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"Walking by it, the upper-class professionals of tomorrow and the landed homeowning gentry were forcibly reminded every day of the existence of society’s most abject castaways. As they stepped quickly and nervously past the park, the lurking presence of tents and huddled forms in the corners of their vision served as a reminder that the game they had spent their whole lives winning was one that someone had lost. And perhaps at the back of their minds, a small voice whispered: “That could have been you.”"

This, uh... reads like you are talking about a transgressive public art installation

maybe we should just get actors to portray the junkies and homeless, so that we can have this experience without the actual suffering involved

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Jan 8Liked by Noah Smith

Who are you? And what have you done with Noah Smith? Noah is king of the YIMBYs. An arch Japan stan. A rationalist. The most articulate proponent for allocating scarce resources in a utility-maximizing way. A supporter of the social-mobility engine of public universities. Do you even like rabbits? Please let me know where I can contribute to the GoFundMe to pay his ransom.

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1. This is probably the only column I’ve had a strong negative reaction to. Keeping dysfunctional elements in the public sphere to promote a political agenda is perverse.

2. From Matt Yglesias’ piece (which is a complement to this), we can see how both ends of the spectrum are fine with concentrated benefits and diffuse costs as long as it benefits their constituents. On the right, we see Heritage promoting local NIMBYs and SFH only zoning to benefit incumbents at the cost of making housing expensive, on the left we see the usual progressives promoting the tolerance of antisocial behavior because it benefits their pet victims (I refuse to accept their framing by using the word “marginalized”) at cost to normal people.

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As someone who grew up in the chaos and crime of 1960s-70s Berkeley, I strongly disagree with your romanticism here. The initial riots were bad (my school was shut down). The disorder was bad. Walking by the encampment (I won’t dignify it with the term “park”) was always scary. Seeing homelessness is bad: most of them were drug addicts, not avatars of a free frontier. They were there because of a misguided belief in freedom, the freedom to be dysfunctional, criminal, and self-indulgent.

As an adult I reject 1960s romanticism because I saw what it did to children (broke up my family, drew many into destructive cults), our public spaces, and basic social norms. If Berkeley had made the effort to maintain norms of social order, rather than to celebrate their breakdown, perhaps we wouldn’t be in some of fixes we are in today.

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Jan 8Liked by Noah Smith

You should look into Christiania in Kopenhagen. Originally one of the more developed hippie communes, it’s tolerated drug market has been taken over by assorted criminal elements, which has led to the remaining hippies (by this point old people squatting on prime real estate) to become much less hostile to the police

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I think it is fabulous they are removing the blight of "The People's Park." The housing situation is desperate in that area. What would be a grand idea is for the school to partner with the county to open (don't know if it is necessary to build) and operate a group home/halfway house for recovering homeless addicts. I am of the opinion that those addicted to drugs and living on the street are basically at danger to themselves and others and qualify for involuntary medical treatment (detox and drug rehab and mental health treatment with transitional housing afterwards in group homes with therapy). Allowing people to publicly commit suicide day by day is immoral.

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I think this ultimately comes down to whether you care more about romanticising poverty or alleviating/ending it. For me it's a no-brainer.

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"As they stepped quickly and nervously past the park, the lurking presence of tents and huddled forms in the corners of their vision served as a reminder that the game they had spent their whole lives winning was one that someone had lost. And perhaps at the back of their minds, a small voice whispered: 'That could have been you.'"

Except "that could have been you" requires a toxic combination of mental illness and drug addiction. Anybody who's spent any time in a big city knows this and understands that simple economic setbacks aren't enough to push most people into homelessness.

Plus did anybody ask the addicts shooting up in their own filth whether they had volunteered to be living "Just Say No" commercials? Did anybody ask their friends and family how they felt about their loved ones being offered up as society's object lesson?

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I think the problem of current homelessness is because most people now have zero tolerance for taking in other people as 'lodgers'. When I was a kid growing up in london UK I do not remember seeing homeless people like these anywhere - but many people had 'lodgers', who were sometimes not even family, living in their homes. But people then were living a much more lean life so having a little money coming in from a 'lodger' was a good means to improve your financial standing. Such lodgers often acted as child-minders, did odd jobs around the house or even helped in the garden. In my working class neighborhood all the homes were occupied by multiple people - nowadays so many houses have ONE lone human living in them ! I currently have one son living in my home, but in prior years I too was alone in a 3 bed house - it would not have occurred to me to 'take in a lodger' as the phrase used to be - but that is what many people did years ago ! Food for thought ? Maybe a way the Gov't could get creative with stipends for such ?

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A good piece... a mix of changing realities and romantic nostalgia for a bygone time (which mostly never existed).

I’ve never believed in People’s Park. 99% of Berkeley have never stepped foot into the so-called people’s park. They were scared to do so. They were disgusted by the filth and absence of hygiene. Afraid of knifings and violent arguments between mentally ill denizens of the park.

When my grandkids were little, I would never have taken them inside that park.

None of my other Berkeley friends ever took their kids to People's Park -- and don’t now take their grandkids there. Neither I nor any non-homeless citizens ever picnic there, ever take a blanket and read a book while lying in the sunshine. Sane people keep their distance and avoid setting foot in People's Park because it is not safe there.

I understand that there’s a lot of nostalgia that hovers around People’s Park… and lots of thoughts about a people’s revolution that represents feelings of that time -- a people's revolution that never arrived, never had a positive impact..

If People’s Park was indeed a place that Berkeley citizens could and did enjoy for decades, I’d be protesting its demise. Alas, it’s never been a park for the people. It’s time to let that delusion fade away.

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Funny - I'm a Lib who needs trees ! That meant when I was a divorcee deciding to buy my own home I looked around for where the trees were - and located a far flung not-quite suburb where trees & almost-mountains prevailed. That meant an hourly+ ride to work, but to me it was worth it, at least at the weekends I could enjoy the trees & my small home is sitting in the middle of an acre of hilly land. This NJ area is still a bit 'forgotten' compared to similar commutes elsewhere over the past 20+ yrs. I dealt with the rush hour crush by simply leaving my house at 6.0am & relaxing the other end ! So yes there are STILL places within a 90 minute commute to the NJ-NYC metro area where you can find countryside & a wonderful air of freedom ! I'm retired now but that ride to work was very enjoyable anyway - music & lots of greenery almost all the way & time to think, not at all stressful !

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Noah, I love your Substack, but I disagree with you most strongly on this one.

You wrote:

"Police are called to the park about five times a day, on average, and there’s about one violent crime there every five days."

And then:

"There are few spaces left in the developed world that exclude absolutely no one."

Ponder those two sentences and notice their inherent contradiction. Do you honestly believe that a place where a violent crime is committed every 5 days excludes no one? It's the difference between *de jure* and *de facto*. Sure, on paper, it excludes no one. In practice, it sure as hell excludes anyone with young children, any frail 5'2" woman who rightly feels she wouldn't be able to fight off an assailant, and more generally, anyone who cares about their physical safety more than a vague feeling of "anarchic chaos," as most middle-class people do. Call me a boring normie, but this park sounds like a net negative for the community and it needs to go YESTERDAY.

"The suburbs of these cities will be speckled with rowhouses and low-rises and duplexes and missing-middle housing of all sorts, while city centers will slowly open themselves to high-rise housing. The country won’t become Tokyo or Manhattan, but it’ll look a little more like Germany."

Yes. This is GOOD. This is a GOOD THING. I want us to look more like Europe, I want more walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods, not sprawling-ass suburbs where you have to drive freaking everywhere. I understand nostalgia for a wild frontier, but it can't be the basis of rational public policy in the Year of Our Lord 2024. The world has changed.

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I would not describe the '90s IE as "clean, pretty refuges." But there were some nice areas, of course.

Back when I was a student at Cal, I hated walking by People's Park. I didn't really acknowledge its history because I couldn't imagine anything good wanting to claim that dump as its legacy. That hasn't changed.

Also, Dumpster Muffin and her ilk sitting in trees to block the stadium renovations had already got me riled up against the anti-development crowd. Plus, the atrocious Berkeley housing market during DotCom 1.0 was quite radicalizing.

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If the US housing problem is so severe, shouldn't we be shutting down immigration?

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Insightful post. I was a teen-ager in the 70s and I can say first-hand that we did feel we were casting off pointless constraints in all directions -- companies seemed sclerotic, but so did unions. Marriage looked pretty boring, whether you were straight or gay. I think we felt that previous generations had had no choice but to knuckle under (Great Depression, WWII) but that we could make a more free and more happy world.

Now it's pretty clear that some of the rules and norms that went out the window protected people from all kinds of bad outcomes. But the sense of freedom being created (not inherited) was exhilarating. I guess that is the essence of the Romantic sensibility.

There's a lovely riverfront park on the Hudson here in New York City, west of Greenwich Village. It's nice. But in the 70s (and 80s), when it was an array of ruined piers and sheds, it was wild. People went there, took their chances, did whatever they wanted. I miss that, much as I admit the park benefits more people by far.

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“Obviously, the state of California and the city of Berkeley are in a severe housing crisis, caused by stubborn refusal to build new housing.”

This is a such a BS narrative. Nobody has the right to affordable housing to some of the most desirable real estate in the country. And the people who already own real estate in that area can set the rules that maintain their high property values.

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