Is autonomy a four letter word?

I ran for Alderwoman (now City Councilor) in the last municipal election. I lost. After the election, however, I continued to fight for issues that had been at the core of my campaign. And so, after the election, I sent an email reminding supporters of pertinent Aldemanic votes that still needed input and attention. I encouraged residents to voice their concerns because I believe that those most impacted by changes in their community should have the most say, not developers who have financial or political sway. Shortly after the email went out, I received a call from a local developer, unhappy that he had been characterized in such a way. In our conversation, I remained steadfast in my belief that residents must have the most say in determining how (or whether) neighborhoods change. And I reiterated my belief that elected officials should represent their constituents – not just special interest groups who serve to fulfill officials’ own agenda, especially when those agenda are at odds with constituent desires.

Why does this conversation matter now, more than a half year after the election? It gets to the heart of the Newton Villages Alliance speaker series, and on the eve of the final speaker event which will take place next Sunday (5/15). The first event addressed the unfair practices imposed by state mandate that allows 40B developers to forgo city zoning regulations to build subsidized housing. The second event looked at Ballard, Washington (a section of Seattle) where City Councilors there have ignored resident pleas for a more moderate rate of development and up-zoning in neighborhoods. The third speaker considered the intrusion of the federal housing agency HUD (Housing and Urban Development) in New York City suburbs (Westchester County in particular) and the similar impact Newton’s impending entanglement with said agency could have. The final speaker event next Sunday will look at strategies to combat unwanted development in neighborhoods.

The intent of the speaker series has been to inform our community of the impact of various housing policies. It also sheds light on the dwindling rights of residents and home owners against sweeping housing policy changes. At every level, agenda are being leveled against communities: locally, a we see some elected officials ignoring constituent preferences in favor of their own; statewide, housing agencies allow the wealthiest and most influential groups to have undue and sway in communities; and federally, policy agencies are taking it upon themselves to foist their particular brand of cookie-cutter salve on our communities as a remedy for all manner of social and political ills.

A key question in all of the above is why such intrusive housing policies are now mandated. There is a growing sense that community self-determination is a four letter word and that policies are not designed for the people actually live in neighborhoods. Rather, policies are being conceived of by centralized policy makers, far removed from the very places for which they so thoroughly plan.
My question is this: do you think resident stakeholders should have a majority say in determining community configuration? Or, do you think there are circumstances that should allow housing policies to be determined by outside agencies?


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