is arrayed against these changes: the wealthy suburbanites who don’t want rental housing in their neighborhoods; the urban white ethnics for whom more than half of household wealth sits in home values; the labor unions reluctant to support initiatives that lead to nonunion construction; the environmental groups and preservationist groups fearing a slippery-slope erosion of hard-fought gains; the Agenda 21–fearing conservatives; the municipal politicians who view extensive land-use reviews as an essential component of their power; the poor tenants who fear the catalytic, rent-spiking effect that new construction can sometimes produce at a local level and resent bearing the burdens of new development; the car-dependent commuters who feel that an on-street parking spot is a God-given right.

Tags: Cities | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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