By Lisa Prevost, Snob Zones (product description) From Amazon.ca website, June 7, 2013
An exploration of the corrosive effects of overpriced housing, exclusionary zoning, and the flight of the younger population in the Northeast
Towns with strict zoning are the best towns, aren't they? They're all about preserving local "character," protecting the natural environment, an dmaintaining attractive neighborhoods. Right?
In this bold challenge to conventional wisdom, Lisa Prevost strips away the quaint façades of these desirable towns to reveal the uglier impulses behind their proud allegiance to local control. These eye-opening stories illustrate the outrageous lengths to which town leaders and affluent residents will go to prohibit housing that might attract the “wrong” sort of people. Prevost takes readers to a rural second-home community that is so restrictive that its celebrity residents may soon outnumber its children, to a struggling fishing village as it rises up against farmworker housing open to Latino immigrants, and to a northern lake community that brazenly deems itself out of bounds to apartment dwellers. From the blueberry barrens of Down East to the Gold Coast of Connecticut, these stories show how communities have seemingly cast aside the all-American credo of “opportunity for all” in favor of “I was here first.”
Prevost links this “every town for itself” mentality to a host of regional afflictions, including a shrinking population of young adults, ugly sprawl, unbearable highway congestion, and widening disparities in income and educational achievement. Snob Zones warns that this pattern of exclusion is unsustainable and raises thought-provoking questions about what it means to be a community in post-recession America.
Gate-keeping, as an exercise in the preservation of "the known" to keep out the unknown or the outsiders, has been a feature of all churches for centuries. Those on the inside strive, as a measure of their loyalty and commitment to the "purity and the sanctity" of their comfort zone, including only those who were here first, or come from a family who was 'here first' or....make the occasional exception depending on the wealth and breeding of those who might "apply" for admission.
In a place like Darien Connecticutt, where all the homes are valued at more than one million dollars, any attempt to introduce modest-priced seniors housing "would destroy the character of Darien" as the argument goes from those opposed to the change. In other centres, apartments are out of bounds.
All of this NIMBY-ism has been around for a long time, and in a recession, those with the most money are able to "buy" their snobism, using many of the tricks of the trade of land use planning.
Politicians, of course, are a integral "component" of any community, and if they are the least bit interested in preserving their political pulpit, then they have to comply with the "wishes" of the community they represent. Otherwise, they are a mere footnote to the history of that community.
Exclusion as a social policy takes many forms, including racism, and moneyism..."we are fine with those who ahve money but we don't want poor people contaminating our neighbourhood."
As one of the participants in NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook put it when Ms Prevost was a guest, yesterday, "We are only interested in looking at how individuals deal with situations, no longer are we interested in how communities deal with any situations. We have lost the concept of 'community' as it has given way to individualism."
North America has been, for well over a decade, awash in the language and culture of run-away capitalism, entrepreneurism, profitism, and the abandonment of "my brother's keeper" attitudes that accompany, indeed, undergird and sustain, all attempts at providing a hand-up to those whose lives are less "successful" than those of the achievers. In fact, only achievers have any value....and that means that the young ( who have not had their opportunity to fully achieve) the elderly (who have passed their most productive years) the uneducated and undereducated (whose family or personal circumstances played some part in their failing to cross the threshold(s) of higher education and the jobs that used to accompany that "right of passage") are left behind, without a glimmer of guilt, or even anxiety.
Clearly, for those driving BMW's, we are not all in this together!
Clearly, the "have's" do not either need or want to be associated with the "have-not's"...their poor cousins from the other side of the tracks.
And, as one called to the On Point program asked, "What is the authority of the gated-community's private police force over a citizen who is not a member of the gated community?"
We are living in a world whose snob attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and social consciences have become the norm, while the seismic shift is couched in political talk of the "rise of conservatism"...
These upper-class gatekeepeers do not give a fig for their poor cousins, and while it may have been the theme of sit-coms on television in previous decades, it is no longer a theme fit for comedic entertainment.
It is a social, political, and cultural tragedy that is playing out in too many communities across the U.S., as Ms Prevost documents in Snob Zones, mostly in the northeast, but it is also a growing reality in towns and cities across North America.