Saturday, August 25, 2007


I was talking with a friend the other day about the problems with affordable housing and racial demographics in our region. She works in issues of urban planning and race and recently was interviewed by a local newspaper about this problem. The reporter asked her why people should care about affordable housing in our town and she made a very clear and eloquent and logical argument about the problem of sprawl--it's something you see in California. Working class (and middle class) people are priced out of living in places like our college town and so move further out to more rural areas or more affordable housing areas, but their employment is still in our college town and so that creates this commuting situation. We can see this, locally, in the traffic corridor that has opened up between our college town & a more affordable rural town. Anyone familiar with California understands this dilemma all too well--as people are commuting 2-3 hours to their jobs in the Bay Area--and we aren't just talking blue collar jobs--there was an article in the NY Times a few years ago about high school teachers living out of RV's -- essentially homeless -- because they couldn't afford to live in the places where they were teaching on the Peninsula: Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Los Altos. So my friend's argument to the reporter was that although Orange County does have a lot of undeveloped land, it is imperative for the city planners to think through issues of affordable housing because it will impact traffic patterns and pollution and general quality of life for EVERYONE.

And I said that I thought that while I absolutely agree with her argument, I also thought there was an additional issue that we should think about--which is the social good of having a diverse population, in terms of race and in terms of class. Our discussion began because I mentioned the new green building that is going up--the Greenbridge Project (click here). I went on-line to look at the plans (they advertise homes in The New Yorker so you are going to get a sense of the price tag on these condo units) and the starting price for a one-bedroom is $450K and there are penthouse apartments on the top level that are over $1.5 million dollars.

The project is being heralded as one that will cater to local folk and be a "green" project--something that takes the community into consideration. But the location of the Greenbridge project is right on the edge of the Northside neighborhood--a largely African American community. And there is a serious question about gentrification going on. In fact, the lot where the Greenbrige project is being built used to have a lot of black-owned businesses--in particular, the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant.

The problem of affordable housing, as my friend described, is one of N.I.M.B.Y. (Not In My BackYard). No one wants affordable housing to be near them because they equate it with crime, with poverty, with litter/pollution, and lets be frank, with brown-skin people. Black and Latino poor people live in projects/the Ghetto and white poor people live in Trailer Parks. I had been thinking about NIMBY lately because my neighbors are selling their home, and it took them a good 3 months to find a buyer. When I mentioned my surprise at this to a friend, he said that he thought the mobile taco truck which comes 4 nights a week was a deterrent to potential buyers. And I was surprised--because my friend's comment was that people would be turned off by the "Mexican" clientele blasting their music at 1am. Now, while there are largely Latino people who come to the truck, they aren't the only patrons and they are certainly NOT blasting their music at 1am. In fact, I considered the truck to be a huge PLUS when I bought my house because who doesn't want to get great tacos at 10pm or have an alternative to cooking dinner. But I suppose I'm in the minority in more ways than one on this.

But here's the thing--shouldn't we want taco trucks in our neighborhood? And a mix of affordable homes, of condos but also duplexes and townhomes and single family homes that people can live in and where they don't have to have an hour commute to work? I do love living here, but it makes me feel sad that increasingly most of the people who have jobs at Southern U. just can't afford to be homebuyers in the town that employs them. Shouldn't it be a social value that we want real diversity? That we don't want the black neighborhood to disappear to a high-end, if "green" elite housing project? I'm just glad that that's NOT in my back yard.


Unknown said...

Please ask your friend why she didn't mention "a diverse population". I am curious.

On the taco truck issue, some people choose a place to live based on noise patterns and how well those noise patterns match their needs. People with a new baby, for example, don't want to hear 'La Cucaracha' at any time during the day or night. It's not just that tune; they don't want any sudden, loud, or piercing noise. You may have tuned it out; I know I get used to most types of noise after a while.

Jennifer said...

I don't think she didn't mention "diverse population"--my friend works on issues of race and urban space, so I'm positive that's why she was contacted and I'm sure she talked about this.

I think what I wanted to emphasize in the post was the varying reasons for why we should all care about NIMBY-ism, particularly the environmental impact of increased traffic patterns.

I do agree with you about traffic patterns, although I think your reference to "La Cucaracha" rings too stereotypically for my tastes. And truthfully, the cars in front of the taco stand are not (1) all filled with Latino drivers/passengers--many different people patron the taco truck (2) Loud music blasts from people's stereos that have a wide range--I've heard speed metal, hip hop, salsa, and top 40.

But I take your point about noise, in general, and the ways in which our own family contexts make us more or less in tune with noise patterns.