Book Review: Generation Priced Out — Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America by Randy Shaw

Been reading through Randy Shaw’s “Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America” in the last few days. Lots of the content hits pretty close to home here, especially with the opening about how this book started in response to the Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland. Part of my decision to get involved with YIMBYism also stemmed from this event, when I first started to realize that something wasn’t right in the way our housing policies worked.

This is a quick and dirty review of the book that probably doesn’t do much justice to it but here are the main points that struck out to me:

- As a main theme, I appreciate how Shaw talks about the generational issues that exist in the YIMBY/NIMBY debate. It’s a sticky subject that nobody really wants to talk about but I do think it’s important to start the conversation somewhere. There are macro-level trends (including the Cold War) that have influenced housing policies in ways that often doesn’t show up in local politics that will need to be addressed before we can start talking about these issues more honestly as well.

- A nice mini-history of how YIMBY as a movement started — which was mainly Laura Foote-Clark, Sonja Trauss, and a few others talking about housing in the Bay Area a few years ago. Kim Mai-Cutler was the one that broke the story in Tech-Crunch around the same time as well, so YIMBYism is a movement that is genuinely women-lead. There’s a weird thing going on in the media right now where occasionally some men try to take credit for the movement while the media feeds into that narrative because it reinforces the “tech bro” stereotype but I think it’s important to set the record straight on this whenever possible.

- A lot of my artist friends probably know this already, but the creative class is often used as a scapegoat for displacement/gentrification politics since they’re the ones that end up living in lower-income areas purely out of necessity. In housing politics they get attacked by basically all sides of the spectrum, even though all they’re really trying to do is get by. It’s easy to get angry/depressed about all of this but I do think that now’s the time for arts communities to stand up for themselves and speak the truth.

- Was able to get some historical context for some of the projects and people I’ve worked with at the Mayor’s Office of Housing up in San Francisco. (Ed Lee tried his best but was fighting a losing battle against the status quo.) Also how in Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti deserves some credit for the housing developments that have been happening here recently. Since Garcetti is thinking of running for national office in the near future, however, he tends to be silent on a lot of these issues, at least in public. This frustrates a lot of YIMBYs here but in my opinion it’s largely *our* job to make sure that he’s allowed to talk about these things in public knowing that there will be people there to back him up.

- NIMBYism is actually a fairly recent phenomenon, which started around the 80s and have progressively gotten worse as politicians on both sides of the isle basically agreed to restrict the supply of housing as a “solution” to stabilize rising rents. Prior to that local neighborhoods didn’t seem to have an issue with building apartments or multi-family housing units in their neighborhood — there was a switch from indifference to hostility somewhere down the line. The irony is that a lot of homeowners remember the 60s/70s with great fondness since that was the period where a lot of the cities in existence were thriving both economically and culturally. (You do see this nostalgia being expressed in the arts as well — usually in the form of “retro” or “vintage” aesthetics.) We are our own worst enemy in a way, but the good news is that if this problem was caused by policy, then policy can also be used to fix it.

In a nutshell, all of this is basically a precursor to Nov 6’s elections, and how crucial it could be as a turning point in how politics is done in the United States going forward. Vote!

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