Social engineering and the suburbsI applaud Andrew...

LETTERS

July 20, 1996

Social engineering and the suburbs

I applaud Andrew Ratner's June 22 column, " 'Social engineering' in the suburbs," for wonderful insight into the true .. government role in creating the suburbs. I would like to add a few facts about government's role in, consequently, disinvesting Baltimore.

From the early 1920s, government policies on housing development were numerous. In 1921, Herbert Hoover created the Division of Building and Housing which deeply influenced modern building practices.

These efforts led to year-round housing construction, standards for building materials and uniform construction details. Today's window and door sizes as well as the 4-by-8 sheet of plywood and drywall result from government engineering.

World War II housing efforts further promoted the building industry and sprawl development. Middle River is one example of government housing.

In 1934, the Federal Housing Act was created to enable the Federal government to insure home mortgages. It was updated in 1949. This act until 1950 insured only suburban development.

Through red-lining practices and an outright refusal to insure home loans to African Americans, this program only served the white middle class. Urban communities and African American neighborhoods were considered too risky as investments.

In fact, until 1968, unwritten agreements and existing ''traditions'' of segregation were still accepted by FHA officials. The physical legacy of such practices cannot be wiped away by congressional intervention. It takes decades.

Zoning has had a direct impact upon every suburban development surrounding Baltimore. Low density zoning regulations created a huge shortage of affordable housing in the counties surrounding Baltimore. Also, many communities of detached single-family homes rigorously fight the encroachment of town-homes and apartment complexes. These communities were zoned or socially engineered by the government.

Suburbs prospered because of government "social engineering" and subsidies. Consequently, the city, minorities and the lower class suffer.

Developers think they create value. That's horse hockey. They transfer value from one community to another.

If 1,500 people showed up at Dundalk to protest the Section 8 vouchers, I wonder how many would show up for community forums on neighborhood revitalization? Do I dare say 50?

ric L. Holcomb

Baltimore

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Andrew Ratner's column missed the point of the community outrage over the ACLU settlement program. The reference to highway building as social engineering for the suburbs is ludicrous.

To begin with, the highways that fostered the beginning of the suburbs were paid-for by and large by the middle and upper class residents of the suburbs (and those city residents who later moved to the suburbs).

Unlike the city, where public transportation, schools, welfare, public housing and hospital and emergency room service are subsidized largely from the outside, the residents of the suburbs provide an ample tax base to support their own services.

Hence the crux of the argument. The residents of the suburbs are opposed to the settlement not because the government wants to do for some city residents what it has already done for county residents.

The people of the suburbs are opposed to the government doing for some city residents what government has never done for any residents of the suburbs. That is, to provide free or nearly free housing in an otherwise unattainable neighborhood without any type of work requirement or commitment whatsoever.

Mike DeCicco

Severn

A death sentence is also murder

Lori Plank, widow of slain Maryland State Trooper Edward A. Plank Jr., feels that ''justice has been served'' now that Ivan Lovell, her husband's murderer, has been sentenced to death. Once again, the death penalty rears its ugly head, bringing satisfaction and relief to the vengeful at the same time that it outrages those who oppose such acts of retribution in the name of justice.

The timing of this sentencing is ironic, falling as it does just days before the July 2 30th anniversary of our nation's reinstatement of the death penalty. This is not an anniversary worthy of %J celebration, and the Plank case points out many of the specifics that make capital punishment a shameful thing.

In her statement, Ms. Plank spoke this truth: ''Nobody wins in this situation. I want my husband back, but he's not coming back.'' Yet, knowing this, Ms. Plank still revels in the knowledge that a second murder will be committed in an effort to avenge a first. While fury and an immediate desire for retribution are natural human responses to violent loss, the more civilized and rational realization inherent in Ms.. Plank's ''nobody wins'' statement is one rooted in and directed toward true justice.

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