26 March 2009

Power is wielded by the few

It is astounding what sort of tom-shittery goes on behind closed doors in the tabernacles of power, every day, in this city, state, and nation.

In this very city right now, small, self-interested cliques of craven, chardonnay-sipping dickheads band together in groups with "public" purpose, no more than eight to ten at a time, to plan the lives and outcomes for thousands, even tens of thousands, of people - to decide who will live where, what businesses will not be allowed to operate in a certain area, what shade of colors are to be permitted for your shutters, how many stories your home can be and how far it must be situated from the roadway. And so on and so forth.

They call this a "special study" in town planning terms.

Fly on the wall that I am, I was recently silent witness to one of these erstwhile "planning sessions" by which special studies are conducted. The subject was a proposed "overlay district" that is soon to be installed by our solons upon one of the major thoroughfares of this parish. Pity the unwitting unfortunates who inhabit the vicinity.

There were maybe a handful of folks there, many of them area residents for whom protecting their property values and secure suburban lives from "encroachment" by commercial uses is apparently a magnificent obsession and a full time job to boot. Also there were several power players present, the names of whom shall be withheld to protect the messenger (that is, me). This was not a public meeting in the common sense. No mass involvement of those pesky homeowners this time around, when the "visioning" by the "professionals" is conducted. (Presumably the public meeting stage comes in the future, when plans have been drawn up and more or less finalized, despite whatever the sheeple have to say about it. Gotta love public participation.)

The intent of the overlay district, or so our solons will tell us, is to "beautify" this major arterial and render its environs more aesthetically pleasing through the imposition of regulations in the local development code that will establish what types of uses, building types, and manners of construction are permissible within the district. Indeed, this roadway is not anyone's idea of attractiveness, though it is hardly this region's worst offender.

With all the problems facing our local leadership here, you'd think they'd concentrate on pressing issues like crime, poverty, and socioeconomic discrimination. But I digress.

But this is just the "public" story. The real intent, so it seems, is for a select group of homeowners and associated interests to seal off the neighborhood for themselves, allowing only uses which they deem "appropriate" (for their land values, I suppose). That means no filling stations, convenience stores, supermarkets, car washes, apartments with their pesky lower-income renters, etc. etc.

This is the god's honest truth. The discussion at meetings of this sort generally starts with "what we won't allow" and then exceptions are made from there.

Never mind that most people would rather prefer that basic services be located closer to home than not. See how far separation of uses benefited my 'historic' inner city neighborhood, where one is compelled to drive well out into the suburban concrete jungle to obtain basic necessities such as groceries and prescription drugs.

It is indeed possible for a small clique of self-interested citizens to wield the reins of democracy and divert the favor of public policies to themselves. Daily this goes down in the halls of power. And in doing this, everyone else who was (deliberately) excluded from the table suffers, for the political means are always the triumph of the zero-sum game over the freedom and multiplicity of choices which the unrestricted free market offers us daily. For the benefit of a few, the lives of the many are impoverished.

Of course, the roadway in question wouldn't be so goddamned ugly in the first place if the town planning principles of an earlier generation had not been so carefully followed - that is, strict separation of uses and development codes which essentially outlawed anything not low-density, auto-oriented development. All this promulgated, again, because the suburban brie-and-cheese set wanted their property values preserved at all costs - not to mention keeping The Other far, far away. Read your histories of Amerikan town planning if you don't believe me. (And they call town planning a "science.")

Again, government intervenes to "correct" a problem which it itself had created. (And they say that we in this state don't "plan" "enough." Eh?)

So to "correct" the "problem", even more of our freedoms are eroded. We are already not allowed to construct businesses in locations which the State has designated for housing, and vice versa; now we are to be told the precise dimensions to which our homes and businesses are to be constructed, with further specifications as to the precise materials, colors, and architectural styles which may be used. Any deviation from these dictates, and...well, you know what happens when a person "resists arrest."


Of course the solution is to remove all these costly and banal land restrictions which grow our cities into mass dysfunction and let freedom reign. But then the dickhead-staffed homeowners' associations wouldn't like that all that much, now would they? 

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