The Housing Bomb (2013)

When I first came across The Housing Bomb: Why Our Addiction to Houses Is Destroying the Environment and Threatening Our Society (2013), I thought the title may be a marketing ploy to attract readers.

My assumption was not valid, as I learned when I began to read the book. The concept of the housing bomb is clearly defined in the study, and the metaphor is highlighted in a balanced, evidence-based way in the book’s chapters, each of which focuses on a separate area of research.

Another book that I have enjoyed, that addresses similar themes, is The River Returns: An Environmental History of the Bow (2009).

A third study that addresses related themes is The Sustainable Development Paradox: Urban Political Economy in the United States and Europe (2007).

A fourth work that addresses parallel themes, in this case from the perspective of evolutionary biology, is The Meaning of Human Existence (2014). I have quoted from the latter study in an earlier post entitled: In standard usage, “gentrification” is a limited term; the underlying process is of a wider import.

A previous post that addresses similar topics is entitled: Steven High (2003) highlights the Machine in the Garden aesthetic of postwar factory design.

Bird feeders

A May 16, 2015 CBC article, entitled “Bird feeders drive some birds into decline: Bird feeders benefit a couple of species at the expense of others,” addresses themes similar to ones addressed in The Housing Bomb (2013).

A photo caption for the May 16, 2015 CBC article notes: “A new study found that stocking backyard bird feeders with bread and seeds caused the population of some species to explode at the expense of native species that don’t eat bread and seeds.”

Aerial view looking east along Lake Shore Blvd West from near Long Branch Loop, Ontario Archives Acc 16215, ES1-814, Northway Gestalt Collection. The photo shows postwar housing in the area of Toronto where I live.

Banking system

The Housing Bomb (2013) addresses themes driven by a wider frame of reference than, by way of example, recent articles about consumerism in The Globe and Mail, which focus primarily on the necessity – concerning which there is wide agreement – of keeping the Canadian banking system and economy intact in the face of a possible future debt crisis.

Alternative currencies

The conclusions in The Housing Bomb (2013) are closely aligned with themes outlined in a CBC Ideas podcast entitled: “Why Money Isn’t Everything.”

The latter CBC podcast opens with the following paragraphs:

“The world over, alternative currencies are helping societies solve key issues. In Japan, volunteers earn redeemable friendship tokens when they care for the elderly. In Brazil, one city’s garbage crisis disappeared when it gave people bus tokens for their trash. We’re also hearing about Toronto’s tool library and workshop space. Sheetal Lodhia explores how healthy communities can be built without money.

“There are many illusions about money. One is that banks create money when it’s printed. But money is actually produced through bank debt, when banks loan money to individuals, to governments or to corporations. Actually all our national currencies are private creations produced through bank debt. We see money as the only way to buy or sell things, or to drive an economy. But, across the globe people are challenging this system, using alternative currencies – complementary currencies – just as effectively.”

[End of excerpt]

Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne

The interviewees in the above-noted podcast include Bernard A. Lietaer, author of Rethinking Money: How New Currencies Turn Scarcity Into Prosperity (2013).

A profile at the above-mentioned link notes that:

  • Bernard Lietaer is a leader in the field of money for more than thirty years as a central banker, a fund manager, a university professor, and a consultant. In 1992, Business Week named him “the world’s top currency trader”. A co-designer of the European Currency Unit – the precursor to the euro – he is currently a research fellow at the Center for Sustainable Resource Development at the University of California, Berkeley.

The  profile for the co-author of Rethinking Money (2013) notes that:

  • Jacqui Dunne is an award-winning journalist and founder of Danu Resources, an emerging leader in helping entrepreneurs develop technologies and initiatives that restore the earth. The company is an interface between donors and projects, creating a flourishing paradigm shift for a quadruple bottom line: people, planet, profits, and power within.

[End of texts]

A February 2013 Utne Reader article by Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne is entitled: “Successful Mutual Credit System Thrived in Irish Pubs: During a time of financial crisis in the 1960s, Ireland developed a mutual credit system that benefitted the people and not the big banks.”

Money and Life (2013)

Bernard Lietaer is also a contributor to a DVD entitled Money and Life (2013). A blurb at the Toronto Public Library website, refers to the video production as: “A compelling cinematic journey that examines the origins of money, how the role of money has changed over time, how it shapes lives and the world today, and the emerging movement to create new economic models that redefine relationships with money.”

Household dynamics

The first chapter in The Housing Bomb (2013) focuses on how household dynamics contribute to the housing bomb.

The second chapter advances the argument that home ownership emancipates, and it enslaves.

Difference between environmentalist and developer

” ‘Housaholism’ in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” is the title of Chapter 3, which shares an old joke (p. 67): “What’s the difference between an environmentalist and a developer? The environmentalist already has his house in the mountains (or on the beach/lake/river, or in the desert).”

Topics addressed in the latter chapter are also addressed in a previous blog post entitled: In standard usage, “gentrification” is a limited term; the underlying process is of a wider import. The post refers to evidence suggesting that, from the perspective of evolutionary biology, the ideal location for residential real estate, when money is no object, is on a rise looking down, with a vista of parkland, and close to a body of water.

Chapter 4 is entitled: “Household Dynamics and Giant Panda Conservation.”

Chapter 5, which offers helpful hints for the conscientious homeowner, is entitled: “Defusing the Housing Bomb with Your House.”

Individual and local strategies

Chapter 6 is entitled: “Individual and Local Strategies for Defusing the Housing Bomb.”

With regard to what cities can do, the book notes (p. 171) that:

  • Cities have more motivation than individual householders, states, or nations to address the housing bomb. First, those in cities know that the sprawl cycle makes today’s prospering community tomorrow’s decaying neighborhood, unless they can provide key amenities not available in the next ring of suburbia. A green infrastructure for households that capitalizes on existing infrastructures and the current population density (e.g., mixed-use development, or light-rail systems) gives existing neighborhoods one of their few advantages over the ones in the process of being built farther afield.

[End of excerpt]

Large-scale strategies

Chapter 7 addresses “Large-Scale Strategies for Defusing the Housing Bomb.”

In the concluding chapter, the authors note (p. 174):

  • Ironically, urban slums in the world’s largest cities offer some of the most promising possibilities for defusing the housing bomb (chapter 7). Because these slums have not sprawled across the landscape, they do not need to become more dense. The extreme poverty of their inhabitants has led to walkable distances between homes and many needed services and products. Building a smart-energy grid is one place where urban slums are poised for improving our approach to household dynamics. Even before the 2010 hurricane that destroyed Haiti’s infrastructure, Port-au-Prince was plagued with energy problems. [9] Most residents had no regular access to electricity. A Col­orado-based firm, Green Energy Corp, has developed a smart-grid plan for Haiti, and this firm is now working with a suite of partners (including the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, the United Nations’ Environment Programme, the Clinton Global Initiative, Duke Energy, and EarthSpark International) to develop an energy grid (using sun, wind, water, and biomass) that will deliver electricity to Haitians. By focusing their efforts on a distribution model that links small-scale renewable sources together closer to the load (sites of use), they have reduced transmission costs. And it doesn’t hurt that the small wind and solar farms have created new jobs for Haitians. Programs such as this offer great possibilities for contributing to the already-existing informal economies that thrive in these completely mixed­ use communities.”

[End of excerpt]

Irony; lack of irony: Depends on who observes

The quoted text (above) refers to the authors’ sense of irony, with regard to the innovations that have taken place in urban slums in the world’s largest cities. Speaking for myself, I see no irony, with regard to the matter at hand. A related resource, in the event the matter at hand interests a person, is Fragile Dwelling (2000).

Well-organized book makes for great end-user experience

Each chapter features a conclusion that summarizes the discussion. The book also features a concluding overview that wraps up the key themes, which are easy for the reader to grasp. It is clear that much thought and planning has been devoted to the structure of the book, and the presentation of its central message.

I enjoy this book. I’m reminded of what I have learned some years, which is that the quality of the script matters; the quality of the strategic thinking matters; and the effort that goes into the creation of a work is what is communicated, in anything that a person encounters, by the work. I’m reminded, in this context, of what The New Yorker was like in days gone by, as outlined from the vantage point (p. 12), at any rate, of Gone: The Last Days of the New Yorker (1999):

“The facts had been checked; the prose was ade­quate. The level of attack, the effort devoted to the piece, was likely to be high.”

Community-level action

A May 15, 2015 CBC article, which ties in with topics addressed in the above-noted book, is entitled: “Act locally to counter climate change: New report says that environmental change works best at community level.”

Conclusion

The above-noted book is among the more cogent, refreshing, and powerful overviews about the nature of things – or more precisely, about the intricate and exquisite interconnectedness of things – that I have encountered. The frames of reference advanced in it offer a way of looking at things that enables a person to picture environmentalism, sustainability, and debt in ways that may not have occurred to a person, prior to gaining familiarity with the concepts presented in the study.

 

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