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ARBITRARY LINES

HOW ZONING BROKE THE AMERICAN CITY AND HOW TO FIX IT

A welcome manifesto for rethought urban spaces and their outliers, bringing social justice into the discussion.

A study of zoning as an instrument of inequality—and deliberately so.

Former New York City planning official Gray examines the “arbitrary lines” that mark zoning maps. In most of the country’s major cities, he notes, the least desired sort of construction is apartment buildings, since these typically serve poorer communities, often made up of immigrants or ethnic minorities. Because deed covenants are no longer politically acceptable, zoning authorities hide behind “a dizzying array of confusing and pseudoscientific rules” that touch on such things as setbacks, floor area ratios, room size, and the like. So it has always been: Gray observes that the first discernible zoning laws were meant to impede Eastern European Jews from settling along New York’s Fifth Avenue. Modern zoning laws block not just the movements of people of color and of low income; they also stunt growth and innovation. Exclusionary rules make cities, which should be engines of innovation, unaffordable while immiserating the people who live there. Add to that the extraordinary requirements of many zoning laws about housing density and the location of shopping centers, and modern zoning condemns suburbanites to life in their cars. Examining the case of the zoning-free city of Houston, Gray convincingly presses the argument for rethinking and largely abandoning zoning laws as such, writing that these laws usually have only to do with “uses and densities on private land—nothing more, nothing less,” and are largely proscriptive and not prescriptive. Instead, the author urges that precedence be given to planning, which is a different thing entirely, and a planning system that allows for the interlayering of different kinds of housing and other properties that will help make housing more affordable and available and more ecologically sustainable—“green downtown apartments,” say, as opposed to “brown detached homes out on the edge of town.”

A welcome manifesto for rethought urban spaces and their outliers, bringing social justice into the discussion.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-642-83254-9

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Island Press

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAID WILL SHOCK YOU

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

The comedian argues that the arts of moderation and common sense must be reinvigorated.

Some people are born snarky, some become snarky, and some have snarkiness thrust upon them. Judging from this book, Maher—host of HBO’s Real Time program and author of The New New Rules and When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden—is all three. As a comedian, he has a great deal of leeway to make fun of people in politics, and he often delivers hilarious swipes with a deadpan face. The author describes himself as a traditional liberal, with a disdain for Republicans (especially the MAGA variety) and a belief in free speech and personal freedom. He claims that he has stayed much the same for more than 20 years, while the left, he argues, has marched toward intolerance. He sees an addiction to extremism on both sides of the aisle, which fosters the belief that anyone who disagrees with you must be an enemy to be destroyed. However, Maher has always displayed his own streaks of extremism, and his scorched-earth takedowns eventually become problematic. The author has something nasty to say about everyone, it seems, and the sarcastic tone starts after more than 300 pages. As has been the case throughout his career, Maher is best taken in small doses. The book is worth reading for the author’s often spot-on skewering of inept politicians and celebrities, but it might be advisable to occasionally dip into it rather than read the whole thing in one sitting. Some parts of the text are hilarious, but others are merely insulting. Maher is undeniably talented, but some restraint would have produced a better book.

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781668051351

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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WHAT WENT WRONG WITH CAPITALISM

Sure to generate debate, and of special interest to adherents of free market capitalism.

A book-length assertion that capitalism’s woes can be traced to government interventionism.

Sharma, an investments manager, financial journalist, and author of The 10 Rules of Successful Nations, The Rise and Fall of Nations, and other books, opens with the case of his native India. The author argues that it should be in a better position in the global marketplace, possessing an entrepreneurial culture and endless human capital. The culprit was “India’s lingering attachment to a state that overpromises and under-delivers,” one that privileged social welfare over infrastructure development. Much the same is true in the U.S., where today “President Joe Biden is promising to fix the crises of capitalism by enlarging a government that never shrank.” Refreshingly, Sharma places just as much blame on Ronald Reagan for the swollen state that introduced distortions into the market. Moreover, “flaws that economists blame on ‘market failures,’ including wealth inequality and inordinate corporate power, often flow more from government excesses.” One distortion is the government’s bloated debt, as it continues to fund itself by borrowing in order to pay for “the perennial deficit.” As any household budget manager would tell you, debt is ultimately unsustainable. Wealth concentration is another outcome of government tinkering that has, whether by design or not, concentrated wealth into the hands of a very small number of people, “a critical symptom of capitalism gone wrong, both inefficient and grossly unfair.” Perhaps surprisingly, Sharma notes that in quasi-socialist economies such as the Scandinavian nations, such interventions are fewer and shallower, while autocratic command economies are doomed to fail. “[T]oday every large developed country is a full-fledged democracy,” he writes, and the more freedom the better—but that freedom, he argues, is undermined by the U.S. government, which has accrued “the widest budget deficit in the developed world.”

Sure to generate debate, and of special interest to adherents of free market capitalism.

Pub Date: June 11, 2024

ISBN: 9781668008263

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2024

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