The Consequences of Conservatism

Over the past several days I have been researching National Urban Policies very intensively, as I work with a team of Afghan planners to develop the National Urban Policy for Afghanistan.

During that research I came across documentation of the national urban policy of the United States. If you are American, you might even be surprised that we have a national urban policy. It is US Code Title 42, Chapter 59, Part A, Sections 4502 and 4503. Section 4503, the “National Urban Policy Report,” specifies the data gathering and reporting procedures. This legislation was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1993, before Newt Gingrich and his cohort of conservatives was elected into a conservative majority. The reporting mechanism was repealed in 2000, shortly after George W. Bush was elected. So it is there on paper, but it is a dead law.

In practice, the closest Americans ever came to an actual national urban policy was the Housing Act of 1949 (Truman 1949, Sapotiche 2010). Harry Truman tried to get this passed by Congress in 1945, but the banking lobby and their conservative legislators opposed the original draft. Four years later, a compromise was struck, in which conservatives added provisions for urban renewal to the Act (Hoffman 2000). Bankers wanted the slum-clearance provision in order to do precisely what critics later condemned the Act for: “urban renewal meant Negro Removal” from the center-cities, where bankers wanted to invest in urban development (Bristol 1991). It was still called the Housing Act, but under the Eisenhower administration about 1/10th of the estimated needed public housing was built, and far more inexpensive housing was destroyed under the conservative Urban Renewal provision of the law (Caro 1974, Hoffman 2000). Once the harm of slum-clearance became apparent, conservatives then blamed the federal government for its top-down approach. In The Federal Bulldozer, Martin Anderson (1964) laid out the arguments conservatives would use against government programs even before President Johnson’s Great Society programs were enacted. Housing got linked with urban renewal because conservatives had succeeded in incorporating urban renewal into the same Act.

I am researching this while in Kabul. Where it has become very cold. And I am reminded that tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Americans are now facing another winter outside, because of the seventy-year resistance of conservatives towards building sufficient social housing, and then obeying their banking lobby, allowing speculative “sub-prime” mortgages to create a cascade of foreclosures and evictions. This opposition dates straight back to the defeat of Truman’s initial Housing Act of 1945, and the track record is unbroken since.

Winter is Coming. And Americans are sleeping outside or in their cars.
It made me think of how to design a cheap but long-term shelter that humans can live in, perhaps even inside their own house after the heat has been cut off.

In honor of the cynical, destructive conservative legacy I have just researched, I have named this home design “The Consequences of Conservatism.” The design is a type of dome tent, but it has a separate inner layer (yellow), connected to the outer shell (green) by baffles at each corner. The fly (blue) is designed to shed rain, block sun, and enable ventilation. It is not lightweight like a backpacking tent. It could even be made of cotton cloth, such as used clothing stitched together. I recommend plastic sheeting, though, because of both the fire-hazard and the lack of ventilation. With a double-walled tent, you can insulate it by stuffing crumpled paper between the layers. I did not detail how to access the space between the dome-shells, but I think the best solution is to leave a 30cm X 30cm hole at the top of both shells of the dome, where the arched PVC poles cross. This will also allow more ventilation, and the fly will prevent rain from getting in. Block the hole with rags as necessary on extremely cold nights. The insulation should be changed seasonally (at least), because it will mildew. The main source of moisture will be the humans living and continuing to breathe (thank God) inside the home. I recommend placing the home on freight-pallets, to elevate it off the ground.

If a police officer seizes your home and destroys it, please:
1. Do not resist arrest. Police officers will use that as a pretext for justifying the destruction of your home.
2. Take as many pictures or video as possible of the destruction. Find a university student to share them with. Actually, find one beforehand and start getting organized.
3. You have the right to know the name of the officers who are seizing and destroying your home.
You should also know that they are almost certainly responding to a complaint from a homeowner, who is a conservative.

When George W. Bush was elected(?) in 2000, his de-funding of affordable housing programs disrupted my career building public housing in the United States. I was only able to build 193 units, which is pretty pitiful considering the shortfall of need in San Francisco alone at the time. Hopefully I will do better here in Afghanistan, working on housing, upgrading, and planning policy with Afghan colleagues.

Meanwhile, I give this home design back to my fellow Americans.

This design is copylefted. That means:
1. Anyone has the right to use the design, for free.
2. No-one has the right to charge money for the design, or impose intellectual property rights (copyright) on the design. It will be forever free.
3. As the designer, I ask that you call it “the Consequences of Conservatism,” and check the last seventy years of history to find out why you no longer live in a building.
And if someone starts a confrontation arguing that conservatives helped middle class and poorer people, please ask them to cite verified sources for such a claim, not hearsay anecdotes.

If you are religious in any way, please consider making one of these homes and leaving it outside for someone to take and use to survive this winter. If I have time I will try to lay out a sewing pattern. However most people who have any experience sewing can probably work out the detailing pretty quickly. I recommend against including a full fabric bottom. Straps in an “X” pattern to retain tension at the corners will be enough, and ventilation is important. There are a few ways to attach that little center post to hold the fly up off the top of the dome. I suggest leaving out at least 3 of 1.5″ diameter hose-clamps and letting the user be creative about it.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I think of this as another set of instructions for how to survive a winter in America. The fable (and perhaps truth) of the original Thanksgiving is that it was a Feast of the Eucharist of the Pilgrims at Massachusetts Bay, thanking the local Native Americans for teaching them how to survive the winter. I honor the generosity of the Native Americans who shared their knowledge with hapless English arrivals. It is worth noting that many of those tribes still exist in New England; they were not (completely) wiped out by English colonizers. Rather than the unfortunate conflicts that would come later, I invite you to remember their original welcoming generosity, first and foremost.

Anderson, Martin. 1964. The Federal Bulldozer. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bristol, Kate. 1991. “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth.” Journal of Architectural Education. vol. 44(3), pp. 163-171.
Caro, Robert. 1974. The Power Broker. New York: Vintage Press, p. 1014.
Hoffman, Alexander von. 2000. “A Study in Contradictions: The Origins and Legacy of the Housing Act of 1949.” Housing Policy Debate, vol. 11 (2) pp.299-325.
Sapotiche, Joshua. 2010. “The Evolution of National Urban Policy: Congressional Agendas, Presidential Power, and Public Opinion.” Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Truman, Harry. 1949. “Statement of the President upon Signing the Housing Act of 1949.”
U.S.C. Title 42, Chapter 59, Part A, ยงยง 4502 & 4503 as Amended.

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