I wanted to process and discuss this tweet:
City property owners who think they're entitled to defend "the character of the neighborhood" are the liberal version of conservatives who think they're entitled to defend the demographic character of the population. Blocked views & more traffic are their "press one for English."
— Will Wilkinson 🌐 (@willwilkinson) April 20, 2018
I’m not clear on what Wilkinson means by “character of a neighborhood,” particularly since he has it in
(scare?) quotes. In any event, my knee-jerk reaction is to say that one can have legitimate reasons for preserving the character of a neighborhood. For example, if by “character” we mean the architecture and urban design–I think that can be legitimate, especially if we believe both are worth preserving. If Wilkinson means that the value of architecture and design is basically relative or neutral–i.e., they’re all basically the same or equally valuable–I don’t agree.
Character of a neighborhood could also refer to the cultural and ethnic make up of a neighborhood. Here, things are trickier. If you have a neighborhood that is dominated by one ethnic group–e.g,. Indian, Greek, Hawaiian, etc.–not just the people, but the type of restaurants, maybe the type of public cultural activities–should this aspect of a community be protected and preserved? Think about sections of a city like Chinatown or Little Italy. A part of me would want to protect and preserve those communities.
On the other hand, what if we’re primarily talking about demographics–i.e., domination by one ethnic group? In that case, I don’t this type of “character” should be protected or preserved, and this situation seems comparable to nativist or white nationalistic impulse to exclude immigrants or maintain white demographic dominance.
But preserving demographic status quo is not necessarily the same as preserving a cultural and architectural status quo, although there can be overlap. Having said that, I don’t get the impression that NIMBY’s are motivated by preserving the culture and architecture of a place.