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Trump, Clinton and the urban-rural divide

Ever since the #amalgamation, #Toronto has its own culture clash, pitting suburbanites vs downtown core hipsters on issues such as social housing and public transportation. It is therefore useful to see how this culture clash plays South of the border.

RuralUrbanDivide1A recent NPR article (inb-trump), like many others, makes the case that this very partisan presidential campaign going on in USA is best understood not as a competition between Democrats and Republicans but rather between the rural and urban micro-universe. Although the article does mention suburbia, we feel that suburban voters and attitudes should have been more thoroughly researched.

One such significant difference is the attitude toward global warming and climate change (inv-clim8).

Another interesting article refers to inequality and housing segregation in Hillary’s hometown of Chappaqua (pltco-chipaqua).

As we waited for the train, I asked McLeod whether she would ever want to live in Chappaqua instead of commuting back and forth. She shrugged as if it were a moot point. “It’s too expensive,” she said.

Housing segregation is one of the great unsolved policy crises in American life, driving a sharp wedge between the nation’s haves and have-nots—those who get the opportunities afforded by living in prosperous towns like Chappaqua, and those who never could. Seven years ago, it seemed that Hillary Clinton’s hometown might willingly lead the way in changing this. The Obama administration joined a lawsuit brought by the activist Anti-Discrimination Center alleging that Westchester County had willfully violated the Fair Housing Act by not exploring the ways communities make it difficult to build affordable housing. The county agreed to a landmark settlement that the Obama administration once hoped would be a template for the nation. Westchester agreed to construct 750 units of affordable housing in 31 majority white and affluent towns, including Chappaqua.

As of last year, only 334 new affordable units were occupied in Westchester, none in Chappaqua. The plan isn’t dead—several hundred units are still being developed across the county, including a potential 63 in Chappaqua—but even if they’re all built, it remains a drop in the bucket in a county of nearly a million people; a report from Rutgers University estimated Westchester would need at least 10,768 new affordable homes to satisfy demand.

New affordable housing has become a third rail in local politics. Politicians here have run—and won—on the promise of fighting the zoning changes that could lead to more and faster construction. In Chappaqua in 2013, the town council approved a plan for a politically connected developer, Conifer Realty, to construct an apartment building of 28 units, all reserved for renters earning less than $64,000 per year. It is supposed to be built on Hunts Lane, a mile-and-a-half from the Clinton home and just a few hundred feet from where Tatlin McLeod and I were sitting at the train station, on the other side of the Metro-North tracks. Most of the officials who made that deal lost their seats.

Some interesting similarities and differences compared to what we are seeing here in Toronto. For instance, no politician who approved social housing, no matter how corrupt, has ever lost their seat.

There is also an undeniable racial undertone – or is it just poverty?

Today, the site remains an empty lot, overgrown with weeds. I gestured toward it, and asked McLeod what she thought of putting an affordable apartment building there. She scoffed. “They will vote it down, knowing these people,” she said. I asked whether she thought the residents of Chappaqua didn’t want black neighbors. She shook her head no—she didn’t think this was about race. “My bosses are really nice,” she added. But Chappaqua is for people with money, she told me. Some folks hated the fact that there was a Dunkin’ Donuts in town, McLeod said; the chain was too downscale. She displayed her iced drink. “Some of them can be so cocky.”

And yet, it does seem that racism may no longer be about black vs white (npr-browning).

Sources / More info: pltco-chipaqua, inb-trump, inv-clim8, npr-browning

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