I get what I have to admit is a guilty pleasure in reading about the drama involved in placing affordable housing in suburban communities. Growing up one of my best friends lived in the town of Ludlow. Being from Springfield I would joke about Lud-where? His response was usually Lud-why? As a coach of a Springfield girls soccer team our greatest test was almost always against the combination Portuguese-Suburban might of some Ludlow squad.
Ludlow is embroiled now in a conflict with the largest non profit affordable housing coalition in the region due to their purchase of land and their plans to build almost 50 units of apartments on an undeveloped plot in the town. I enjoy reading what I find to be the obviously disingenuous arguments of the townsfolk and the politicians regarding their “concerns” over the “location” of the development:
It’s too close to an elementary school.
(What would poor people want with schools?)
It’s too close to an intersection.
(Roads meet in a perpendicular fashion nearby, can’t have the poor near that!)
It’s too close to a brook.
(How do we keep the poor kids and the wetlands separate?)
My favorite quote…about keeping AFFORDABLE HOUSING from a NON PROFIT organization OUT of the town is this one, which I will leave for you, dear reader, to decipher:
Once I get control of my schadenfreude, however, I’m filled with even darker thoughts. Right now, in general at least in this region we have a situation where dysfunctional people live in functional places, and functional people live in dysfunctional places; and so there is a sort of tenuous equity. In my neighborhood (median household income around $14,000) people can’t afford cars, but people don’t need cars to do most of what they need to do (Walkscore 87, Transit score 59) and housing is cheap because no one (including the poor) wants to live near the poor. In the further flung car-centric suburbs incomes are much higher, but the cost of living soars because there’s a premium to be paid to be isolated from poor people and because every adult needs at least one car.
I have no doubt that we will be forced by circumstances economic, energetic, infrastructural, and financial to re-densify and that, like most civilizations throughout most of time, land will be valued for its proximity to markets, its fecundity, or its strategic location in connecting the other two. While there is plenty of room, for example, for the poor who are already here in my neighborhood to remain here even while the neighborhood gentrifies, it may be difficult for the poor who have hitched their futures to suburbia to move back to walkable neighborhoods, and the design of their relatively recently and poorly built shacks (let’s be honest…even today’s McMansions are mostly particle board and plastic) will not allow for significant agricultural production.
When the relatively poorer functional people in a declining empire can no longer afford to live in their individual Tivolis in the suburbs they will move into the most functional places available: the traditional centers of our towns, cities, and neighborhoods; functional people in functional places. The least capable people with the fewest resources, the poor, the elderly, the troubled, will be left where they are; dysfunctional people in dysfunctional places.
Advocates for affordable housing in places like Ludlow will make the argument, true of today’s seeming reality, that the working poor play important roles in communities like Ludlow and that, having need of these people it is only right that Ludlow provide places for them to live. And I agree. In the long term however these developments will be seen to have been, at best, an enormous waste of resources, and, at worst, an isolated and isolating dystopia for a whole lot of people whose lives are much too fragile for such an existence.
(I am aware that in many other regions these “dysfunctions” have already met or are meeting, making watching them come together here that much more tragic)