Community Perspective: Protecting the land from sprawl at the local level

A contributed perspectives piece by Evan Knappenberger

I understand the interest in the movement for affordable housing. It seems unjust that for many the necessity of clean and safe living space is out of reach. And indeed it is unjust, especially for those of us in the millennial category that have been squeezed out of home ownership by generational dynamics.

However, I submit to you that the problem of affordable housing is much larger in scope and in scale than “the rent is too darn high.” The problem at its root is that of an exploitative system designed to squeeze everyone as much as possible to benefit a tiny segment of the population — a system that enforces its domination through vast economic means. This system is entrenched and in fact operates at the level of ideology, such that any attempt to reform it becomes a revolutionary act. It follows that to attempt to “solve” the affordable housing problem at the city or county level, without first addressing the root of the problem is remedial at best.

Additionally, Rockingham liberals have for decades brought thousands of refugees and welcomed thousands more immigrants to the area. This was an intentional choice for better or for worse; the crisis of affordable housing now is in part a reflection of this choice. It is simply not possible to accommodate ten thousand new bodies over a twenty year period without creating some kind of economic impact and demand for sprawling land development. Those who advocated for an increased population load then, should not now complain about the cost of housing. We simply cannot continue sustaining influx of population while preventing the evil of sprawl and simultaneously having affordable housing. Not in the system we have.

I submit to you that as global population peaks and begins to decline over the next hundred years, we prioritize economic reform at the national level — down with the growth-economy! — and protecting the land itself from sprawl at the local level. If that means giving up on “affordable housing solutions” then so be it. When global population has declined far enough two centuries from now, the health of the land itself will far outweigh whatever economic injustice we have to face today.

Evan Knappenberger splits his time between Hardy County, West Virginia, and Harrisonburg proper where he has spent 12 years. Evan earned two degrees at EMU and studies local history.

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