Should Neighbors Zone?

28 06 2011

Kenneth Stahl has published a paper arguing that zoning powers can and should be devolved to neighbors and neighborhoods. This would fly in the face of generations of municipal and county zoning, where quasi-judicial commissions or committees and legislative bodies direct zoning according to comprehensive plans. Zoning is a thorny issue because while seemingly picayune it more than almost anything else determines what a city or community will look like. The arguments against allowing neighbors to zone is that it undermines the ability of governments to plan comprehensively. Also, it potentially enables restrictive zoning that would keep out any unpopular business or industry–or group of people. Consider for example how likely any suburban community would be to zone a piece of property for high-density housing likely to bring in “city people” (code for minorities or poors).

On the other hand, when zoning power is concentrated in City Hall, those most likely to benefit from it are big players with high-level connections. For a good example, see the entire history of Chicago in the entire history of ever, or read this book by Gerald Suttles. Suttles has a libertarian bent and his critique of Chicago’s land use regime is that it has been captured by rent-seekers. And Suttles is largely correct: resident objections to major land use decisions are rarely heeded by the city’s power brokers who populate the Plan Commission and are often insufficient to move Aldermen who foresee years of filling their campaign coffers. Devolving power to the neighborhood level would take the knees out from under these mega developers who know they only need to get one person–the alderman–on their side to get their project through.

Still, the specter of restrictive covenants and homeowner loathing of anything but boutiques and grocery stores is an important one. If somebody buys a piece of property, the restrictions on what they can do with it cannot be left completely up to their neighbors, or be so burdened by design guidelines as to make development impossible.

Stahl’s paper is focused on the judicial theories that have precluded such neighborhood level zoning and advances a different theory based on alternative lines of cases to demonstrate that it is possible. The next step would be to try to model how such programs would actually work, and what kind of safeguards could be put in place to ensure that sub-local zoning wouldn’t become myopic or discriminatory.

Sorry, Enjoy the Goat

27 06 2011

Hey everybody! I’ve been on the road for the last five days, thus the light to no posting. I’ll be back at it Tuesday. In the meantime, how mad are you at this goat?

Seriously, screw this guy.

Yglesias on President Obama’s Base Credibility

20 06 2011

I don’t read Matthew Yglesias every day, so I may very well be missing some context here–but what exactly is he trying to say with this post? Reacting to the criticism of President Obama by liberal activists at Netroots Nation, Yglesias gleefully points out (after some perfunctory race-baiting) that those critics have less credibility with the voting base of the Democratic Party than the President himself:

Nothing earth-shattering. But a reminder that the proximate problem faced by would-be left-wing critics of President Obama is that they generally have much less credibility with the progressive constituency than the president does himself.

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Overreaction and the Constitution: Gun Show Loophole

20 06 2011

Reason Magazine’s Barton Hinkle has an interesting thought experiment: suppose that a document written by Mexican drug cartels was unearthed that specifically instructed its mules and distributors in the U.S. to exploit the protections of accused criminals in the U.S. justice system. Would that be reason enough to abrogate them?

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Father’s Day Card

19 06 2011

"Don't mind if I do."

When I was little, my dad would lay down on the ground to ease pain in his lower back. But if I’d see him laying down like that, I’d take it as an invitation for me to come take a nap on him, and promptly fall asleep. No matter what he had to do, he would lay there until I woke up. I love this picture because it’s visual evidence of two of the best things my dad taught me, or that I tried to learn from him: unconditional love and determined patience.

I haven’t written much about my dad because the example he set for me and the influence he had on me are bigger than I could ever put into words, and I’m definitely not going to try now. He’s a hero to me in every sense of that word (except sandwich). If I end up being half the man he is–and if I can grow 1/3rd as amazing a mustache–I know I’ll have all the things a person could want. All the things I value in myself are just flickering reflections of him–a love for, almost obsession with, learning and truth, patience, empathy, and work as its own reward. All the things that have earned him the love and admiration of his family, his friends, and his community.

I can’t think of a better future than being a man like my father, except being a man like my father who can look that good with a mustache. Also one who can finally beat his own dad in backgammon. I’ve been practicing pops.

Played Out of Position: A Play In One Act

16 06 2011

Based on an actual CTA Bus interaction overheard by author.

Scene: The back of a CTA bus.

Players: Three men (GUY1, GUY2, GUY3), late teens and early twenties. They are all stoned. GUY3, is clearly the oldest, fattest, and stoned-est.

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In Praise of Conflict

15 06 2011


Don’t reach across the aisle. Don’t partner with management. Don’t release a joint statement. Fight it out. That isn’t just an unfortunate way to make progress, in fact is the only way. Adversarial processes can be painful, stressful, and even destructive; but they are the only actual way to make change. It isn’t that one side is wholly wrong, that one side is wholly right. But there are conflicting, even mutually exclusive, goals between classes in society. Since individuals and their institutions will act in self-interest to impede the others’ goals, only actual conflict can achieve their goals.

Conflict is an actual engagement between parties in opposition. Two parties making opposing statements on a street corner aren’t in conflict in the way that two people making arguments in court are in conflict, because there is not going to be material change in position that results. Similarly, the individual act of voting, particularly in large-scale elections, is not an act of conflict because for the vast majority of voters the material change is de minimis. The degree of disagreement is a factor, too; the closer together the two sides, the less conflict involved.

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