Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A thought on the value of home.....

I just finished a great book last night that I thought had direct application to Sherry's important post about low-income housing in Lexington. The book is called "Shadow Cities," by Robert Neuwirth, and it is an excellent study of "informal" squattter settlements around the world. Greg and I actually got to spend time in one of the settlements that was a case study in the book, and I learned from that experience just what an excellent job the author did in his research. Here is a key excerpt from the final chapter:

"Today, we have crowned the market as the ultimate arbiter of our ability to dwell here on earth. The market will ensure that we all have adequate homes. The market will correct any deficiencies. In all things, we have made the market all-powerful. It is our civic religion.

Yet, when it comes to human necessities (such as having a place to live or enough to eat) the market does not seem to do such a good job. For as long as there have been humans on the planet we have needed shelter. Whether it takes the form of a cave, a grass hut, a room in a bowery flophouse, or a massive private home with a three-car garage, we all need a roof over our heads. The market, however, does not provide enough roofs to go around, and certainly not at prices most people can afford. If the market truly worked, if supply met demand as it's supposed to in the classic fable of economics, we would not need government incentives to spur the production of housing. We would not need direct government investment in affordable housing. We would not need laws to force banks to make mortgages to low-income people. There would be no homeless. And there would be no squatters.

There is a problem of property. It's been with us as long as we've been on the planet. Today, the world's squatters are demonstrating a new way forward in the fight to create a more equitable globe. Without any laws to support them, they are making their improper, illegal communities grow and prosper. We don't need to crush their communities with our hard-nosed conception of property rights. Instead, we can learn from them how possession can trump property: how people with no right to any land can produce more housing than people with a title deed.

To many philosophers, there is no life without a place to live. French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas put it in this way: 'Man abides in the worlds as having come to it from a private domain.' For Levinas, dwelling, having a home, is prior to being. It is the grounding of our existence, both material and physical. 'Every consideration of objects, and of buildings too, is produced out of a dwelling. Concretely speaking the dwelling is not situated in the objective world, but the objective world is situated by relation to my dwelling.'

In other words, without a home, there is no world.

The squatters, by building their own homes, are creating their own world (p 306)."


maria said...

I loved that book. Would you mind embedding the link to it, so folks can find it too?

See you in 22 hours!

Anonymous said...

The Capitalist driven Market doesn't work.

Neither does Anarchist free form squatting.

What does?