New and Old #70
Friday roundup and commentary
[M]any older residents in Massachusetts who’d like to downsize — and turn over spacious dwellings to younger buyers desperate for room to expand —are finding it difficult, if not impossible. Even though their property values have ballooned, smaller homes or condos are scarce and carry prohibitive price tags in the state’s out-of-kilter real estate market.
A move that would let her stay in the town she’s familiar with — an aim of many downsizing suburbanites — seems impractical, [Mary] Prosnitz said, because “there’s no ranch houses for seniors.” That, in turn, creates a logjam that means “no starter homes for young families,” she lamented.
This article makes, mostly implicitly, one of the strongest arguments for loosening zoning and allowing a greater variety of housing types. A region needs all kinds of people, doing all kinds of things. It’s one thing if a neighborhood is exclusive, but we’ve gotten to the point where entire metro areas are exclusive. Older folks are stuck in their large houses, and have to uproot themselves or stay. Younger people can barely afford anything at all. It doesn’t work in terms of fairness—but it really doesn’t work in terms of healthy metro-area economics either.
Tool libraries are one of those things that can sound a little trendy or elitist to some people, kind of like farmers markets. But they make it possible to do home improvement jobs without having to buy tools you’ll only ever use once or twice. And as the story notes, this is especially useful for people without the money to just buy these things. It’s kind of the opposite of trendy and elitist. This particular tool library has everything from a 3D printer to laser levels and screwdrivers.
So many times, I’ve just wanted a wonky screwdriver to open one specific device, or a wrench to get one stubborn nut loose. I end up buying them, and accumulating this collection of bits and pieces that I may never need again. It would be nice if running to Home Depot were an option, not a given.
There is a lot that has already gone down the Memory Hole about just how destructive the post-World War II era really was for American cities. We did a better job of wiping out portions of our own cities than a full-scale war ever could have. We did it through Urban Renewal, and we did it through freeways. Of course, the two often operated in tandem, with the construction of a new highway providing a convenient excuse to condemn and clear land that the local government—in thrall to the new twin ideologies of car-centric expansion and hyper-orderly, modernist planning—wanted to redevelop.
The war analogy was not lost on the people alive at the time. In Kansas City, for example, citizens likened downtown freeway construction to the London Blitz.
After that striking introduction, Herriges dives into Sanborn maps—fire insurance maps from the 1800s and early 1900s that sound very boring, but which provide invaluable, highly accurate information as to what old urban blocks used to look like—down to what types of businesses operated there. Read the whole thing.
An interesting, off-the-beaten-path piece about the obscure cultural information hiding in old dishes and menus. Give it a read!
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