7.18.2006

Regulation and neighborliness

I want to write a little bit about this post, which is about tear-downs in LA.

Specficially this paragraph caught my eye:

If additions and teardowns are inevitable, what can we do to make them less unpleasant? To impose arbitrary limitations on square footage, floor area ratios, and lot occupancy that make teardowns virtually impossible (as is the stated goal of many teardown opponents) is pissing into the gale-force wind of economic reality. I also object to publicly imposed architectural controls on the grounds that they are a form of aesthetic fascism, with good taste enforced by the Denim and Suede Police. However, since most people don't want to annoy their neighbors too badly, creating a set of recommended best practices for additions and teardowns would prevent a lot of hard feelings, litigation, and ill-advised government regulation.
Some comments:

1) "Publicly imposed architectural controls" indeed can be misused. The argument from historic preservation advocates is that a neighborhood built at the same time has, more than good taste, a common taste: there's an effect to the limited range of the design of houses that gives an overall effect. To wreck one, then, is to weaken all of them. Consider this the "broken and then garishly replaced windows" theory.

I am inclined to support the HP advocates: once the old architecture is gone, it's gone for good, and I feel like well-maintained old architecture, over time, turns into a civic asset. You need a mix, of course, or it's a museum, but in a town the size of LA I think there should be some room for McMansion-free zone.

That said, in a perfect world I would prefer such controls to be enforced fairly loosely and unfascistically. (A house painted purple isn't fated to be purple forever, for example.) The counter to this is the "slippery slope" argument, but I have always hated slippery slope arguments as excessively deterministic -- even if they're right. (They let Elvis get on Ed Sullivan, and now Lance Armstrong is making assfucking jokes on the ESPYs.)

I think the other reason I might support regulation is

2) I don't believe people care much about their neighbors. I mean, even if most people don't want to annoy their neighbors, how much is "most"? 60%? That's 40% annoying. Even 10% annoying is pretty annoying indeed, especially in a city like LA where being annoyed is not part of the civic culture like it is in New York. And we're talking about people's houses, here -- the biggest investment they'll ever make. Do they really care about what a bunch of people they don't even know yet think?

In a society where people are concerned about their neighbors there is less need for custom to be replaced by law; custom keeps everyone in line. When you get to big cities with millions of people from all over, what customs can you rely on?

All that is solid melts into air, as we were warned. Or rather, all that is solid is torn down and replaced with a big-ass "entrance hall" that's impossible to heat or cool.

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