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Are YIMBYism and Enclavism Compatible?
Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed into law, two new zoning reform bills, sb9 and sb10, which will dramatically reshape housing policy in California by limiting the power of local jurisdictions over zoning. Sb9 allows for homeowners, with certain restrictions, to subdivide their properties into duplexes and fourplexes, thus practically eliminating single family zoning statewide. The more modest Sb10 makes it easier for cities to zone for up to 10 units around transit. These zoning reform measures will increase California’s supply of housing but the question is to what degree they will result in a dramatic political, economic, social, and demographic paradigm shift?
In my last article, Are NIMBYs and YIMBYs Two Sides of the Same Coin, I called for a new paradigm that reconciles the YIMBY position for more housing with enclavism: the idea that communities should serve a people based upon identity. There is a barrier to reconciling these two positions as the YIMBY movement generally opposes freedom of association with the anti-enclavist slogan of “this area is for everyone.”
Where one choses to live is a tribal marker, even if dictated by markets, rather than just a place of residence. Even real estate agents will admit that a community is defined by those who live there, citing dog whistle talking points such as good schools, along with a community’s aesthetic traits and culture. The objective of enclavism is for people to be able to live in a community that suits one’s needs and compatibility. This could either be ethnic based or a voluntary opt-in identity based upon shared traits such as religion, politics, or even aesthetic/cultural preferences. While YIMBY fulfills the base material needs of supply there are countless psychosocial benefits to enclavism and the increase in social capital it results in; these include concrete benefits such as increased job opportunities as well as the less tangible psychological benefits of empowerment through identity.
Despite these differences, the question is whether enclavist interests are best served by aligning with the YIMBY cause?
While enclavists and Left-YIMBYs may have different visions for California’s future, we can both acknowledge that the status quo on urban policy has failed. In order to propose an alternative paradigm we need to look back at the historical ramifications of zoning regulations on communities. Left-YIMBYs are correct to point out the racist origins of zoning restrictions but it is also important to point out that restrictive zoning has weakened and destroyed traditional European American enclaves, leading to the atomized suburban culture of today.
These same zoning policies that have been used to keep out outsiders have also inhibited enclavism from taking form. For instance Single Family zoning in Berkeley California originated in part, to block a Black owned dance hall in the early 1900’s. However for enclaves it is crucial to be able to build communal spaces that foster identity and social capital, and monolithic single family zoning prohibits these types of communal spaces from being built. Unified zoning tends to stifle enclavism but these new zoning reforms do not worsen the status quo. The existing mass single family zoning model is not localism but rather a centralized top-down zoning decision that stifles communities from acting as enclaves.
There is a conundrum about whether zoning reform or enclavism must come first. The perfect example of reconciling enclavism with YIMBYism is how Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish communities, such as the Satmar dynasty, operate with some degree of autonomy. These Hassidic communities need room to expand due to their high population growth and have been successfully petitioning the City of New York for changes in zoning or building permits to build larger and denser structures. These are projects that serve their community as they are smart enough to work around anti-freedom of association fair housing regulations. That Brooklyn’s Satmar community has succeeded in “building thousands of units and keeping the neighborhood affordable for families—on private land, and without public money—is a testament to their strongly pro-development attitudes and a bloc voting strategy reminiscent of the ethnic politics patterns of the Tammany Hall era.” This hybrid YIMBY-enclavist model makes much more sense than using restrictive zoning as a substitute for community cohesion or ethnocentrism.
While the debate over housing segregation disregards enclavism, it has some legitimacy due to the severity of the housing scarcity, which has caused demographic displacement. If there wasn’t such a scarcity, then the discussion over segregation would change altogether. Under enclavism the battle between YIMBY vs. NIMBY would likely be resolved as different areas would be able to grow at their own rates and figure out their specific zoning and housing needs. On the other hand if YIMBYs are successful in ending the housing crisis and easing displacement, complaints about segregation would be moot or just a symbolic culture war issue.
A future of enclavism in California could either be many people emulating the existing immigrant diaspora model within the current legal framework, freedom of association under a Neighborhood Freedom Amendment in the State Constitution, or a millet system. Under this scenario enclaves would be able to build up for their people without the concerns of whether they have to keep out or accommodate outsiders. It would be a sort of “vertical lebensraum” where different groups coexist without displacement or cutthroat competition. Different demographic groups and communities have different urbanist needs and under enclavism the degree of density and amount of new construction would be dictated by each community’s population growth rates and housing needs. We must embrace diversity while giving each group some degree of space and autonomy.
For instance in the San Francisco Bay Area where the Asian population has grown rapidly, under a scenario of enclavism plus a continued embrace of immigration, we might see certain Asian American communities eventually achieve the levels of density found in Asian cities. On the other hand Euro-American areas would grow more modestly from improved fertility rates and from modest domestic and foreign migrations. These growth models might even show in aesthetics with European style villages in one area or a mini Hong Kong in another, drawing inspiration from the theme park model.
While this new pro-YIMBY enclavist paradigm will empower all groups to thrive, White Californians are in a unique position in that they are both, especially harmed by, but also the most invested in the late 20th Century California paradigm that is NIMBY but also against enclavism and freedom of association. There is a White divide by age and class but even the most affluent White areas are impacted by population decline and a dearth of social capital. White NIMBYs motivated by ethnocentric concerns fail to grasp that using restrictive zoning to exclude outsiders has crushed White social capital and White fertility rates. A hybrid of constrained supply in desirable areas, harmful anti-choice education policies promoted by the democratic party, and a lack of close knit high trust communities has devastated White Californians’ demographics. Under a new enclavist paradigm, these communities would have much healthier social capital and growth rate.
Under enclavism bad zoning policies will be resolved locally and decentralized zoning might actually work with enclavism being able to resolve the zoning debate. Politics shape urban policy, including aesthetics and urban layouts and there is a false choice between the single family home model or atomized apartment living in bland stucco boxes. Enclavism would dramatically restructure and diversify architectural models, with architecture that is more aesthetically dynamic, and that better fosters social capital. Architectural models I could see implemented under enclavism include arcologies (self-contained cities), Eco-villages, the retrofitting of suburbia, structures based upon a hotel or ski-lodge model, and the kind of compact village structures that traditionalist blogger Wrath of Gnon posts images of to promote an idealized way of living. Only enclavism can reconcile aesthetic concerns with the supply concern and enclaves can accommodate different aesthetic preferences.
Most of these models, including the compact village model are not allowed under current zoning and part of the reason many newer dense developments are so bland is because they have to conform to certain zoning regulations. While I am not a total libertarian about zoning, for instance there needs to be wilderness and historic preservation, enclavism will need greater flexibility in zoning policy. For instance the current zoning models, both single family and apartment zones, usually don’t allow for something even as basic as a community pool, gym, communal workspace, or social clubs, all amenities that foster social cohesion. There are also economic and social benefits to allowing for a return of the neighborhood store and to allow for private schools or homeschooling co-ops, which will be needed in order to reform education with school choice to suit the needs of enclavism.
There are a lot of concerns about community, aesthetics, and quality of life arising from the passing of SB9, even if there are certain loopholes to grant local control on issues such as historic preservation, which is a good compromise. I don’t expect SB9 to inhibit enclavism any more than the status quo, even if it limits local control. As for SB9’s benefits, for starters it will lead to more family oriented units such as multi-bedroom townhouses and duplexes, while most existing new construction tends to be smaller units along commercial corridors. SB9 also allows for empty nesters to downsize or to build new units for relatives, and has a loophole to restrict building to homeowners rather than developers, and allows for subdividing estates among heirs as a solution to preserve inter-generational wealth and accommodating family members. These are all attributes that benefit enclavism and SB9 will be an overall net positive for California.
Certainly SB9 will diversify many areas by bringing in new residents but it grants tools to build enclaves and gives people a chance to stay in their communities long term and start families. It is not hypocritical to support sb9 impeding local control as an enclavist because one must chose the best options and tools available under the existing paradigm. These zoning reforms are tools available to enclavists if they step up and use them. We can take advantage of tools in zoning reform, with an eye toward replacing them with a more properly enclavist paradigm.