(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 405: Yes to the City

October 19, 2022

This week we’re joined by Max Holleran to talk about his book Yes to the City: Millennials and the Fight for Affordable Housing.  We talk about the rise of YIMBY vs NIMBY housing politics, the changes in housing activism, and how housing fights are going global.

To listen to this episode, find the audio at Streetsblog USA or our hosting site.

Below is a full unedited transcript of the show:

Jeff Wood (2m 2s):
Well Max Holleran and welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.

Max Holleran (2m 27s):
Thank you for having me.

Jeff Wood (2m 29s):
Well, thanks for being here. Before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Max Holleran (2m 32s):
Sure. I am originally from United States, but I’ve been living in teaching at the University of Melbourne in Australia. I teach social policy and I have the emphasis on city’s urban planning and urban problems that we’re trying to solve.

Jeff Wood (2m 47s):
What’s it like in Melbourne right now?

Max Holleran (2m 50s):
It was a long, hard lockdown there. I think that it bears the dubious honor of being the longest lockdown city with curfews and, you know, know one hour of exercise a day. A bit like taking a jog around the prison yard. But it’s a gorgeous city. It’s a really lucky city. Has a mixture of kind of beautiful row houses and arcs with parrots in them. And it’s a bit more temperate than the rest of Australia. So it’s not always blindingly hot and has slightly fewer bush fires, which is, you know, as we all can remember from 2019, the whole continent has a habit of catching on fire.

Jeff Wood (3m 28s):
Yeah, we know that here in California as well. So tell me how you got into housing and urban issues. Is this something that began when you were a little kid or was it something that you picked up later on in life?

Max Holleran (3m 37s):
I was always interested in housing and urbanism. I’m from a family where that’s a focus. My dad’s an architect. I lived in a lot of places that changed really dramatically. So I was born in Rhode Islands, but I grew up mostly in Boulder, Colorado, which is a part of this book. And it’s a kind of story, bit of a cautionary tale when it comes to housing affordability. And I lived in New York for 15 years, so I’ve, I’ve kind of made my way around some places that are quite expensive and changing a lot. I also, for over a decade, wrote about cities in Eastern Europe and Southern Europe that were going through tremendous changes joining European Union, having people buy tourism houses there with the Euro currency and also, you know, changing because of post socialist politics.

Max Holleran (4m 29s):
So I kind of come at this actually from tourism, which is why I studied before I studied American housing markets.

Jeff Wood (4m 35s):
And you’re being a tourist right now? Apparently. I am,

Max Holleran (4m 39s):
Yeah. I’m in Budapest right now. I’m actually working here and I have a fellowship here for almost a year. But yeah, it’s, it’s a very touristic city and also one that’s struggling with housing costs.

Jeff Wood (4m 50s):
Oh, like everywhere else. One thing that was interesting about the book, and we’ll get to in a second, but one, one thing that was interesting in the book is that like you kind of follow some of my trajectory in in life in terms of the places that you explored. I’ve never been to Melbourne or other places. I’ve been to a number of places in Europe that you talked about in specifically Stockholm and other places like that. But I was born in Houston. I went to a school at the University of Texas at Austin and I was there from 1998 to 2005, which is a kind of a formidable time for, you know, light rail planning and stuff like that in the city, Nimbyism and all that entails. But also I spent a summer in Boulder because I ran cross country at the University of Texas as well. And I had some friends at the University of Colorado who lent me and some friends a house where we stayed five people to one house, which I think is illegal, but

Max Holleran (5m 33s):
It definitely is.

Jeff Wood (5m 34s):
It was for a summer and nobody seemed to mind. And then also now I live in San Francisco, which is another place that you cover in the book. So I think it’s interesting to see all the places that I’ve lived discussed in a ybi NIMBY context, which is really fascinating. How did you choose the cities that you wanted to portray?

Max Holleran (5m 49s):
So I was choosing cities that have a really vi like robust ybi movement. So places that have really come together under this banner of theism and have demanded new development. A lot of that is expensive cities, it’s also cities that have desirable characteristics that people are moving there in droves and also really well paying jobs. So one of the points that I try to make in the book is that a lot of people are attracted to what I call successful cities. And I think we can kind of argue about that nomenclature, whether it’s right or not. But what I mean by that is that the regional disparities we see in the US are growing wider and wider.

Max Holleran (6m 32s):
And the amount of money you can make in Milwaukee versus in Chicago or in a San Francisco versus arena Nevada is a huge disparity. And so people having the regional mobility to move outta state or to move to a big city in their state is not just about what they want to do culturally. It’s not just about, you know, they want cool bars or they want more walkable spaces. It’s also about what kind of job it can get and how much money they can make from that job.

Jeff Wood (6m 60s):
That’s a good point. I mean, the Austin of the nineties and the late nineties at least and until I left, was a place where, you know, there were a lot of people sleeping on couches and playing music on the weekends and doing all kinds of interesting things. And I, I don’t know if that’s actually possible these days with the housing prices the way they are, you know, people would be renting a trailer close to downtown for like a hundred bucks a month or something along those lines and, and playing music on the weekends, like I said. And so that’s interesting, you know, the change in terms of, you know, what people can afford when they come to a place where they really wanna be culturally but they maybe can’t afford, you know, fiscally.

Max Holleran (7m 32s):
Yeah, it’s really sad because places like Austin that used to be like, you know, there’s always kind of monikers for it, like a slacker paradise or this kind of like hippie cowboy, psychedelic hippie city. And you know, you had people who, because they were kind of reveling in this like laid back culture, were couch surfing and kind of like a bit footloose and free in terms of like where they were living and what their life structure was like. Now we see people who are couch surfing because they just can’t afford anywhere else to go in those same cities. So, you know, you and, and you see that demographically. You see the people who are couch surfing who are 24 and who are trying to get their lives together and figure out what they want to do with their life.

Max Holleran (8m 15s):
Now you see people who are couch surfing who are 44 and have kids and have a full-time job but just cannot figure out how to get an affordable roof over their head.

Jeff Wood (8m 24s):
Well, so the book is yes to the city millennials in the fight for affordable housing. What was the impetus for starting to think about Im Bism Nimbyism and housing politics in cities?

Max Holleran (8m 34s):
There’s really two things. So for me, one of the big things is that I saw housing usually through the anti gentrification movements and so through people who were in neighborhoods that were getting really expensive and they were starting to talk about getting pushed out of those neighborhoods and being a, a kind of a form of dispossession. And a lot of that was also across racial lines. So people coming into neighborhoods that were majority people of color and buying homes there, renting homes there and changing the demographic makeup of that neighborhood also with immigrant neighborhoods. That was a really big thing.

Max Holleran (9m 14s):
You know, the inv movement is not that, the inv movement is not focused on gentrification. It looks at housing very much from a supply and demand standpoint and has a very simple argument, which is not about preserving neighborhood or keeping neighborhoods residents because they’re, it’s a place that they’re emotionally attached to. It’s very much just about building new housing. And so I think that was a really big shift for people who are in housing movements to see so many people with a very different set of talking points than they were used to. And the other thing is that for a long time we thought about housing in terms of class, we thought about people who were living in public housing, we thought about people who were experiencing homelessness and you know, people who were, who were really struggling and it was tied to how much money they had.

Max Holleran (10m 4s):
And I think that a lot of what in Bism has done in a lot of these new housing movements has done is thinking about housing in terms of age. And so they would say, you know, there’s a whole new generation of people, people born after, you know, 1990 basically, who are really cursed when it comes to buying a home or to renting a home. And it kind of universalizes it as a generational experience, which is true and it’s not true. On one hand, you know, what they’re saying is that housing has become more expensive and everyone suffers. That is true, but there’s people who suffer a lot more and those are people who are at the bottom end of the pay scale or unemployed.

Jeff Wood (10m 44s):
One of the themes of the book is that generational divide. I’m curious, you know, through your interviews and things, how did that keep coming up in terms of, you know, going from this class struggle to something that, you know, a group wanted to paint has generational struggle in terms of, you know, boomers versus millennials? To put it in crass terms that don’t really fit but you know, kind of fit, I guess

Max Holleran (11m 6s):
Like the terms that the movement uses boomers versus millennials, most of them are, you know, like in their early forties or under 40 and most of the people they’re fighting are in their fifties or sixties or seventies. I think you could also say renters versus homeowners. There’s another, there’s a lot of different ways we could talk about this fight, but it’s people who want to build more and people who wanna build less or not at all. The in movement has very vociferously said that what we need to do is build more apartments. We need to identify existing urban neighborhoods that might mean, you know, living next to an apartment, a small apartment building, which a lot of people don’t like because it disturbs their sense of what suburbia should look like or you know, what their block looked like in the past.

Max Holleran (11m 52s):
And that’s, you know, the movement is, is very direct. What they wanna say is that people who live in the nicest neighborhoods are controlling that space and they’re selfishly hogging that space for themselves when they should be letting other people into those neighborhoods that are blessed with good transit, with nice amenities, with parks that are close to central areas. And they would say, you know, to people who live in these nice neighborhoods, they’d say, look, you don’t live in a bucolic suburb. You live at the edge of a city or sometimes even in a city and you need to, you know, come to terms with that urbanism and they located as a generational thing but also sometimes even farther back and talk about how all these Americans who live in the suburbs tell themselves they’re living some sort of Jeffersonian dream away from the city when they’re not.

Max Holleran (12m 44s):
They’re living next to a shopping mall, they’re living next to a highway, they’re not living, you know, out in the hills. They need to stop pretending like they are and let some new development come to their neighborhood.

Jeff Wood (12m 55s):
It was really interesting thinking about also, you know, the idea of of Nibi, of Nimbyism I should say. I keep, you know, one of the things that’s problematic in terms of trying to define the coalitions is there’s only one letter apart and it’s hard to, hard to keep them out of. When

Max Holleran (13m 9s):
I was writing this book, my brother told me, you guys say Nimbyism and then Nimbyism, you have to always say, not in my backyard and always spell it out or else it’s gonna make people completely mental, including including him. So that was an editorial comment. Yeah.

Jeff Wood (13m 25s):
Well also, you know, it’s funny, you know, Liam Dylan, who’s a reporter for the Los Angeles Times covers housing politics. You know, he always often lists the number of ISS that people have created in in the wake of Im Bism Fism and all that stuff. So it’s interesting to see the number of isms that pop up in that way. But you mentioned them trying to kind of define rich neighborhoods as places where there needs to be more housing. But I’m wondering also how much the messaging was really important in terms of saying, you know, getting rid of single family zoning was kind of like a singular target while also trying to produce housing units in these, in these neighborhoods, these Tony neighborhoods where, you know, rich people often lived.

Max Holleran (14m 3s):
The messaging is, is incredibly important. And I will say whatever you think about en bism and people have very, very powerfully held ideas about this movement, good and bad, that they have been incredibly successful in reframing this conversation and giving a new kind of nomenclature to how we talk about housing. The, even the kind of proliferation of, you know, building in churches’ backyards and building in public, you know, public housing, even the, the way that they’ve owned the isms says so much about how successful they’ve been for a movement that’s been around for just barely 10 years. So, you know, their main goal has been to advocate for new development in wealthy neighborhoods that already have a good deal of infrastructure.

Max Holleran (14m 53s):
They do that in two levels. Like one is very local, it’s the kind of, we show up at zoning board meetings where everyone is kind of, you know, saying, I, I can’t deal with the traffic this will produce and I can’t deal with, you know, the shadows that this building will cast over my backyard. I don’t think we have the resources in this neighborhood. And they come and they say, No we do and we need to build this. And they oftentimes get castigate as interlopers because they’re not from that neighborhood. And their response is always, Well yeah of course we’re not from that neighborhood because you haven’t built something housing there and we can’t afford to live there. On the other hand, they’re incredibly policy savvy and they have a kind of lobbying wing, they have a state policy wing that is all about zoning laws and they do have this very simple idea, which they would say is, you know, it’s, it’s high time that we get rid of single family zoning because so many cities have it where even if people want to build in, you know, multi-family units, they wouldn’t be able to.

Max Holleran (15m 55s):
And so even townhouses are not allowed. And they would say that that’s just a travesty that we’re locked into suburbia, not just because we’ve spent so much money and built all these highways and built these houses, but because we’ve actually codified ourselves into this corner. And they’d say, you know, suburbia is not good for housing affordability cuz we can’t produce enough housing. It’s not good environmentally because everyone is car dependent and very few of these places are linked up to transit. And they would also say, you know, in the kind of most highfalutin kind of philosophical part of the movement that this is a real social problem that people are missing out on forms of neighborliness and civic cooperation and potentially even kind of bridging some of these massive political divides that we have because they live in these atomized neighborhoods with, you know, my house, my lawn, and my fence.

Max Holleran (16m 50s):
And they don’t have to ever share anything with their neighbors. They don’t have to ever take part in a community in a more fulfilling and substantial way.

Jeff Wood (16m 59s):
Well that’s an interesting part of the book too is that you go into how MB is somewhat of a basis for a greater social movement and political participation weighed from just housing. It’s kind of an entree to other things. And I’m wondering why do you think this is an entry point as opposed to like climate change or other, you know, big political struggles today?

Max Holleran (17m 17s):
That’s a great question and I don’t think I have a great answer for you, but the not great answer is that everyone has to pay their rent or their mortgage every month. And so there’s something highly visceral about writing that check or making that bank transfer where people say, you know, God, that’s a crazy amount of money. Why am I doing this? How am I doing this? How does this make sense? How is this massive part of my income going towards housing? Or you know, God forbid that they should not have housing and your life is a search for stable housing. Which is something that that’s happening more and more and happening to demographic groups that we’re not used to like senior citizens.

Max Holleran (17m 58s):
So I, I do think there’s something about the fact that it’s, it’s a kind of stress that most people observe and can relate to that brings them into the movement because they’ve been personally affected by, and of course, you know, the big argument with en bism en bism is very middle class movement. Most of the people are really well educated, A lot of them have backgrounds in tech, design, architecture, urban planning. And they would, you know, say yeah sure we’re not, we’re not a working class movement, we are middle class. That’s true and we have no qualms about emitting it. And I think they’d also say that the reason why that is is because housing has jumped scales to becoming a middle class problem, which is people who are securely middle class making over a hundred grand a year and sometimes, well more than that in places like the Bay Area are suddenly concerned about paying their rent.

Max Holleran (18m 54s):
And they would say, this is not something you would’ve seen 10, 20 years ago where someone who’s on that kind of salary can find a place to live or the amount of money they’re paying is like an existential threat to their wellbeing. And they would say that’s why it’s a middle class movement because this problem keeps growing and affecting people who used to be economically secure.

Jeff Wood (19m 18s):
Well it seems that that kind of bleeds into the activism part too. It feels like that class kind of divide and also the activists class as it were, it feels like in the book specifically you talk about how some of the activists might have been surprised that this new group of interlocutors was coming in and kind of causing a stir and being more technocratic and focused on a singular subject. I’m wondering how you felt like the existing class of housing advocates responded.

Max Holleran (19m 46s):
Yeah, I think they were nonplused, it was a, a situation that was pretty fraught. I think that there wasn’t a lot of communication between those two sides in some cases. And when there was communication it got tense very quickly because it was about what neighborhoods are buildable and that was where, you know, the people, I think there was a kind of daytons where it’s like, you know, you have the anti gentrification groups that represent largely working class neighborhoods, a lot of people of color, and then you have the gibe movements, which are a lot of white people skew kind of male as well in more middle class neighborhoods. And there was a sort of like, okay, you have your neighborhood, we have our neighborhood and we’ll try to work together, which I don’t think ever really happened.

Max Holleran (20m 33s):
And then you’d get these controversies, particularly in San Francisco where you’d say, Oh, okay, well like, you know, we said we were gonna build in neighborhoods that are, you know, securely middle class, but by the way, we wanna build something in the mission by the way, we wanna build something in Oakland. And that’s, I think when these two kinds of housing activism came into conflict and are still in conflict in person online and have fundamental disagreements about what will make affordable housing happen in terms of economic policy and also more superficial, but nonetheless sort of confrontational and acerbic problems online in real life between them, which has made, you know, housing Twitter, which, you know, you think housing Twitter, it sounds like the most boring thing in the world.

Max Holleran (21m 24s):
It sounds like housing economists like talking to each other about how many units they can build and how much should be subsidized is affordable. In fact, it’s a really nasty place that has

Jeff Wood (21m 37s):
The wild

Max Holleran (21m 38s):
West. Yeah, it’s a wild west. Yeah,

Jeff Wood (21m 40s):
It’s like, it’s like the wild west of movies, not the actual Wild West, but the wild west of movies that, you know, somebody walks into a bar and somebody looked at somebody funny and yeah, you know, pull out your guns, go to the street, high noon, those types of things. And hopefully nobody’s pulling out guns. I’m not

Max Holleran (21m 55s):
Advocating. Yeah, well sometimes when you see the Twitter comments it seems like it’s, it’s almost there. Yeah.

Jeff Wood (22m 1s):
Feels like it. But that also speaks to, you know, a little bit of the Rank Corps and the discussions online, but also it feels like clearly now that there’s kind of, not a winner per se, but like the ybi movement is starting to like get ahead or at least feel like they’re having wins is maybe the best way to, to phrase it. And recently at the state legislature here in California, there was a lot of wins that have been trumpeted by the Ybi folks online at least. And I think will make a huge difference, especially, I don’t know if you’ve seen, you know, what happened yesterday, but there was a tweet yesterday about, you know, maybe 10 or so projects with thousands of house or you know, hundreds of housing units in Santa Monica because their housing element is out of compliance. And so the chirping was, was kind of off the charts yesterday and I, I don’t think that the, the, the opposition was happy, but it seems like that there’s been a number of wins for the IBU movement.

Jeff Wood (22m 51s):
I’m curious how kind of their legislative movement has actually kind of built them into a force rather than just, you know, a neighborhood by neighborhood organization that is fighting for individual projects.

Max Holleran (23m 2s):
Their legislative wins. Especially if you think about the IBU movement is broadly conceived and consisting of dozens of different pro density pro construction housing groups across the US and across the world. It’s been astonishing. They’ve had huge victories and they have been really instrumental in getting rid of single family zoning in entire cities and states and also, you know, for instance in California advocating for new trans oriented development in ways that urban planners have been stressing we need to do for at least 25 years. But you know, I think that there is a real art form with what they have done in attracting people online who don’t really know about urban planning and don’t really care.

Max Holleran (23m 50s):
But suddenly you make it a meme about, you know, why can’t we build a house here and look how much you’re paying for rent and look at this schmuck who’s talking about millennials can’t afford houses because they’re buying too much avocado toast and cappuccinos. And I think that they get this real momentum bringing people into a coalition that is, you know, basically advocating for some fairly wonky urban planning ideas but have, have really become powerful. And I think people really need to recognize that what they’ve done in the most visible way is go to meetings and yellow people and say, Don’t be selfish, allow someone to build an apartment unit on your block.

Max Holleran (24m 30s):
But in a more momentous way, what they’ve done is created a kind of advisory board, a couple different think tanks, particularly in California that are advocating for housing reform, for zoning reform in interesting ways and with a coalition of people who are not just urban planners. And I think that that gives them more voice and that’s why they have the mayor of San Francisco, a very powerful state senator and other politicians who really listen to them and identify with them.

Jeff Wood (25m 2s):
And the persistence as well. I mean you have a lot of losses along the way to wins too. I mean you have the alphabet soups, a number, soups, SBA 27 s, SP 50, those types of things. S sp version X is what I’m gonna call it from now on. And I don’t even remember what the wins are because there’s so many numbers that are stuck in my head. Yeah. But most of these wins and losses are just kind of codes. And I’m curious about how that kind of language and the coding of it, does that help or hinder the movement in that, you know, you’re, you’re worried about this senate bill or this assembly bill or this, you know, in California specifically. Obviously there’s things going on in other states, but it’s really interesting to see how this kind of like you mentioned like really wonky topic that I care about a lot, obviously as an urban planner has kind of gone into the mainstream.

Max Holleran (25m 46s):
They looped a lot of people into the political process. I mean they have people who are coming to their happy hours and you know, subscribing to their newsletters who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in these different codes and would not have the staying power to bear with all these failed legislative bills. But they’ve sort of shown the stakes. I think that what I believe you’ve just alluded to is that they’ve done a lot of legislative maneuvering, but that doesn’t equal building. So where are the shovel ready projects? And that’s a good question, which is that I think that they will come, you know, one thing I really like about theism is that I’m a big believer in public housing.

Max Holleran (26m 26s):
I think the US can have really beautiful public housing, but I also don’t see most states or the federal government building much of it. So I think the one thing the Mbsm really gets right is saying, we’re gonna have development that’s private development and we’re gonna have market rate housing built, but let’s put a voice in there that tries to control the process and makes a level of affordability within market rate development. And when people are debating what’s gonna happen, let’s make sure that we can have a voice and get some affordability in there and get some people at the table. When it comes to developers building big buildings and a lot of other housing movements have not been, I don’t think they’ve been as clear-eyed about that.

Max Holleran (27m 11s):
They’ve said like, you know, look at this gentrification, look at these developers. We hate developers, developers, nasty word, you know, boo boo boo. And then they’ve lost their seat at the table because something’s gonna get built anyway. But they’re not there to demand community benefits from developers who have gotten the green light from zoning. And they’re also not there to demand affordability within those projects. So I think that’s one thing they’ll probably have to do in the future when some people start acting on these new legislative victories.

Jeff Wood (27m 46s):
Switching gears a little bit, one of the interesting things about the book was the lessons about Boulder to me anyway, specifically because I’m fairly familiar with Austin, I’m fairly familiar with San Francisco and the history, I’ve, you know, lived pretty close to a lot of where the action is here in Noe Valley, which is right adjacent to the mission. But one of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately is how basically we’re, we’re sitting in these cities that are kind of like pressure cookers and I feel like the pressure cookers are starting to hit their limit. For a long time there was these escape valves and in Boulder and in Austin, in Austin, you know, north and south, and Megan Kimball, who was a journalist in Texas, and I talked about this a couple weeks ago, but basically, you know, all of the nimbyism, the anti-development sentiments in central cities was allowed to go on because there was this escape valve of sprawl.

Jeff Wood (28m 29s):
And suburban is that was allowed to fester in places north and south of Austin and places outside of Boulder. But I feel like that that’s come to a head. There was even a, a Wall Street Journal article recently, it’s like the end of the land or land is not available anymore for this housing. And so how much of this movement is, is basically, you know, kind of pushed up by this end of suburbia, not, not the end of suburbia as a way of building, but basically that cities are running out of places to nimby their housing too.

Max Holleran (28m 57s):
Yeah, I mean, you know, there’s always been that kind of like spatial fix in the US which is like, we live in this giant country, but just go explore some new land, not in the suburbs but in the excerpts and let’s, you know, get people out there and they’ll commute now in 45 minutes to work each way. But it’s fine because we’re Americans, we love driving, it’ll all be okay. That land is harder to get to now and a lot of it just isn’t there. So you see increasingly cities where open land is coming into dispute between people who wanna develop it, but also agriculture. So you know, you get municipal authorities who are saying, Whoa, whoa, whoa, we can’t give up, you know, the agriculture that we have left because we have this big city and we have to feed the city.

Max Holleran (29m 43s):
I think also some of these places people are, are dealing with commuting times and gas prices that are no longer viable. I think there’s also a level of dismay about being kind of banished farther and farther from the city. There’s a sort of, you know, we’re looking a lot more like European cities where the center is a very wealthy, prosperous place and the outskirts get progressively less so. And there’s a feeling of being an exile. And I don’t think that’s a very good feeling that people, you know, don’t like to travel a long ways. They don’t like to feel like they’re being banished from the city because they don’t have enough money.

Max Holleran (30m 25s):
But yeah, very much in, in Texas and Colorado, a lot of these places have expanded. They really have hit their limit in terms of transportation, commuting time, available land. And also as you know from California, you know, some of these places and Texas as well. The reason why people haven’t built in this land is because it’s at risk, higher risk of fire or flooding. So, you know, Houston famously built all over their floodplains. So I think that densification is really the answer in a lot of cases. And I think a lot of people have come to terms of the idea of a kind of gentle densification in suburbs, which can work really well and which is not that onerous for the communities that are being asked to do it.

Max Holleran (31m 8s):
I think that that’s a real sea change from the 1990s and maybe early two thousands when there was still all this developable land. And I think gibes have hit on that, which is that that philosophy really no longer works. There’s no more satellite communities that you can build. And boulder’s a really good example of that, which is that because Boulder is so expensive and because it has a green belt around it, which provides all these absolutely amazing amenities in terms of hiking and running and you know, whatever else, even some agriculture still. But there’s so many communities outside of Boulder that are the same size as Boulder where people are living and kind of have made new cities and you know, it is probably not much more of that that can built,

Jeff Wood (31m 51s):
That’s why I lived in Boulder was cuz I was going for almost some recreational tourism to a certain extent I was training for my season and there were a lot of trails and obvi obviously good places to run,

Max Holleran (31m 60s):
Nice and high altitude too, so that you can go back to Texas and see like the, you know, mega runner

Jeff Wood (32m 5s):
Who’s, I tell you, running on Magnolia Road a lot up in the mountains and the Walker Ranch loop. I, I can tell you that there’s a lot to be gained from changing your oxygen blood levels.

Max Holleran (32m 15s):
Absolutely. Yeah.

Jeff Wood (32m 16s):
When I got back to sea level, I was feeling much better than I would’ve if I would’ve just trained at sea level, which is amazing. And if people say it helps and I, I found out that it actually does.

Max Holleran (32m 26s):
I mean, it’s a really beautiful place too. And I think that part of the question about MBS is who gets to live in these beautiful places. You know, Boulder has the most trails, the most bike paths per capita in the US and you know, it’s really blessed with these amazing places that you can go, you know, do a day hike really easily. You can like go to work and like go hiking or go mountain biking right after work. And I wish that there was more communities that saw the benefits of buying public land and using that land for recreation. Unfortunately there’s not, there’s a lot of private land in this country and there’s a lot of like private land with do not trespass.

Max Holleran (33m 7s):
We will shoot you signs and that’s why people wanna move to Boulder because there’s only, there’s only a couple places like that and those assets that are community assets are very tightly held community assets. So, you know, they are public, but becoming part of that public is very difficult.

Jeff Wood (33m 24s):
It’s interesting because they are valuable and I feel like more cities should have done it, but not for the reasons necessarily that Boulder did it. Right. They were trying to constrain growth rather than create an amenity for residents. It ended up being an amenity. Right. And beneficial and I, those hiking and biking trails are amazing and I wish every city had that. I mean, it reminds me of, of where I grew up in in Kingwood, and I’ve talked about this a number of times on the podcast, but for some reason, and I’m trying to get to the bottom of this and I still don’t quite under understand why, but for some reason when they built the development, they put bike trails behind the houses that probably, you know, go, you know, 70 miles or something like that and you can get anywhere in the, in the, in the neighborhood, which is a very sprawling, you know, suburb of Houston, but you can get anywhere in the neighborhood by riding a bike on these trails and you’re not necessarily crossing big roads because they put tunnels under them.

Jeff Wood (34m 12s):
And I feel like that kind of design would be beneficial for cities to create something that actually allows people to get around without driving their car. And in Boulder specifically, it’s interesting because there’s all these recreational opportunities from that too, and there’s a benefit to that, but there was not a lot of foresight in city planning in the past to do that. There’s parks and stuff and there’s things like Central Park and Olmstead where all over the place as you mentioned in the book. But this kind of thinking about, you know, green belts and, and the idea of building places where people can be that aren’t, you know, residential areas is really beneficial. But I I I feel like that’s lost on some of the urban planning history, mostly because people were trying to use it as, as a way to constrain growth and worried about, you know, more people rather than actually providing people with something beneficial.

Jeff Wood (34m 56s):

Max Holleran (34m 57s):
I mean Boulder, I I love the idea of making a green belt to limit suburban sprawl and I I do really identify with Ebeneezer Howard’s vision that he put forward in the early 20th century. I’m actually doing a project about that now. The problem is in Boulder in most of the places it just didn’t work, which is that, you know, they said in the early 1970s we’ve bought all this land, we had this green belt. What people did is they just immediately went past the green belt and they drove back and forth every day spewing emissions all over the green belt and built suburban sprawl past the green belt because that’s what happens when you don’t have a kind of regional plan to work these things out.

Max Holleran (35m 37s):
Which is actually something that Ebenezer Howard talks about in the theory of green belts. And unfortunately never came to fruition in the UK or the US Boulder also didn’t really care about rising house values. You know, the fact that house values there were, you know, rising really steadily because of the green belt and then really going out of control in the 1990s and and beyond. No one really cared. It was kind of like, oh, it’s a win-win. Most people are homeowners here. And so the affordability issue was not front and center at all. People were very happy that their house had doubled in value and tripled in value, et cetera.

Max Holleran (36m 19s):
And then they were happy for everyone else to go live in Longmont, Lewisville or Superior or wherever, and they didn’t get the recreational. And let’s say those days are are bad that a lot of them are actually really nice, but they didn’t get the same kind of recreational jewels that Boulder has. And also, like, there’s a lot of economic segregation when you do that. When you have, here’s this kind of support cities, here’s the big expensive like luxury city, which Boulder has absolutely become in the same sense as Aspen or something like that. And here’s the support city where everyone else lives, who serves that city. But in a case, in the case of Boulder and places like Aspen, it’s not just like the people who, you know, have not very, like jobs that don’t pay a lot, like who wash dishes or who are like maids in a hotel or something.

Max Holleran (37m 9s):
It’s like everyone, it’s like everyone, you know, the college professors like business people, like everyone has to move and that’s a huge danger when you get a place that has a kind of zero growth policy. But I, I do agree. Yeah, there’s, there’s a lot of, you know, Boulder is an example of these kind of parks done in a really visible way, but there’s a lot of great smaller examples of people making bike paths using kind of interstitial areas of land that weren’t connected and then connecting them and making little horizontal parks like linear parks and then bike paths. And it’s really easy to do also using public funds and not even using ’em in a domain, but just buying up some property and making a path that connects the city.

Max Holleran (37m 55s):
And, and there’s a lot of good examples of places that have done that and created some really nice spaces and some options to use alternative forms of transportation.

Jeff Wood (38m 6s):
Was there anything that you learned from doing the research for this book that you didn’t expect to find out or things that surprised you when you were talking to people when you’re doing the research thinking about en Bism and Nimbyism and all Theisms in between?

Max Holleran (38m 19s):
Hmm, that’s a good question. You know, the most surprising thing to me was that this term is of global importance because I think everyone knows that American suburbia is a weird thing. It’s a sort of, you know, know the, the extent of suburbia, the unique history of suburbia in the United States. I think that that can be named, it can be something that we really think of as a uniquely American experiment, whether you think it’s a failed or successful experiment. But I was really surprised that people are using this term and talking about single family homes in the uk in cities like Brighton Bath and London and Manchester in Sweden, Australia.

Max Holleran (39m 6s):
Part of that I think is because in the US we have such a, we think of suburbia and we think of not in my backyard thinking very much in racial terms too. I think we think about integration about restricted covenants that wouldn’t let black people, Jews, sometimes Italian Americans into certain suburban neighborhoods. And also you think about the kind of suburbia that was built in a pattern of white flight from increasingly diverse and integrated urban cores. And so, you know, for me it was, it was weird to go to places like Brisbane and Queensland and Northern Australia and see them using this language. And I think it’s a kind of testament to the power of this idea for thinking about densification and thinking about new ways of housing.

Max Holleran (39m 53s):
So that was, that was surprising to me. And I think it’s a powerful idea that has been received with great attention in a lot of places across the world.

Jeff Wood (40m 2s):
I think that was interesting about the international cases was that people were saying that the term itself, and it has a bit of baggage, right, especially as it pertains to California’s theism, but there was like an inherent value in the term itself for explaining kind of what people meant. And I think that that makes it a very valuable term for activists that are using it to, you know, get to the points that they wanna make.

Max Holleran (40m 25s):
Yeah, it does at baggage. And I think that arguably some people will not continue to use it because of how loud the debates have gotten in California particularly. But I do think that it’s become a shorthand for a number of ideas about densification, about building more about zoning that has been really useful for people despite having zoning laws that are really different from the United States. You know, it’s, it’s a kind of pro urban mindset and I think that’s easier for people outside of the US who are more comfortable living in cities where, you know, living in an apartment is a more normal thing. But I think in the US it’s been really powerful shift also to say, you know, yeah, it’s okay to live a more urban lifestyle.

Max Holleran (41m 10s):
It’s not more dangerous. It’s not more stressful. You can have a car, you can have kids and live in an apartment, he won’t be a bad parent. And there’s a lot of ideas that we’ve kinda internalized in the United States about anti-urban that I think until this movement came around, were almost reflexive. And I think now we’ve had some time to meditate on them and maybe change our minds.

Jeff Wood (41m 36s):
What do you think the future is moving forward for these housing activists one way or another? What’s the next steps? Do you think that we become a very urban society? Do you think that it all falls apart? I’m curious what your thoughts are on what’s next

Max Holleran (41m 50s):
Remote work and the pandemic are huge challenges. You know, I think that people would say before the pandemic, Yeah, okay, this is all gonna happen. But now you know, you, you see people who during the pandemic moved, you know, to Montana or something and you know, are doing their work for a firm in Los Angeles from Missoula that could be a game changer, but only for a kind of certain kind of white collar job. So, you know, not for everyone, probably for far less than 10% of people. I think there also will have to be public spending in housing that is more energy efficient, particularly in terms of insulation as energy prices become a giant problem with the Russia, Ukraine war.

Max Holleran (42m 40s):
I also think that probably we’re on the verge of a recession and there’s not going to be as much free capital floating around in big expensive American cities, but there still will be a housing crisis. And so you might see more government involvement when it comes to not just giving Section eight vouchers or some sort of mixed like nonprofit housing, but actually potentially building new public housing if this crisis goes on longer. But I think theism is here to stay, particularly in terms of urban densification. So building cities that are a lot bigger and that have higher buildings and people living closer together and not being afraid of doing it.

Jeff Wood (43m 26s):
Well the book is yes to the city millennials in the Fight for affordable housing. Where can folks find a copy if they wanna get one?

Max Holleran (43m 32s):
You can get one online from Princeton University Press and it ships all over the US and all over the world as well.

Jeff Wood (43m 39s):
Awesome. Well Max, thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time.

Max Holleran (43m 42s):
Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.

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