My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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Neighborhood Defenders is an academic, yet approachable, book that discusses the dynamics around how people stop housing development that can increase affordability in the name of defending the neighborhoods. The book is and exploration of how current zoning (and review) processes , which were set up to give everyone a voice, have served to give certain advantaged groups an outsize say in what can be built. The result is often that larger housing projects which might include a range of market rate affordable, as well as subsidized affordable units often end up getting scaled back or stopped.
“Neighborhood Defenders” refers to the groups of residents that often rally around stopping projects by expressing opposition in terms of rationales along the lines of “this will change the character of the neighborhood.” In the book we learn that even while some of the Defenders may be well intentioned (but perhaps not all) the end result is that housing that has the potential to diversify make a community more diverse and affordable is less likely to be built.
The theme that most caught my attention is the role of the public meeting process that many cities and towns follow around zoning has in this. The public meeting process has its roots in giving people voice, but in some contexts the voices that participate are limited to certain groups, and often not the ones who might benefit from certain housing projects. It’s easy enough to introduce delays -- which add costs to projects. -- either projects don’t happen, or developers abandon the idea of larger projects with Affordable housing and build smaller market rate housing. For example commenters at meetings often raise issues that are tangential to the original project, leading to the need for new studies and delays.
While there are many books that opine about housing this one is different in that it is backed by data. The authors have read meeting transcripts and reviewed zoning regulations in cities and towns and used that data to support their conclusions. As such, the book is detailed and not a very light read, but it is very approachable, and worth a read if you are interested in understanding the dynamics of housing and zoning meetings.
Anyone who is a resident of a community that has a zoning board -- whether you are an activist or not -- could find this a useful and enlightening read, that will help you understand the obstacles involved in community development and paths around them
Whether you are an extravert or introvert, connection is an important part of being human, and while we each differ in the kind of ways we connect, we need certain kinds of connections in our lives to be happy and healthy. “Together” is an engaging guide to what connection means, how it benefits us, and how to built it.
While we sometimes need solitude , the absence of the appropriate connections in our lives can lead to loneliness, which has a larger impact on the quality of our lives than we expect.
Murthy describes the 3 kinds of connections, all of which are necessary:
• Emotional (close confidant or partner)
• Relational or Social (quality friendships, social companionship and support)
• Collective (hunger for a network of community of people who share your sense of purpose and interest)
According to Murthy, the presence of one of these kinds of connections, o matter how strong, is unlikely to compensate for missing the others. Even with the strongest marriage, we can still find our selves feeling lonely without close friends, or a community we belong to. Aside from the practical value of a community network to help us through challenging times, loneliness can be a significant health problem. Murthy makes the biological connection between loneliness and depression and anxiety. Loneliness can also trigger some of the same fear instincts that cause us to be suspicious of others who are not ‘in our tribe.’ It thus makes it hard to forge connections to bootstrap away from loneliness. This connection to anxiety can be the source of acting on our biases and resisting connections with those different than ourselves.
Having explained the risks of loneliness, Murthy discusses ways to get out of the rut that loneliness leaves us in, including service to others. Being in a place where we stay open to connections can help us help people step away from dysfunctional situations and mindsets.
Since connection and community is such a universal part of human existence, while reading, I found myself thinking of other books that touched on the topic, including Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, Adam Grant’s Give and Take, Kate Murphy’s You’re Not Listening, Malcom Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers, and even Dan Levitin’s Successful Aging. Together has a different focus than all of those books, namely physical and mental health, but as I read, I realized that the value of community to our physical and mental health means that by building community we can benefit ourselves in unexpected ways.
Personal stories make this a relatable read. When combined with pointers to more information and discussions of organizations that build community which you might be interested in connecting with, it’s also a very actionable one.
The book ends with a story that conveys the importance and power of what Murthy calls “not the family chosen for you, but the family you choose.” As someone who grew up without a lot of extended family near, I’ve grown to understand the value of the friends and neighbors who’ve become part of what I consider to be my family. Reading Together helped me to truly understand just how valuable those connections are. It also gave me insight into how to do a better job of building them at home, work, and in the communities I’m a part of.
Together is an important guide for our times about why connection matters and how to built it at various scales: for yourself, for your family, and for your larger communities such as your workplace and town or city.
The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova My rating: 4 of 5 stars ...