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Unpacked: “Billionaire Wilderness” Book Review


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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Unpacked: “Billionaire Wilderness” Book Review

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  • #3701559
    Mark Wetherington
    BPL Member

    @markweth

    Locale: Western Montana

    Companion forum thread to: Unpacked: “Billionaire Wilderness” Book Review

    When money and conservation collide.

    #3701565
    Jason McSpadden
    BPL Member

    @jbmcsr1

    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Mark, thank you for the book recommendation.  I’m going to pick it up.  I grew up as a kid in a mountain town in which I now feel that “real” people can’t afford to live in anymore.  I remember attending a community development meeting decades ago in which an expert from the outside said, “You are going to have to get used to selling more latte’s than barbed wire.”  I scoffed at the time.  He was right.

    #3701578
    Kattt
    BPL Member

    @kattt

    Thanks for putting this book on our radar as it seems we don’t hear about this perspective hardly at all. I have seen and experienced this first hand and if we could bring it to people’s attention that “the good guys” aren’t necessarily so, we might at least be aware when they come our way.
    Thank  you.

    #3701654
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    This book made me realize that there is considerable nuance involved and often scant attention paid to the unintended consequences of such efforts—particularly that by locking up land in conservation easements in areas with limited options for building that available housing becomes much more expensive.

    So obviously we should ban all conservation easements and give free rein to the developers (to build lots more luxury estates, never mind the ‘affordable housing’).
    Um.

    Cheers

    #3701733
    Mark Wetherington
    BPL Member

    @markweth

    Locale: Western Montana

    So obviously we should ban all conservation easements and give free rein to the developers (to build lots more luxury estates, never mind the ‘affordable housing’).
    Um.

    Cheers

    Banning all conservation easements was certainly not a solution proposed by the author nor is it one that I think makes any sense. Affordable housing, development in the wildland-urban interface, and preserving open spaces are simple concepts but incredibly complex realities.

    This book made a compelling case for examining the impacts of non-profits on the overall social fabric of a community (as well as the broader impacts of vast disparities in income among a population). Non-profits with a focus on preserving undeveloped land and protecting wildlife are “sexier” than non-profits focused on affordable housing, addressing food insecurity, substance abuse, or a host of other social issues — so that’s where the bulk of the money from wealthy philanthropists ends up.

    People can — and should — donate money to the causes they are most passionate about. And other people — sociologists, for example — can and should examine the impacts this has on a community over time so we might try to mitigate some of the detrimental impacts. That’s what the book did and I thought it did it well.


    @jbmcsr1
    You’re welcome! Like I said in the review, the book was a bit dry but overall a fascinating and in-depth study of Jackson/Teton County. And, as you noticed, there are lots of parallels to other mountain towns in the West.


    @kattt
    You’re welcome, I thought it offered a great perspective as well on the ripple effects of conservation on the livability of a community for its lower-income residents. I’m glad that BPL has been open to publishing book reviews and glad that this book was of interest to you guys.

    #3701755
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    The problem with ‘Affordable housing’ is that it gets bought up by the wealthy by outbidding, and then converted into luxury estates. I do not see any way of stopping that from happening.

    Cheers

    #3701760
    Kattt
    BPL Member

    @kattt

    @mark thanks for the thoughtful reply to Roger’s silly one.

    #3701762
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Hi Kattt
    You did understand I was being sarcastic???? VERY sarcastic.
    Cheers

    #3701764
    Kattt
    BPL Member

    @kattt

    @roger

    you seemed to imply that the book would suggest something like that.

    From your second post on the thread I don’t see you being willing to look at the complexity of the problem.

    Cheers

    #3701766
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Hi Kattt

    I did read the full review, and I could see the problem of money vs community. I was trying to point out some of the problems – we have them here in Australia too.

    I suggest the ‘other’ problem is my terrible Australian sense of humour. I understand that a lot of people from other countries, including the USA, just don’t ‘get it’. Sorry about the confusion.

    Cheers

    #3701833
    Charles Compton
    BPL Member

    @tyemax2

    Locale: SF Bay Area

    I’m actually reading the book right now.  A bit dry and academic to be sure, but still interesting.  I’m currently trying to move due to the high cost of living in my city.  Which unfortunately is somewhat related to the restrictions for building affordable housing, but the open spaces/ preserves are something I greatly enjoy as well.

    Perhaps in the future we should try and find a way to balance the use of land to try to include both.  Not sure how this would work in practice without limiting the property rights of the wealthy.  Anyone have any ideas on this?

    #3701905
    Dennis Stein
    BPL Member

    @dstein

    This conflict gets played out in a similar way in cities as well. We want to prevent urban sprawl which limits adding housing units. And subsidized affordable housing and infill development is super important, but is limited. With 1 million new residents through birth (births – deaths) and another 600,000 though immigration added to our 330 million people in the US currently each year, environmental and social issues will only get worse. Supporting causes that encourage population stabilization in the US and worldwide is essential to addressing the local problems described in this book. Many environmental groups and advocates for social causes don’t seem to make this essential connection. Here are some that do.

    https://www.biologicaldiversity.org

    https://www.populationmedia.org

    Global population growth is slowing, but not nearly fast enough.

     

    #3701918
    SIMULACRA
    BPL Member

    @simulacra

    Locale: Puget Sound

    Global population growth is slowing, but not nearly fast enough.

    Oh, don’t worry…the weaponized cold and flu (er..cough) COVID is doing the trick quite nicely (sic)

    #3701922
    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member

    @retiredjerry

    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    https://www.econtalk.org/katherine-levine-einstein-on-neighborhood-defenders/

    “Why is affordable housing in such short supply? Author and political scientist Katherine Levine Einstein of Boston University talks about her book Neighborhood Defenders with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Einstein focuses on the ability of local residents to use the zoning and permit process to prevent development of housing or to reduce the amount of housing that can be built.”

    permits are approved by boards with public hearings.  The public feels very strongly about not approving more housing because it hurts their land value.  The boards tend to make a decision to defer a final decision to make another study.  The drawn out approval process makes new projects more expensive, a lot of them just give up.

    this has a San Francisco area bias – Russ Roberts is from Stanford

    it would help to have denser housing in San Francisco area, but it’s difficult to make that happen

    I think this also applies to Jackson Wyoming

    #3701924
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    the ability of local residents to use the zoning and permit process to prevent development of housing or to reduce the amount of housing that can be built.”
    And WHY do they want to block the developers?
    I suggest it is because they don’t want to be displaced from their HOMES. (And why should they be kicked out?)

    Cheers

    #3701936
    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member

    @retiredjerry

    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    And people don’t want an apartment building built next to their house

    It reduces quality of life and property value

    The “NIMBY” people are not being totally unreasonable.  Difficult to come up with solutions

    #3701938
    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member

    @retiredjerry

    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    They’ve been changing zoning to allow building a second residence on the same lot.  Thats a compromise that allows more housing without ruining quality of life and property values

    #3702024
    Charles Compton
    BPL Member

    @tyemax2

    Locale: SF Bay Area

    I agree the increasing population is fueling competition for limited resources.  Throw in climate change which will encourage migration and our dystopian future is becoming a reality.

    #3702034
    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member

    @retiredjerry

    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    Maybe rather than a dystopian future, we’ll be able to come up with solutions.  Not perfect but good enough.

    The pattern through history is technology changes.  Things appear bleak.  We resolve that and move on.

    Like the Luddites breaking machines because they were taking away jobs

    #3702040
    Michael B
    BPL Member

    @mikebergy

    Conversations like this almost always end up with two or more groups with diametrically opposed value systems not being able to discus/compromise or come up with a solution that works for everyone; it makes sense to me that people would not want to compromise their values, but this often stops meaningful conversations from happening before they even start. Hence the power games in the government. He who holds the scepter wields the authority, seems to be everyone’s solution, even in Jackson, Wyoming, apparently.

    #3702044
    rubmybelly!
    BPL Member

    @sleeping

    Locale: The Cascades

    +1 @mikebergy

    But not just conversations like this, IMO, but pretty much all conversations these days, it seems.

    #3702346
    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member

    @rex

    Locale: California

    Like Katt, I live in a community now heavily impacted by the Great Silicon Valley Exodus.

    Here’s another twist: We could throw open all this regions’s preserved lands for development – and still not fix the housing problem, while creating other serious problems.

    – We don’t have enough water to support the people already living here, and climate change is making that worse. In my water district, each newly-constructed home requires at least $100K in water hookup and demand-offset fees, while water rates are rising about 15% per year.

    – Despite the “billionaire wilderness” meme, pushing low-cost housing into the hinterlands is why recent California wildfires are disproportionately impacting low-income and BIPOC full-time residents. Paradise, California had a median household income of $32K in 2010.

    – And wildfires are getting worse – partly because more fire-making, electricity-consuming, smoke-averse people are living in the wildlands.

    – Where they must commute longer distances on already-clogged roads to reach in-person service jobs in bigger cities (where those jobs are) – making climate change worse.

    – Plus all the other well-known environmental problems of exurban sprawl and disconnected or vanishing natural habitats.

    Maybe the book addresses these issues. But it’s definitely a tangled mess with no simple, ethical solutions.

    — Rex

    #3702495
    Mark Wetherington
    BPL Member

    @markweth

    Locale: Western Montana

    @rex Maybe the book addresses these issues.

    It doesn’t nor did it really intend to. It’s narrowly focused on the phenomenon of incredible wealth disparity in Jackson Hole, WY and its relationship to the landscape, nonprofits, and elite environmentalism.

    While there are certain themes which are applicable to other mountain towns,  the main aim of the book is to thoroughly describe the residents, resources, and issues of a singular place and how they’ve changed in the last few decades. And it does a good job at that.

    The other issues you described are certainly pressing and complex enough to each warrant books of their own. If I find any that do that I’ll definitely read them and try to review them here.

    In general, I think the solution is to use public policy to encourage wise development in urban areas (I’m including small 5,000 person towns like where I live in the definition of “urban”), create affordable housing in those areas which will mean infill and multi-family/multi-unit residences, provide public transportation to the highest degree feasible, and discourage development of any size in the wildland-urban interface.

    #3702506
    Michael B
    BPL Member

    @mikebergy

    In general, I think the solution is to use public policy to encourage wise development in urban areas (I’m including small 5,000 person towns like where I live in the definition of “urban”), create affordable housing in those areas which will mean infill and multi-family/multi-unit residences, provide public transportation to the highest degree feasible, and discourage development of any size in the wildland-urban interface.

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but I am pretty sure every public housing failure started out with this premise. Everyone has their own set of definitions for what “wise development” is, what the appropriate/tolerable  level of housing density is, and where exactly the wildland/urban interface is. These definitions must be agreed to by all involved parties, but even then, it is not taking into account the people who will inevitably show up later and complain about those definitions.

    #3702536
    Mark Wetherington
    BPL Member

    @markweth

    Locale: Western Montana

    @mikebergy

    Although I try to be an optimist, and still believe in principle in what I said, you definitely identified why it’s so hard for those things to work. Some of those things can be objectively defined fairly easily but overall it is difficult to have the buy-in and acceptance needed for them to succeed. You summed up the problems succinctly.

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