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The inclusiveness of ‘You didn’t build that’

“You didn’t build that” (Obama)

If you’ve ever seen an episode of The Prisoner then you’ve seen Portmeiron, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis’ Italianate architectural fantasy on the Llyn peninsula in Wales. In politics, Sir Clough was sometimes less of an individual than in architecture – he could echo the fashionable leftisms of his set.

One day, the state noticed what he was achieving at Portmeiron and ‘gave’ it protected status. After that, anybody who wanted to do any more building there had to satisfy the bureaucrats. “I was rather surprised”, said Sir Clough, “to discover that ‘anybody’ included me.”

Recently, Nancy Bass Wyden, wife of Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat), had a similar experience in De Blasio’s New York. I wonder if she was similarly surprised when all her democratic party connections and all the 11,000 signatures on her petition against it did not prevent De Blasio adding one more bureau to the list of those who get to tell the increasingly-titular owner of the Landmarks bookstore what she can and cannot do. (And if you think none of these bureaucrats would notice if Landmarks ever seemed overeager to push an off-message book then I have a bridge in De Blasio’s New York that you can ‘own’ every bit as much as Nancy owns Landmarks.)

Ayn Rand’s architect hero in The Fountainhead has one solution for what to do when the state steals your building – blow it up – but I’ve always found that a bit negative. Trump has, I suppose, at least ensured that whatever excuse they ‘trump up’ to attack his buildings, it won’t be by declaring them much loved landmarks that must be preserved. But I’ve yet to think of a general solution. Buildings, alas, cannot vote with their feet.

24 comments to The inclusiveness of ‘You didn’t build that’

  • “I was rather surprised”, said Sir Clough, “to discover that ‘anybody’ included me.”

    You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh. Such folk never think it applies to them until it does.

  • the other rob

    PdH: Yes, they are all so sure that they’re going to be Stalin that it never occurs to them that somebody has to be Yezhov…

  • Duncan S

    My local authority has similarly noticed the improvements I have done over the last 20 years. (apologies if this turns into a too long rant)

    I live in a small village in South Ayrshire. The older part of the village has been a “conservation area” since 1974, containing buildings from the time of Robbie Burns.

    My house is a contemporary of many of the buildings in the “conservation area” (and predates several of them), and the “conservation area” boundary runs down one of my fence-lines, but my house was, curiously, not included in the “conservation area”.

    Here’s why –

    My house was, from the time it was built in 1850, the home of the headmaster of the village school, attached to the three-roomed school building. When the local council set out the “conservation area” in 1974, they still owned the school and schoolhouse. It makes sense that the county council didn’t want to have to adhere to any rules which they were now imposing on the property owners elsewhere in the village.

    The school closed in 1988 and it, and the schoolhouse, passed into private hands (eventually mine). Over the past 20 years I’ve renovated the schoolhouse and landscaped the grounds. A new cottage was built in 2006 to replace the school toilet and kitchen block, and the former school building itself is now a successful Whisky business.

    In 2014 the local authority (South Ayrshire Council) commissioned a “Conservation Area Character Apprasal” for the village. It recommended extending the “Conservation Area” to include my house and the Whisky business in the school building : i.e. that part of the original village which was now in private ownership.

    The writer of the report had the gall to describe “..additional tree planting that has recently been undertaken between the schoolhouse and the road.”. No mention that the tree planting had been done by the private property owner. The writer also talks of “..plain, but little altered vernacular buildings dating from the mid to late nineteenth century…”. FFS, there’s a brand new cottage from 2006 in the middle of the plot: which I had designed to fit in with the neighbouring buildings, because I wanted to, not because some desk-jockey forced me to.

    So far, the wheels of local government have moved slowly, and the recommendations of the report have not (yet) been acted upon.

    But if they try to impose tree preservation orders on the trees I planted, I’ll be out with the chainsaw.

  • Fred Z

    I subdivided lakefront land in BC in the 1980s. It is in an an area supposedly much used by a local Indian band in pre-history. As part of the process I had an official come and survey the land for aboriginal works and artifacts.

    Before he arrived I did a thorough survey myself with a view to obliterating anything I found, which was nothing.

    I was required to sign an agreement that I would notify the government if I found anything of an aboriginal nature in the future.

    Anything I ever do find will be destroyed immediately on discovery.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Fred Z,

    I can’t find the link now, but some years ago I posted about the way that government initiatives to protect rare plants or animals, or historical remains, frequently give rise to perverse incentives. IIRC, in that post I linked to an American writer who described how some rare bird was being made yet rarer by environmental regulation. Apparently this bird needed some special conditions (possibly a certain sort of tree being present) in order to nest in a place. If you ever did get these birds nesting on your farm, the patch of land where they were nesting had to be taken out of use. The result was that the presence of these birds could lose a farmer thousands of dollars. Therefore, of course, the farmers cut down the special trees rather than risk these wretched birds coming their farm.

    Here in the UK it is newts in swimming pools or bats roosting in lofts or church towers that must not be disturbed no matter how inconvenient their presence is. (Some rare flowers as well.) I live in a semi-rural area. Informal conversations in pubs often feature people quietly “doing the needful” to get rid of the newts, bats, or flowers before authority – or the more eco-sentimental members of the public – get to hear about them. I’m quite eco-sentimental myself but cannot bring myself to condemn people who take action to avoid large losses.

  • seekerofthetruth

    I think one thing bat infested churches can do is build a wind turbine near the tower. That will give lots of greeny points and eliminate the bats. Win – win for church, who cares about the environment?

  • Fraser Orr

    Recently a person I know had some new neighbors move in. Her lawnmower was broken and out to be fixed and so her grass had got a bit tall. The new neighbors, apparently trying to set the tone for future relationships, decided to call the city to complain. It seems that this city has an ordinance where your grass must be less than 8 inches. (I’m not sure if that is an average of 8 inches, or a maximum of 8 inches, or if it required 80% of the blades to be less than 8 inches. I didn’t actually study the regulation, and I am curious how one would actually calculate the average height, given that an accurate measure would require measuring approximately one billion blades of grass.) The city was very nice about it. They gave her a formal warning and a week to resolve the situation. If she re-offends there will be a $250 fine.

    Now I was thinking about this. On the one hand one may well laugh, or cry, at the comedic value of the whole thing. However, in sense, to be under this regime is a choice. There are plenty of nearby communities that do not have these sort of bonehead regulations (and presumably rather nicer neighbors). So if you live in a community with these sorts of regulations you do so by choice, and presumably because you want to benefits of doing so.

    Now one might complain that they changed the rules after you moved in, but in a sense you are also making that choice — if you move to a place where the regulations can be changed by popular vote then you are also submitting to that scheme.

    I think no libertarian would have a problem with, for example, a condo board imposing certain rules and regulations on the condo, or the fact that these rules can be changed post hoc by vote of the board. And the plain fact is that the condo board can in fact enforce these regulations by force, by way of the contract you sign, and the same is true with, for example, deed restrictions on a house that oblige you to genuflect to the local home owners association.

    Government is different than private agreements for sure. But when it is conducted at an extremely local level, which is to say you have a choice, I’m not sure I have as much sympathy as you might expect from a drooling, radical libertarian like me. And if you think “it’s my property I can do what I want with it” I would invite you to consider how you would feel if your neighbor, using this same claim, decided to convert his property into a pig farm.

    It comes back to the point I have addressed a few times — the real core solution to the tyranny of voting is, on the one hand a restriction on the domain of voting — what it can change — but perhaps even more importantly the system of federalism, which is to say competition among government entities for your business. Most of the problems I have with government is where they take away your choices entirely. With local governments you still have the choice to move (even though it may be costly to do so. But many private choices are costly too. For example, an airline who chooses to punish Boeing for the 737-Max debacle, will have to pay a pretty penny to be free of their commitment to Boeing.)

    And it is why the course of our government, with the sucking up of nearly all important decisions to the central authority in Washington — that is to say taking away your option to escape the oppression by moving, since it is almost impossible for most people legally to move to a different county — is the most dangerous thing. And also why I have often said that the 16th and 17th amendments to to Constitution were the ruination of America.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Duncan S

    But if they try to impose tree preservation orders on the trees I planted, I’ll be out with the chainsaw.

    I don’t know the law in Scotland, but in England, all trees (over 3 inches in diameter at a height of 5 ft) in a conservation area are automatically treated as if they were the subject of a TPO, so you might want to move quite fast.

  • staghounds

    Blowing up your nice house because the Government won’t let you do what you want with it is a British tradition-

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:British_country_houses_destroyed_in_the_20th_century

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Fraser O; “Her lawnmower was broken and out to be fixed and so her grass had got a bit tall. The new neighbors, apparently trying to set the tone for future relationships, decided to call the city to complain.”

    Kind of sad, really. Not that long ago, the new neighbors would have volunteered to cut the lady’s grass while her lawnmower was out of service — thereby helping to establish themselves and make friends in their new community. Community! Once one of the foundations of normal life; now an adjective preceding “tax”.

  • Staghounds writes (and then links):

    Blowing up your nice house because the Government won’t let you do what you want with it is a British tradition-

    Well, I followed the link and then onwards to the first (in alphabetical order) of which I knew, which was in Eastcote (suburb of London).

    Here, it looks as if Staghounds’ government constraint was surprisingly and directly active in ‘destruction of house’: said destruction being done by Ruislip-Northwood Urban District Council when they owned Eastcote House.

    Best regards

  • Snorri Godhi

    WRT Duncan S’s comment: it is an outrage that a local council interferes in any way with a whisky business!

  • Not that long ago, the new neighbors would have volunteered to cut the lady’s grass (Gavin Longmuir (June 17, 2019 at 4:19 pm)

    It does seem to say something very deep and very ugly about these neighbours that they made time to complain to the council but not to offer to cut her grass, or to lend her their own lawnmower – both actions which (the account implies) would likely have been met by acceptance – or even to defer their complaint until/unless the grass remained long after the fixed lawnmower was returned. One guesses they did not know her lawnmower was away because they did not enquire why the grass was uncut – talking to the council was more natural to them than talking to their neighbour.

  • Blowing up your nice house because the Government won’t let you do what you want with it is a British tradition

    In fairness, the extortionate levy of inheritance taxes levied on these properties (far in excess of the properties intrinsic value) was the cause of the destruction of most of them.

    The ones that are left remain standing because the owners used mechanisms such as trusts (or had substantial other income such as owning companies / landholdings) to offset it.

    That was part of the decline of the landed gentry thanks to Lib / Lab socialist idiocy of the time.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Niall Kilmartin
    It does seem to say something very deep and very ugly about these neighbours that they made time to complain to the council but not to offer to cut her grass, or to lend her their own lawnmower

    Or option 4, stop over with a “welcome to the neighborhood apple pie” and casually mention that her grass was getting long. which is what I would have done had I not felt inclined to win a few brownie points with my new neighbor but cutting it myself. The first she heard about it was when the goon from the government turned up at her door with threats and demands.

    It is an allegory of where things are going — the replacement of neighborliness, local community, personal dealing and appealing to a sense of fairness and charity, with bullying, entitlement, centralization and isolated, disconnected bubbles.

    One wonders when Bernie Sanders will call for a national dialog on lawn care. Everyone has a human right to live in a neatly trimmed environment, don’t you think? (Or are you an Unamerican, selfish anarchist?)

  • Gavin Longmuir

    What is behind the loss of community that Fraser O describes?

    Some blame prosperity — with air conditioning, no-one sits on the front porch and chats to the neighbors as they pass by. Instead of people walking their dogs in their own neighborhoods and meeting the neighbors, in wealthy cities like Houston they drive the dog to a custom-built “Bark Park”.

    Some blame the media — especially local TV which is a non-stop crime blotter, spreading fear by giving people the impression that everyone is a sex offender or a drug addict. Children are then not allowed outside to play and mingle, and bring their parents together.

    Some blame the loss of the stay-at-home mother — who was the social glue which kept a neighborhood together.

    Whatever the cause of the decline in a sense of community, maybe the underlying message is that limited government is a necessary but insufficient condition for a healthy society.

  • bobby b

    “It is an allegory of where things are going . . . “

    I was at my sister’s house a few days ago, building a pergola for her above her patio.

    I had a major section done, and was wondering how to lift it into place. As I stared at it and pondered, a neighbor wandered over. Then another. Then two more. We talked. One made a quick phone call, and three teenage boys came running over from the grain elevator down the street.

    We all lifted, I drove in screws, and the job was done. Neighbor 2 ran to his garage, returned with a bunch of beer. We drank and talked until dark.

    Normal day if you get out of UrbanWorld.

    Locusts are just grasshoppers subjected to the severe stress of overcrowding.

  • What is behind the loss of community that Fraser O describes? … Some blame prosperity … Some blame the media … Some blame the loss of the stay-at-home mother …(Gavin Longmuir, June 19, 2019 at 1:23 am))

    In Democracy in America (1836), De Tocqueville describes how at first he laughed on being told that 100,000 Americans had made a public pledge of temperance – such a thing would not happen in France. Only later did he realise that it illustrated a difference between America and France – one that had nothing to do with drinking. Those hundred thousand men had decided to patronise temperance in an American way.

    In France, the same hundred thousand men would each individually have written to the government urging it to do something about drunkenness.

    Unlike De Tocqueville, we sadly know that, ninety years later, using the government became the approach in the US. But he catches well the difference in 1836 – when the US was more prosperous than France and its paper-printed snailmail-sent media was more widespread. I guess there were more stay-at-home moms then in both places (more work-on-the-farm dads too), but I doubt they were commoner in the US than in France.

    Turning to government and snitching on neighbours is related. People who distrust each other turn more to the state even when cynical about it too. In Stalin’s atomised Russia, many people turned to him as the only stable thing in their lives.

    [De Tocqueville quote is from memory.]

  • MadRocketSci

    If “I didn’t build that”, then Obama doesn’t get to take credit for *anything* positive, on principle.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    bobby b: “I was at my sister’s house a few days ago, building a pergola for her above her patio. …”

    An attorney with carpentry skills! I doff my metaphorical hat to you, sir.

    Your tale reminds me of the ‘Rule of the Countryside’ — If you see your neighbor needs help, go & help him; don’t wait to be asked. And the rest of the time, keep out of his way.

  • Julie near Chicago

    The last three comments, by Niall, Mad, and Gavin, are all pure gold. (I especially wish everyone would attend to Gavin’s Rule !!!)

    (Which is not to deny or disparage the many excellent comments prior.)

  • bobby b

    “An attorney with carpentry skills!”

    I think of myself more as a carpenter with attorney skills.

    🙂

  • Paul Marks

    It is actually the better sort of socialist who is shocked when the regulations they have demanded (such as the Town and Country Planning Act) are applied to them.

    There is another sort – the sort that does really does see the future as a “boot coming down on a human face – for ever”.

    They are not romantic “Portmeirion” builders – they are the sort of socialist who actually takes power, and keeps it.

    This sort of socialist is not impressed by people like me banging on about a wasteland of ashes and dried blood – because that is exactly what they want.

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