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

ARBITRARY LINES

HOW ZONING BROKE THE AMERICAN CITY AND HOW TO FIX IT

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 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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