Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Rights or Community? (or, a red house and an angry neighborhood) …

  Has the growth in rule-restricted communities in America led more people to believe that they SHOULD have the right to control how their neighbors live, even when they have no legal power to do so?

Ahwatukee    In the June edition of the Atlantic Monthly, this topic is addressed in an interesting essay by Virginia Postrel, who often writes provocative things about community and design.  She discusses in particular a controversy in south Phoenix, where a community-wrenching battle has raged around a homeowner's decision to pain a house red, in a sea of cream-colored look-alikes.  Postrel, whose sympathies appear to be with the rebel, suggests that the domination of rule-bound HOAs in America, especially in places such as Phoenix, has lead many Americans to assume that their neighbor's house color is something that they can, or should be able to, control.  Unlike in decades past, she reports, most cities now hold some sort of design or aesthetic regulatory system, which can restrict even those homeowners who have sought out a private subdivision for the reason that it holds no HOA. 

   The pitting of homeowner rights against majority wishes reveals interesting twists in the views of many Americans, most of whom express a profound belief in "property rights" - until they hesitate when asked about whether their neighbors should have the right to paint their house purple and pink stripes.  It also says a lot about the issue of whether government should be able to regulate effects, including environmental problems, that "spill over" property boundaries.  Postrel notes that the issue of the red house has galvanized public opinion in Phoenix. 

   I'll say it again.  Forget Iraq; forget high gas prices; forget health care rules.   Nothing affects Americans more in their day-to-day lives than land use and community law.

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