Real estate journalist Prevost makes a strong argument against restrictive zoning in elitist Northeastern communities.
Though ordinances might seem a dry topic for a compelling book, a journalist who has written for the New York Times and the Boston Globe Magazine (where her reporting led to earlier versions of some of these chapters) makes the issue interesting on a number of levels, taking the argument beyond property values into the essential notion of what a community is and what might benefit it. Through reporting on elitist enclaves such as Roxbury and Darien in her home state of Connecticut, as well as other New England towns, Prevost shows that preservation is often a mask for prejudice and that communities are strangling themselves through legal and economic restrictions that prevent young families from moving to town and older retirees from staying there. They also serve as a buffer against racial and ethnic minorities, as well as economic classes, that the wealthy moved there to escape. “Today’s advocates of large-lot zoning do not often go around talking about their desire to drive up prices and keep out the riff-raff,” she writes, though that is the effect of what they’re doing. “Roxbury was lacking in a vital resource: the people who keep rural towns running,” she writes. In a region where well-to-do communities oppose condos where “affordable housing” might run $250,000 or much more, the book does an effective job demonstrating how restrictiveness hurts the communities themselves. Fleshing out the argument and making it more nuanced would mean treating the developers more as profit-seekers than social crusaders and presenting more of the perspective of those who live there (including prominent members of the supposedly liberal media elite).
Moves the argument well past simple “not in my backyard” sentiments—though more perspectives and stronger storytelling might have made a good book even better.