Home: Free Sociology! is a front for Nathanael Lauster, Author of The Death and Life of the Single-Family House: Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Livable City, Co-editor of The End of Children?, and Associate Professor in Sociology at the University of British Columbia. See my departmental profile here. All thoughts are my own, and a surprisingly large number of them seem to involve housing, immigration, books, and cities. FAQ below…
What do I think of cities?
I’d love to see North American cities become more diverse, more welcoming, more inclusive, and more sustainable. I’m pretty sure this should involve changes to the built environment, enabling more people to share land and take transit, bike, or walk to work. I think apartment bans and related exclusionary practices should be overturned (every neighbourhood for everyone!) I’d also like to see a much larger and diverse stock of non-market housing to complement various kinds of market housing. I’ve been heavily influenced by Iris Marion Young’s vision of the City as a model for thinking about Justice and the Politics of Difference. If this vision appeals to you, we should probably be friends.
Do I think living in houses is bad?
Nope. My book is primarily a scholarly excavation of single-family detached houses and peoples’ present-day interactions with them. Where I delve into advocacy, I aim to open up alternatives and question whether single-family detached houses should be deserving of the special moral approbation, legal protection, and vast land set-asides they currently receive (spoiler: probably not). Living in houses is fine. Shutting down alternatives is not.
Am I a developer shill?
Nope. I’m paid by UBC. I’ve also done a bit of consulting work, primarily as an expert witness, where my duty is to the court. I generally support the work of organizations, like the BC Non-Profit Housing Association and Abundant Housing Vancouver, aimed at providing more housing options for people – especially those left out by current market provision. I also generally support policies like rent control, rental stock protections, higher property taxes, and empty homes taxes.
Do I think housing should be a right?
Yes. I think there are still a lot of details left to be worked out in that answer, and those details (e.g. housing where? of what size? what kind of quality?) are pretty important to get right, but I definitely believe everyone should have a right to housing. Similarly, the freedom to move should also be a right. And we should also work hard to preserve people’s ability to say put. By and large, working through (and occasionally trying to figure out how to balance) the right to housing, right to move, and right to stay put motivates a lot of my thinking and advocacy.
Do I think everyone who supports a foreign buyer tax or ban or otherwise disagrees with me on some policy is a racist?
Nope. I think the underlying logic of the Foreign Buyer Tax and similar policies blaming foreign elements for local problems is troublesome and in practice bleeds over into ugly anti-immigrant sentiment. But widespread support for the tax reflects many things, and racism is only part of the mix. More broadly, there are lots of people I respect who support policies I don’t support because they see things differently. And generally having lots of perspectives in the public sphere is a good thing. When you get invested in how policies work, you get lots of disagreements, even when you have similar visions of where you want policy to take you.
Why should anyone care what I think?
My job as a sociology professor is to think about stuff, gather observations on things, and report back. Too often academics just speak to each other, and do so in arcane and obscure ways. This blog is an attempt to report my thinking and observations in a more public manner. I take for granted that my voice shouldn’t be the only one out there in the public sphere. I definitely won’t have all the answers and sometimes I’ll be wrong. But I’ll try and admit it when I am. I’d also like a much more diverse public sphere – one less dominated by privileged white guys of a certain age, like me – and I encourage that when I can, including by sending media requests to other scholars and thinkers. Hit me up if you’d like me to send media your way! But I still hold out hope that I’m adding to the public conversation. So I’ll probably keep putting my thoughts out there.