The Weekend Politics Thread Slips Into the Zone

♫ They’re growing houses in the fields between the towns
And the Starlight drive-in movie’s closing down
The road is gone to the way it was before
And the spaces won’t be spaces anymore ♫

— A singer-songwriter from New Jersey who late-80s and early-90s radio programmers had no idea how to slot1

So much happened last week in the Pangea of politics and policy. Even more promises to proliferate over the proceeding week. The pressure on you palavering Weekend Politics Thread host to pick just one point in the panoply to pontificate upon propagates prodigiously.2

Which brings Uvular to zoning. Before exercising any other rights or responsibilities, governments own land. Borders define a sphere of influence in the most literal sense of the words “literal” and “littoral.” Now, only a fool3 could ignore mountains and surveyed lines dividing cities, counties, states and countries. But water matters for the rest of this peroration. Stay lit on littoral.


The city next door to Uvular’s own has started dropping residential neighborhood street all speed limits to 20 mph (32 kph). 4 This project proceeds for the purported, and probably salutary, purpose of protecting pedestrians and bicyclists from the predations of negligent car and truck drivers.

Notably, this particular city has a large number of densely pack residential-only neighborhoods. The place assumed that profile over the centuries primarily because policymakers committed themselves to separating populaces by race and, concomitantly, socioeconomic status.

The poorer and blacker neighborhoods wound up in the marshiest and remotest areas. Cuts amounting to the practical elimination of public transportation left those in enclaves most prone to seeing walkers in roadways most in need owning cars. At the same time, commercial and retail lots dwindled in those racially reserved areas, with each round or urban renewal, but unhealthy businesses such as chemical tank farms remained.

This not-at-all weird trick had an odd effect of concentrating wealthier and whiter residents along a riverfront prone to flooding for nearly any reason, from a persistent breeze to a normal high tide on the nearby bay. Karma etc.

Under more than a little pressure from the federal government and its huge U.S. Navy presence in the area, the city has finally started to take steps toward reworking its discriminatory zoning and poor land use policies. Undoing the damage will take decades the city may not have as sea levels rise, a warming world strengthens hurricanes, and a death cult GOP reasserts authority in the state level.5

That last bitterly listed item highlights how politics, while surely local, radiate up and out to the wider world. A city that decides to rise roadbeds, rebuild curbs and replace all speed limit signs spends state transportation money. The state receives half or more of its funds for roads, housing and commercial development from the federal government. The feds employ SEAL-level teams of rainbow hunters to steal leprechauns’ gold, which aliens wholesaled … .

*deep breath*

The point remains that governments own all the land under their respective purviews. Occupants of said land can only do what governments permit, as codified in zooming ordinances. But a plat and a patent or a deed and a “Dude, go for it” rarely suffices. Money greases the hydraulics of the backhoe, as no one says.

Plus, the hard reality of government owning the very land on which your nightstand stands justifies property taxes and, to pick another nonrandom example, cattle grazing fees in places like northwestern Nevada and southeastern Oregon.

Consider zoning the zinc of modern infrastructure, commerce and community. Discuss below.