Sunday, June 16, 2013

Snob Zones by Lisa Prevost ***

Someone said that if the United States had been settled west to east, no one would live in New England. If you need more reasons to avoid New England, Snob Zones by Lisa Provost provides them.

Brief geography lesson: New England consists of the six states in the far northeast. These are the ones that are attached together in United States puzzles, and usually the first ones lost.

Provst tells six stories, one from each state, about how communities (some rich, all white, mostly conservative) use zoning and questionable legal methods to exclude affordable housing and outsiders. Each example is well researched and elucidates a slightly different facet of exclusionary policies to restrict economic, cultural, and racial diversity.

Take the example of Darien Connecticut: when the town was originally settled deed restrictions were used to prohibit selling property to people of the "Hebrew race," among others. Today, such tactics are illegal, but the urge to live in exclusive enclaves still exists. Provost reports that Darien uses lawyers to delay development projects, thus making costs prohibitive. In one case, they simply overbid the developer for the development site and turned it into a field of wild flowers.

While this is a national issue and addressed by Federal legislation (e.g., Fair Housing Act, 1968),  Provst stays in New England. Therein lies the challenge for this book and supporters for affordable housing nationally. Even though the problem is replicated nationally in hundreds or thousands of jurisdictions, each case seems to be unique. As a reader in California, the book seems remote and not quite relevant.

I strongly recommend the book to anyone living in, or considering moving to, New England. To others, not so much.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Read giveaway on April 23, 2013. I received the book on June 11, 2013.

No comments: