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 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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