September 3, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 36

Dr. Wes

Some Seattle folks find micro-housing a little dry. But now things are getting a tad bit gooey

By Dr. Wes Browning

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I wanted to talk about geography this week. I have realized recently that geography should be pronounced gooey-graphy, and I couldn’t wait to tell the world. So I started looking for news stories from around the world so I could say, “For other news in geography [pronounced gooey-graphy] we go to Zambia…” or Bhutan or Connecticut or some such place. This hasn’t worked out very well.

It turns out it is rare that one could say such and such news is categorically geographical. (I’m channeling John C. Daly hosting “What’s My Line?” in the 1950s. Don’t be alarmed. This will pass.)

A rare instance of gooey-graphic or gooey-logic news: Scientists now know why rocks migrate on the sand flats at Racetrack Playa in Death Valley. It used to be believed that the rocks moved around leaving tracks in the sand because of aliens, or because rocks secretly have feet — or magic. Nothing could be further from the truth, as extremely bored scientists now know, because they watched them move. Ice pushed them.

Most news that is attached to a place isn’t so gooey-graphic. Some time ago I wrote with alarm about the prospect of drones delivering packages all over the landscape. There’s that word landscape, that makes you suspect gooey-graphy is about to rear its ugly foot. The news is, Google is testing drone delivery in the Australian ranch country near Brisbane. That’s geographical only in so far as now you have to look on a globe to see where the heck Brisbane is, and then you find yourself thinking, “What? Really? They raise cattle there? Wouldn’t they fall off?” Once that’s done, you realize that has nothing to do with anything.

Speaking of things that have nothing to do with anything, the Seattle Times reports that residents of the Capitol Hill and Eastlake areas don’t like the idea of micro-housing being developed in their neighborhoods. Why should I care what they don’t like?

Here’s the deal. When Amazon et. al. moved into South Lake Union, everybody was thrilled. Jobs, jobs, economy, money, more money. So they tore down affordable housing to make way for it. Hardly anyone complained. That was merely tough luck for a whole lot of poor people. No one who would be missed.

Now the residents left behind who were never at risk of being displaced want to complain, not about the business development — that’s still great — but about the higher density that will result and the prospect of not being able to find street-side parking.

Most of the poor people who were previously ousted didn’t drive, of course. They were too poor, most of them, to afford cars. So the problem here is clear: It’s not that micro-housing is being built, it’s that it’s going to be costly micro-housing, affordable to people who will want to use cars.

Let’s put this in perspective. In 1990, I lived in a room that was 85 square feet in area. What they now call microhousing is on the order of 200 square feet, so 85 square feet was ridiculous, wasn’t it? Yes, it was. But I only paid $170 a month to sleep in that box, so I wasn’t homeless even though I was so poor I not only couldn’t afford a car, I couldn’t afford to keep one if one was given to me. And $170 in 1990 would be equivalent to around $320 today.

By contrast, the people who will be moving into micro-housing will be getting more room, in spite of that word “micro,” and paying much more for it, probably more than $1,000 per unit per month. People who make that kind of money to blow on renting toy apartments are bound to be the kind of rapscallions that have cars, dine on stuffed tortellini three meals a day and wear shoes even on weekends.

I have two things to say in conclusion.One, geometry should also be pronounced gooey-metry. Two, we can have micro-housing. We just need better mass transit.

Fund Metro.

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