My wife and I don’t have HBO in our home. We appreciate the many creative and groundbreaking series that HBO has done, but neither of us watches much television and we don’t need another set of shows, no matter how good, tempting us. Besides, except for urban settings, or sometimes failed urban settings, HBO doesn’t touch upon urbanism.
HBO is currently showing “Show Me a Hero” about a 1980s battle over low-income housing in Yonkers, New York, a short distance up the Hudson River from Manhattan and in the mists of the photo above, taken from the Empire State Building.
A five-minute video introduction to the first two episodes lays out the story. Having allowed their community to develop with a deeply engrained pattern of segregation, the City Council was ordered by a Federal court to allow the development of low-income housing in white neighborhoods. The Council appealed and lost, but not until a leader of the appeal effort was elected mayor, creating the narrative tension of a reluctant hero torn between his campaign promises and the inevitable future.
I suggest that the storyline has lessons for the North Bay.
Some may scoff at the thought of similarities between the fears of Yonkers residents thirty years ago, generally described as the fear of low-income folks and possible criminals, but understood to include a stiff dose of racism, and the response to walkable urban projects in the North Bay. And if you consider the relatively lack of African-Americans in the North Bay, they’d have a good argument on a superficial level.
But I’ve observed many North Bay land-use processes in which fear of change was a major, if largely unspoken, factor among the opponents, with those feared changes including folks of different demographic or racial/ethnic backgrounds. I can even recall a couple of situations in which the concern was about the developmentally disabled. And walkable urbanism, with its frequent result of people living in closer proximity, is particularly subject to those issues.
A few years back, I attended a Northern California public hearing where residents argued against allowing the split of a half-acre lot into two quarter-acre lots because it would be the first step on the path to having drug dealers in their neighborhood. Seriously, the argument was that having 10,000 square-foot single-family lots in an upper middle class neighborhood was on the slippery slope toward neighborhood drug dealing. I’m guessing that the drug dealers in the objectors’ imaginations weren’t white. Luckily, the hearing body didn’t buy the barely concealed racism and unanimously approved the split.
That story didn’t occur in the North Bay, but I can think of many North Bay neighborhoods where similar attitudes might display themselves in response to land-use actions, particular those land-use actions that would further walkable urbanism.
Which brings me back around to my interest in seeing “Show Me a Hero”. If someone wants to invite me to their home for a “Show Me a Hero” viewing marathon, I’m there, with snacks. Failing that, I’ll wait until the show becomes available on DVD and will then host my own viewing party, hopefully with other folks providing the snacks. Let me know if either works for you.
Regardless of the viewing option, there will be post-viewing discussions, both in person and in this space, because the issues deserve to be considered.
I recently argued that cities were more important than nations to human history, and likely also to our future. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes the same assertion in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. I’ll explore his thinking in my next post.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (firstname.lastname@example.org)