Suburban volunteerism, a tool for single family home style exclusion
"Building around Long Island train stations, [such as Garden City], would let more people reside in communities with high-quality public services, and in proximity to good jobs. It would create a more vibrant, people-centered community and it could also help to redress the long history of racist housing policies that have made Long Island one of the most racially segregated suburban areas in America." (NY Times, 2021)
Spatial planning is a critical tool to encourage proactive, preventive adaptation of human settlements that cause threats to and aggravate climate patterns. Unfortunately, at times is seems as if it is being used ingeniously, such as when it is used to convince historically groups that gentrification, really isn’t gentrification and that redevelopment isn’t Negro Removal 2.0 (as stated by Baldwin).
Spatial planning cannot be a gilded tongue wielded to convince Black and Latino people living in hyper-segregated ghettos that “Jesus has come!” and redevelopment is here to help. That is not spatial planning. We cannot allow the transmogrification of “spatial planning” like what cynical developers did to “transit-oriented development”; a nefarious purpose cloaked as a prosocial idea.
All regions must begin to spatially plan with all of the communities in mind, including the Northeast. But we must do spatial planning authentically, a critical element of spatial planning is planning with the region and racial equity in mind. White hegemony cannot be allowed to drive harmful policy and create counterfactual goals.
There are some activities in predominantly white-New York suburbs we must address.
Let us start with the volunteer fire department. One of the most useful tools to prevent the building of multi-family housing and maintaining single-family homes is the all-volunteer fire department. Denizens claim that volunteer fire departments keep costs down and encourages “community,” but they have the hidden benefit of hindering dense-development in the name of “safety.”
Ridgewood, NJ, is a 72% white NY suburb that is 20 minutes by train from the city. It has some of the most expensive single-family housing stock in the country. Yet, their Fire Department is volunteer.
What that means is that when the alarm is rung, the emergency services have to wait for volunteers to arrive to crew a fire truck. If the volunteers are delayed, so is the truck. As a result, Ridgewood places limits on density and height in the name of “safety.”
This is a tactic many towns use in the Northeast, including Garden City. The consequence is that while the demand for housing is high, the supply is flat because you can no longer build horizontally. The demand could be met by building upwards and densely and this would allow for the increased demand and make affordable options available. Even luxury apartments have utility and can reduce demand for other dwellings. The Northeast region must challenge the status quo of racism that prohibits people from obtaining housing that is accessible to jobs and mass transit. Essex and Bergen Counties in New Jersey are part of the New York Metropolitan Region as is Nassau County, New York. Those areas cannot continue to plan without the entire region in mind.
And the region is inclusive of natural resources such as water, the air, and the economic impact of business on people and the environment. We can’t continue to let racism drive policies that harm people and the planet.
One of the most effective ways to get people to engage in evil is to convince them that they are doing good. The volunteer fire department is the angelic mask placed by a deceitful community to allow exclusion. Most of the volunteers are doing good protecting others, however their constructed limitations are preventing community growth by an institutionally chosen hobble.
Purposely straight jacketing yourself and the community by having a volunteer fire department so you can practice ambiguous racism is disingenuous and destructively selfish. Housing equity is not an albatross, it is imperative to developing a sustainable world.