Dear Fellow Liberal White Urbanists: Stop Telling Communities That Aren’t Yours How They Should Feel
I won’t be shy about it: I am deathly, deathly frightened about the possible passage of Measure S tomorrow—and not just for Los Angeles. Should it pass within that city, I am fearful that the NIMBYs of Long Beach will use it as a precedent to create their own measure that will halt much-needed housing in my own city. (They’ve already succeeded on many fronts.) After all, it sets a moratorium on development that will bar housing from being built, annihilating the culture we love and barring the future from being a part of that ever-changing culture.
But there are already multiple problems with my statement above—and it has been the issue with many No on S narratives: that the measure is solely supported by NIMBYism and the wealthy when, in fact, there are good intentions behind Measure S.
There. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Measure S is definitively masked with good intentions.
And, whether this measure passes or not, there are lessons to be learned. Not by the communities it has either maligned or exalted. Not by the developers that will either benefit or lose from its failure or passage.
White, liberal, urban-minded folks are the ones with the biggest lessons to be learned. Huge, massive, glaring lessons to be learned from problems I myself have sometimes promulgated: the exclusion of low-income families and communities of color from the planning process, from expressing their sentiments about projects we support, from having an opinion that matters, from being fucking involved.
Now don’t think I don’t understand those good intentions aren’t fulfilled by the measure; that measure is an outright nightmare. I have learned something I am very, very, very much guilty of. Too many of us, particularly us white folks who feel we’re “not like that,” that we “get it,” that we’re listeners,…
Well, I’m calling out bullshit.
We have helped contribute to LA’s current 2.7% vacancy rate that has caused rents to skyrocket. We have helped contribute to the marginalized groups who are backing Measure S. We have helped create many of the things we claim we are abhorrently against.
How, you ask?
We constantly interrupt those concerned with their neighborhoods with quips like, “But the facts are [insert intelligent wypipo urbanist stat rant here].” (Stats, mind you, usually cherrypicked from another urbanist not from the community we speak of.)
We nod our heads, already searching for a response that will qualm fears that we’re “that white guy,” dropping Jane Jacobs and Jarrett Walker as if people need to know we’re well-read. Hell, we might even drop Neil Smith and Etienne Turpin just to let people we know we have an edge, even theoretically because, for some reason, we think critical theory is something we must drop in community discussions with people concerned about displacement, eradication, and removal.
When the conversation about gentrification arises from those mostly affected by it, we seemingly always preface it with how “there are multiple sides to this issue…”
When people express emotionally driven concerns—ones about histories, culture, identity, and place—we have the analytical, fact-driven monkeys in our heads turn their ever efficient Wheels of Facts and, in turn, we vomit a ton of academically-sound, nonprofit-endorsed charts, stats, figures, numbers, and theories.
We’ve even just told people, “It’s not your time.” It’s not your time to live free of the worry of being removed from the community you invested in before others would. It’s not your time to enjoy life. It’s not your time. If that isn’t a genuine moment of bafflement, I don’t know what is.
In other words, we aren’t always listening in the way we should and that lack of listening has led to the monstrosity that is Measure S.
Come tomorrow, we will have a lot to learn—despite the outcome. And I hope you’ll join me in listening intently, with our books and facts and answers behind us.