By the time this goes to print it may no longer be true, but at this moment - 10:08 pm sitting beneath a skylight listening to the rain - I’m a candidate for my local town board.
It’s safe to say I’m not a natural campaigner.
The whole process feels like being told to recite your name in the form of a square dance. A lifetime spent kicking printers has proven surprisingly inadequate at explaining municipal water districts. I enjoy shaking hands about as much as ants enjoy a peloton.
The experience has however given me an excuse to go down the wonkiest research roads possible. On the off-chance you too have decided that rural gentrification is the most fascinating thing since word avalanches, I might recommend Dividing Paradise: Rural Inequality and the Diminishing American Dream by Jennifer Sherman, or Pushed Out by Ryanne Pilgeram. The former describes a town similar enough to my own, I’m tempted to run for their local government just to get more bang out of my signage.
I also had the opportunity to learn about the history of zoning codes (predictably awful), and more specifically about a newer approach called form-based codes. The two-sentence primer: traditional zoning focuses on land use and inevitably creates separations that divide communities. Form-based codes focus more on aesthetic character and thereby encourage mixed-use buildings and walkable spaces. If you’d like to turn that half paragraph into a few weeks’ worths of dense case studies: https://formbasedcodes.org/books/
Lastly, I’d really have to recommend Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block.
The honest truth is that this book left me feeling dispirited. I’d just finished something potent - a mental framework that seemed honest and useful - and yet, I’m almost assuredly too blocky to put its emotional and conversational content to use. The overarching gist is the assertion that how we analyze and study problems – how I analyze and study problems – is great at “solving” issues, but terrible at building the sort of community conversations that actually create resolutions and betterment. It’s a sentiment that I’m slowly coming around to, but I can’t say I’m mature enough to affect it myself. I’m very much writing this all out now as a sort of absolution that at least I’m trying to get these ideas in front of better people than myself.
Happily enough, that’s you, dear reader!
Thank you and have a great summer,
Robert Drake is the Assistant Director for Technology Operations at the Nassau Library System. His backup article was about shopping for cat food and being very confused. The views and positions here expressed are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of NYLA, Robert Drake himself, or probably anyone...