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Peter Moskowitz's How to Kill a City takes listeners from the kitchen tables of hurting families who can no longer afford their homes to the corporate boardrooms and political backrooms where destructive housing policies are devised. Along the way, Moskowitz uncovers the massive, systemic forces behind gentrification in New Orleans, Detroit, San Francisco, and New York. The deceptively simple question of who can and cannot afford to pay the rent goes to the heart of America's crises of race and inequality. In the fight for economic opportunity and racial justice, nothing could be more important than housing.
A vigorous, hard-hitting expose, How to Kill a City reveals who holds power in our cities - and how we can get it back.
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By Marie on 04-12-18
Snobby Socialist New Yorker Gets Hyperbolic
Five stars for the narrator because I truly felt the author was an intolerable New Yorker with a superiority complex in love with his own opinion. If I had to read this in dead tree form, I would have given it one or negative stars, and probably wouldn't have finished it. The writing style was just entertaining enough, and the narration superior that I was willing to finish listening to the intolerable subject.
Before I go further, quick summary of the book. This journalist goes and visits 3 cities (Detroit, New Orleans, and San Francisco) and then writes about his own city, New York. White people are rich and gentrifiers, and people of color are poor and must be saved by government intervention with the assistance of activists, artists and non-profits. And capitalism is evil.
Peter Moskowitz lost me early on with conflating gentrification with genocide. His grandmother doesn't see why anyone would want to live in the city and I doubt she'd agree that the Holocaust, with its gas chambers, starvation, and other methods of death have anything in common with displacement. What gentrifier breaks into their neighbor's home and hacks the family to death with a machete as like Rwanda? Or what government favoring gentrification burns the homes of the soon to be displaced and moves them at the point of a gun and denies them citizenship, as the Burmese government has done to its Muslim population. It is offensive that the author even went there, but hey, shock value. I was willing to listen to an argument or point of view that I knew that I would have disagreements with, but this an other bits of hyperbole made me not trust the author, because I see he is willing to write stupid stuff that insulted my intelligence.
I have read Jacobs, Florida, and Glaeser's work as well as various academic papers, and urban planning blogs, so I'm familiar with the subject of cities and gentrification. So there were moments when I wondered if Moskowitz ever did as well, or conveniently forgot how cities and housing actually work so he continue on with whatever narrative he was slavishly sticking to. For example in the Bay area, he seemed to want to count people who sold their homes to developers as the displaced and was annoyed that those who did, did not show up in any measurements about displacement. Same with buy outs (cash for keys) that don't show up as evictions, because they aren't evictions! But I know he want the power of the word 'evictions' for things that are voluntary agreements between landlord and tenant. He also doesn't seem to understand that city governments, well most that I know of, do not exist to serve the poor. Nor does he seem to understand that when a city is bankrupt and or hasn't a decent tax base, it is very limited. He seems annoyed that broke and not broke cities are catering to companies and people who have jobs and money and they're not doing the same for the poor.
There was one section of the book, when covering the history of redlining and he Federal government's role in segregating housing, where I thought he should have started here. It was actually tolerable. I wish I could say informative, but if you've read about race and housing in America before, this should be familiar. It was the same old stuff to me, but I didn't mind hearing it again. What I did mind was that he gave zoning a free pass and ignored its racial history to instead talk about zoning specific to New York City.
Because I am listening to this book for a book group I belong to I kept stopping the audio (you can do this in the audible app) for taking notes. These notes were mainly to disagree with the author. If this is your first book on the topic, then you have no idea what's missing and ignorance is bliss. I unfortunately am aware of what he left out, what is highly colored by his Socialist leaning anti-capitalist point of view and what he has wrong.
Moskowitz doesn't add anything to the topic except his own opinion, nor does he offer any solutions that have a snowball's chance in Hades. One was land banking. Sounds great, but as I said, the author sometimes doesn't know how cities work. Cities will kick the homeless off public lands, and mine closed their waiting list for public housing years ago because it and the wait got ridiculously long. Cities are slower than a dead snail in Alaska when it comes to building the kinds of solutions he suggested. Another suggestion mentioned community boards like that in NYC. Once again that New Yorker-centric mentality creeps in. He likes the idea of the people but doesn't care for democracy when ballot initiatives in San Francisco don't deliver the results he wanted. Another suggestion was to regulate housing nationally. Housing is already regulated. There are only things a licensed plumber, HVAC person and the like can do. There are many tenant friendly cities, like NYC that are heavily regulated and the costs of doing business are passed on to the tenants in one way or another in higher rents, deferred maintenance and/or poor service. If regulation was so great NYC should be a renter's wonderland, but it isn't. Protectionism is another suggestion, but this just goes to something that is NYC specific regarding up-zoning. The last suggestion could just be summarized as try Socialism, raise taxes and wages and spend the money on the poor.
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