Recommended Reading

Today, I’m adding a new topic to the list (at the right of this page, click on one to see all the posts on that topic!).

In the course of the campaign, I’m coming across all sorts of interesting, enlightening, and though-provoking material. I’d like to share two of them in this first “Recommended Reading” post.

The first is an article from Strong Towns: There Are Three Different Kinds of Developers. I find Strong Towns usually has something interesting to say, even when I don’t agree with it. In this case, it’s a helpful overview that basically says “not all developers.” Hey, I get it if that makes you not want to read it. But still, I think it’s useful to understand that there really are different categories of developer, with different relationships to our community, and different priorities.

The second is a piece about how the visibility of poverty makes people feel unsafe — even if crime levels haven’t changed much. Have a look at People “Feel Unsafe” Because Visible Poverty Is Everywhere, written by Adam Johnson (The Column, on Substack). I found this analysis very persuasive, and it’s just as true for Asheville as it is for cities all around the country. I recommend reading the whole thing (some excerpts below).

“…[A] consistent theme in dozens of articles on the subject of “crime”: the current situation, more than anything, just *feels* unsafe.

Dismissing the Vibes isn’t tactically smart and can be perceived as glib, denialist, or detached. People are seeing more visible evidence of widespread poverty. And this trend, echoed and replayed nonstop by local media and viral Facebook posts, contributes to a broad perception that our society is falling apart. The Vibes, therefore, are thrown into the catch-all category of “safety.”

And with this sleight-of-hand, with this conflation, all social ills fall under the purview of policing and prisons. Vibes, by their very nature, become the purview of our carceral state.… So it’s police and longer sentences we get. Virtually no national conversation about tens of billions for free public housing and mental health, much less housing as a human right.…The victims are not those suffering from poverty and mental health issues, but the “homeowners” and “business leaders” who have to witness their slow, preventable deaths.…

Words cannot convey how depraved this is, how warped our priorities are, how deeply cynical and mean and nasty our media culture is.…What, in an otherwise rational world, would be perceived as a systemic failure of the “richest country on Earth” to care for its poor has been moralized, compartmentalized, and reduced to millions of individual moral failings and Bad Life Choices.”

Both of these articles address national trends, but they’re matters of great urgency for us here in Asheville. Let me know what you think about them!

Everyone deserves a place to call home.

House at twilightThe main factor in homelessness is simply lack of access to housing. Other factors—like mental illness or substance abuse—make it worse but are not the primary cause. It’s important to recognize that homelessness is not, at its root, a failure of morally flawed and irresponsible individuals, but of a flawed and heartless economic system.

Asheville is not alone in its challenges. But we have an opportunity to be a leader nationally in mitigating the struggles of our unsheltered neighbors. We can encourage smart growth and revisit our zoning restrictions. We can help people get what they need most: a safe roof over their heads.

I recommend this overview from the New York Times newletter “The Morning.”

“If you don’t build it, they won’t come.”

Here’s an interesting article in the Congress for New Urbanism’s journal that seems germane to the debate over Merrimon Ave.

What if it were a good thing to discourage increased car traffic, and instead provide better public transportation along major corridors? That would improve quality of life and reduce the city’s carbon footprint as well.

“You really don’t believe in induced demand, if you don’t also believe in reduced demand. Traffic engineering/planning is going on a hundred years as a profession. It’s time to learn from history, to believe the science, to get smart about street design, to fully use the idea of reduced demand where it has the potential to improve a city’s economy, society, and mobility.”

Contingency Management: A Better Approach to Substance Abuse?

We cannot police our way out of the mental health and substance abuse crises in our community. Criminalizing desperation and mental illness is costly: in human lives, in moral terms, and in actual dollars spent. Stigmatization and “tough love” aren’t the only or most effective ways to help people recover from substance abuse. Let’s follow the evidence, with compassion.

This article from the Washington Post presents an evidence-based approach to substance abuse called “contingency management.” In essence, it offers modest “rewards” — from public affirmations to small gifts of goods or money — to people in a program who maintain sobriety.

If your first response to this approach is outrage —”What?!? Pay people to stay off drugs?!?”— I implore you to read this article. It’s a cost-effective strategy (way cheaper than running them through the courts and jail) that is demonstrably better than other strategies, especially if paired with community reinforcement.

Addiction destroys connection. This approach can help restore connection — to a person’s sense of self-worth and to others.