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a subsidy scheme

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Twenty years ago I read an op ed in the Globe and Mail that asked the question: what is the biggest public money grab in North America? The answer, the suburb. The suburb is a massive welfare program?

In the intervening period I have read precious little on the topic – ie. specifically tying suburban life to public debt – no doubt because the idea cuts too close to the heart of the truth of how we live. I’m now reading Chakrabarti’s A Country of Cities which kicks off with the bold face assertion that how we live is subsidized.

I sometimes like to think about a solution. If there’s a problem, why not? Clearly the solution here is to delink public money from very expensive lifestyle choices: ie. no more oil and gas subsidies, no more massively expensive infrastructure projects and utility grids that serve less than x people per acre, no more big box market subsidies and incentives, raise the level of investment in efficient means of transport (public) and lower that of the much less efficient means (private cars), etc.  I know, I know, I’m dreaming. But this dream has to do with that hard nosed topic, money, so maybe …

Here is Chakrabarti:

The suburbs, therefore, are not a mere reflection of the way people want to live, or even a reflection of true market forces, but a synthetic consequence of history. The suburbs are largely a creation of ‘big government,’ and explicit policy-driven, subsidized scheme that has guided how we live, work and play. Over the last century, this has created the most consumption-based economy the planet has known – that is until the music stopped: the twenty-first century debuted in America with an epic collapse of the housing market (particularly the single-family housing market), the rapid acceleration of climate change, and the largest division between rich and poor in the postwar era.

Vishaan Chakrabarti, A Country of Cities, p 33.



a more passionate world
January 21, 2011, 2:12 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , ,

On one of the sides in the great culture wars there is a strong and growing distrust of the city and its institutions.  And a rosy yearning for the – maybe slightly apocryphal – values of church, family, farm, field and personal struggle.

I recently had a rather bleak back and forth in a comments thread in an online newspaper – our own little culture battle.  The article was about how family can nurture civility – the context being the attempted assassination of a US Congresswoman.  My comment disputed the idea that the nuclear family can be a centrally placed and adequately supportive  institution in a large and complex modern state like ours.  Society has broad needs that can’t be met by the usually narrow self interest of the family unit.  I received a return blast of aggressive family values reactions:  to be expected in 21st century America.

One responder claimed that family is natural and all other institutions – the law, the state, the church, school – unnatural and man-made.  He said that all institutions derive from family and that to believe in other institutions is to be ‘academic’ which is bad, apparently.  He was aggressively challenged, mostly by one other writer, and they battled it out for two or three passes.

It was almost breathtaking to watch his retrenchment from an initial broad vision of the relationship between family and our society to a narrow rumination on whether or not a married man with kids had enough personal resources to merely survive.  Nuclear is too small, he decided and his fall back view was ‘groups as small as a dozen families.’  ‘Efficient hunting with found weapons requires several men,’ he advised.  In a few hundred words, the measure of a good life dropped from really living to scraping by.

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