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ANNOUNCER: A famous observation about housing is that it can either be a common good, or a tragedy of the commons. The following recording shows us that less commonly, it can also be a comedy.
COMPUTER VOICE: RECORDING IN PROGRESS.
KAREN: The councillor is coming?
DOUG: I think so. You know the councillor, she's always late.
CHAD: Well with a schedule like hers, I'm surprised she even makes it to these meetings.
BECKY: Oh, the Neighbourhood Planning and Housing Committee meetings are of vital importance to our community’s future. It's what keeps Fairview, Fairview.
CHAD: Speaking of which, have you heard the Gordons moved away?
DOUG: Oh? Did they?
CHAD: And did you hear how much they sold their house for..? 2 MILLION!
KAREN: Well I'm not surprised, everyone wants to move to Fairview. It's such a safe neighbourhood.
CHAD: Are you thinking of selling?
KAREN: Oh I would, but it’s so hard to find anything bigger than a shoebox these days. Our second floor has only three washrooms - you can just feel that fourth washroom missing, y’know?
BECKY: I know exactly what you’re saying! My niece is always complaining about having to live in a two-bedroom apartment with three kids. But I think it will do the children good. They will learn to share!
DOUG: Still, I remember that 5 or 6 years ago, houses like this went for less than a mil!
CHAD: Honestly with all the money printing going on, I’d be surprised if the prices don’t rise further.
BECKY: So are you saying the valuations will continue to go up?
CHAD: I mean all that money’s gotta go somewhere. You can’t print a house! By the way, have you heard about this new app spreading all over Africa?
BECKY: Are you talking about the Software?
KAREN: I thought it was called the System?
CHAD: Well whatever it’s called, apparently it allows anyone to pick up jobs and make good money doing it.
DOUG: Wait, is that the same app behind all the fighting in the southern States? The Crockets and the Small Sisters?
CHAD: Please, that’s just a bunch of rednecks replaying the Wild West stories.
BECKY: Well I just hope it doesn’t affect the real estate prices here!
KAREN: Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. We’re so lucky to live in such a safe neighbourhood as Fairview.
COMPUTER VOICE: NEW CALLER JOINING.
CHAD: And there's the councillor!
COUNCILLOR: Hello, it’s nice to see you guys all! And sorry for the delay - the Health and Safety folks held me up... But let’s make the best of our time together, shall we? I'd like to call the Neighbourhood Planning and Housing Committee meeting to order. As city hall remains closed, the public continues to participate electronically and can watch the meetings streamed live on the official municipal website. Before I call the first item on the agenda, I want us to welcome someone new to our community. Actually, I’ll let him introduce himself.
COMPUTER VOICE: NEW CALLER JOINING.
NEWCOMER: Thank you, councillor. Hi everybody. I’m sorry I can’t introduce myself in person, but it’s nice to at least meet you virtually, as I just moved here.
BECKY: Oh that’s wonderful. Welcome!
KAREN: I think you’ll see it’s such a safe neighbourhood.
CHAD: Did you buy the Gordons’ house?
NEWCOMER: Buy? Not quite… I rent a basement unit at Bank Street and Yonge. It was all I could afford for now. Unfortunately, my generation got hit with the housing crunch.
DOUG: You’re referring to the 50% increase from 1 million to 2 million that we just mentioned?
NEWCOMER: Actually, that’s a 100% increase… But the point stands, yes.
DOUG: And mind if I inquire which one is your generation exactly?
NEWCOMER: I just turned 30.
DOUG: Oh for me to be 30 again! The best time of my life, the 30-ies. Didn’t have much, just the house I still live in. And my wife, dear old wife, who left us too soon.
NEWCOMER: I’m sorry to hear that.
DOUG: Yes, every October she flies to Arizona in the winter. I tell her, darling, it’s too soon, wait ‘til December and we can go together -- but alas, she never listens.
BECKY: May I ask our new neighbour something?
NEWCOMER: Of course.
BECKY: What do you do?
NEWCOMER: That’s a… Complex question. I finished my studies last year. But I haven’t been able to find a job - at least not in my area of study.
DOUG: I bet it was English or History...
DOUG: Your area of study. I’m willing to bet it was something abstract like Sociology or Art History... My boy, to succeed in life you don’t need theory - you need to know stuff that’s applicable!
NEWCOMER: Applicable as knowing growth from 1 to 2 million is a 100% increase?
COUNCILLOR: Folks, sorry to hurry us along, but we really need to start with the official business here.
NEWCOMER: Yes, yes, of course.
COUNCILLOR: The first item on our agenda is construction of a luxury condo complex at the empty parking lot just north of Robsons and Main Street. The developer has proposed a 6-story building, with the ground floor dedicated to commercial use. As I understand, there are some objections?
KAREN: Councillor, I’m sure I speak in the name of ALL the residents of Fairview when I say we are always in favour of new development. After all, it’s what makes this such a world-class city! …However, in this particular case we feel we need to speak up.
COUNCILLOR: And what seems to be the problem?
KAREN: Well the sudden influx of so many new residents would irrevocably change the neighbourhood character. As you know, Fairview is a small, tight-knit community; we must keep it safe.
COUNCILLOR: Right. Any other objections from the constituents?
BECKY: Councillor, no one can accuse our community of being against growth. But I cannot in good conscience approve this project. Development is steamrolling ahead, without regard for the stakeholders’ input. To give just one egregious example: the proposed structure’s balconies would look straight into my bedroom!
COUNCILLOR: Understood. Any other responses?
DOUG: Councillor, I’m afraid I have to withhold my household’s support as well. The developer’s secrecy and the 11th hour announcement adds to the Committee's distrust. The process has not been done adequately or in good faith, despite our deep, deep concerns.
COUNCILLOR: What is the nature of your concerns?
DOUG: Well it will cast shadows over my yard.
COUNCILLOR: I see. Anyone else?
CHAD: The way I see it - we’re talking simple physics here. The scale of the project is too big. There’s simply not enough space in Fairview for a development such as this.
COUNCILLOR: I understand your concerns, and I thank you for voicing your opinion. We need help at the local level to get these things right! Alright, we have time for one more comment.
NEWCOMER: Um, may I say something?
COUNCILLOR: But of course. We cherish all voices and opinions. After all, that’s what democracy is all about!
NEWCOMER: Thank you. As I said, I just recently moved to the city, but the rent is killing me - it eats over half of my income. So any new housing is good in my book.
CHAD: But this is going to be a luxury condo - no offence, but it’s unlikely to cost less than your current basement suite.
NEWCOMER: No, I’m aware, but any increase in housing supply decreases the pressure on prices. If someone moves to a new development, they vacate their previous unit, which I then might be able to move into.
BECKY: Young man, I don’t want to be rude, but why’d you move to a city that you find unaffordable?
NEWCOMER: I didn’t have a choice really… There aren’t many opportunities left in my hometown, unfortunately... Most jobs have been outsourced overseas. And wages of those jobs that weren’t have been stagnating for two decades now. Cities are pretty much the only economic oases still left. Which is why it’s so important to adapt them to new circumstances. Fortunately, some of the concerns you expressed shouldn’t be difficult to mitigate - for example, the one about there not being enough space.
KAREN: What about it?
NEWCOMER: Have you considered that it might be possible to increase the density by building up?
CHAD: … Up? What do you mean up?
NEWCOMER: By building up in height.
DOUG: [considering an alien concept] … In height..?
BECKY: [confused] ...You mean a duplex?
NEWCOMER: No, I mean building a high rise.
KAREN: High rises in Fairview?!
BECKY: Heaven forbid!
CHAD: You’re not seriously proposing skyscrapers, are you?
NEWCOMER: Why not? There’s a new subway line coming here next year. The area around it has been zoned for density.
CHAD: Well the thing is this: subways and skyscrapers don’t really fit in this neighbourhood’s character. I mean, there must be room for a compromise here - after all, we’re reasonable people.
KAREN: Yeah, maybe they can build smaller skyscrapers. You know, like 3 floors.
DOUG: I still think that’s too much. I mean, how would those poor folks have yards?
DOUG: Yes, yards! If you ask me, anything below half an acre is simply inhumane!
NEWCOMER: You are aware you're talking to a person who doesn't even have a garden?
DOUG: That’s precisely why you’re so madly in love with these concrete and glass condo monstrosities that you see all over downtown!
NEWCOMER: What’s wrong with an apartment? We all can’t live in Disney castles!
DOUG: It’s making you lose your connection with nature! When I came to Fairview, I came here from a farm.
NEWCOMER: Well if you want so much land, maybe you should go back to a farm?
DOUG: Go back? I’ll have you know I've been here since 1972!
NEWCOMER: Well maybe you should go back to 1972 then?
BECKY: Young man, there’s no need to take that tone. To me, your complaints sound like you’ve never gone through any adversity in life. I was but a babe, but I vividly remember my parents’ house being bombed during the Blitz! A shanty shack or a million pound home, all were the same then! Compared to that calamity, it’s no wonder you’ve been termed a “snowflake generation”.
NEWCOMER: Snowflake? Weren’t you just complaining about shadows in your yard?
COUNCILLOR: Now, now, I’m sure our kind neighbours are telling you this with good intentions. We’re all aware the cost of living has gone up in recent years. But that’s only natural - after all, this is a world-class city! Anyway, my apologies for having to move us along, but the time for discussion is over. We will now proceed to our sacred democratic duty. I call a vote regarding the luxury condo proposal on the current parking lot of Robson and Main Street. All those in favour? (...) One… For those without cameras, there’s only one hand in the air, that of our new neighbour. Now, please raise your hand all of you who are opposed? (...) Everybody else. And the proposal has been declined by a near-unanimous vote.
NEWCOMER: But, I don’t understand. These condos would come with stores, restaurants, galleries - how can you vote against that, and for a parking lot?
CHAD: [laughs] It’s obvious you’re new to the neighbourhood - my wife and I can hardly find a place to park our three SUVs as it is!
DOUG: Wait, didn’t you construct a three-car garage last year?
CHAD: Yeah, but that’s where we keep our stuff. Besides, this is more than a parking lot. It’s a hub! The heart of the community!
KAREN: And don’t forget, we’re talking about luxury condos here. I’m sure that if this were affordable housing, we’d be having a very different conversation right now.
COUNCILLOR: Which is a fitting segue to the second item on our agenda: construction of an affordable housing complex at Queen Street and Saint George. The developer has submitted a plan for fifty units, all with rents well below the median for the city. Furthermore, ten of these units would be reserved specifically for women, serving as halfway houses. The floor is open for questions and comments.
KAREN: Councillor, I’m sure I speak in the name of ALL the residents of Fairview when I say we all want to create effective solutions for the homelessness and addiction crises that increasingly plague our city. However, we should not satisfy ourselves with bandaids. We need constructive, long-term solutions that address the root causes of the problem instead of haphazardly treating the symptoms.
BECKY: Just like my good neighbour, I’m all for affordable housing. However, I simply must lodge a strong complaint as well. The fact of the matter is the development will partially or wholly obscure Queen Street residents’ view of the park. It sets a dangerous precedent.
CHAD: Worse still, it would require the oldest standing maple tree in the park to be cut down. I’m sure I needn’t remind you that we live in a climate emergency... In fact, me and my wife are so worried - so worried! - that we decided our next SUV will be a hybrid.
DOUG: And won’t somebody think about those beautiful birds in the park? Won't somebody think of the poor birds?
NEWCOMER: Hold on, didn’t you just say the Committee would be open to construction of affordable housing?
KAREN: Yes, but we were talking about affordable housing for families - not for single men and women!
NEWCOMER: But I'm a single man! In fact, living in a basement might have something to do with that… Can’t you see that these are homes for working class people? The cooks, the bartenders, the caretakers, gardeners... Your manicurists, pedicurists, acupuncturists... You know, the people who make the city run! Where are they supposed to live?
CHAD: You know, he’s got a point. Just yesterday the owner of a local coffee shop told me she’ll have to leave because she can’t afford the rent any more.
KAREN: Emelia? Emelia is leaving..? Oh no! Our frappuccinos!
BECKY: WE MUST SAVE OUR FRAPPUCCINOS!
DOUG: You know, perhaps we could allow one of these “high rises” to be built. You know, to put all the service workers in it.
BECKY: Oh I don’t know, it would sorta sully the view.
DOUG: Then maybe we could place it in the outskirts? Near the landfill?
CHAD: You know what? I could live with that.
KAREN: Well I couldn’t! How could you even suggest such a thing, for people to live next to a junkyard? Aren’t you afraid for the safety of your refuse? Those people can't be trusted not to go through our garbage!
DOUG: She’s right! They might steal our garbage!
BECKY: It’s a blatant invasion of privacy!
NEWCOMER: Here’s a radical thought - maybe people shouldn’t live next to a dumpster at all?
CHAD: Then where should they live?
NEWCOMER: Well a stopgap measure could be to legalize what’s popularly called granny flats. Basically increasing the available housing stock by allowing secondary units in the principal residence. They're doing this in Montreal.
KAREN: They are?!
BECKY: How dare they?!
CHAD: Don’t those Quebecois have any respect for their neighbourhoods?
DOUG: I will write to the mayor of Montreal immediately! We can’t allow this in our backyard!
NEWCOMER: But this is... Where exactly do you think your backyard ends?
DOUG: Chère Valérie... Je t'écris... aujourd'hui... pour me plaindre... Hm, how do you say "Not in my backyard" in French?
NEWCOMER: Au diable les pauvres.
DOUG: Les pauvres?
KAREN: Are you saying we don't care about poor people? I want you to know that I support every liberal policy there is. Just look at all the signs in my front yard!
NEWCOMER: Oh, I’m sure you like the idea of poor people. As for the poor people themselves, conservatives are more honest here - at least they straight up tell poor people to piss off!
COUNCILLOR: Now I won’t have that kind of language in the meeting!
NEWCOMER: You mean saying “piss off”?
COUNCILLOR: No, I mean mentioning the conservatives!
DOUG: I don’t understand the problem here: if people are working they can buy a house. The real problem is no one wants to work anymore!
NEWCOMER: Why work if your landlord who sits on the porch all day makes three times as much? Why work when anyone who invested anything on the stock market is now a millionaire without ever lifting a finger? You'd have to be an idiot to work!
KAREN: Well who’s stopping you from investing? Put your money in REITs or ETFs or NFTs, or whatever acronym your financial advisor tells you and enjoy your returns!
NEWCOMER: Don’t you see a moral hazard for a society in which flipping houses or stocks becomes more profitable than producing anything or providing a service?
CHAD: You’re blaming the society for your poor economic choices. My wife and I saved every penny in our 20s so we could buy our first property. Well, that and our parents gave us a little bit of downpayment.
NEWCOMER: So my poor economic choice was being born to poor parents?
CHAD: That, and not buying bitcoin in 2003.
KAREN: I sense a lot of negative vibrations. You know what you should do? Whenever I feel stressed or anxious, I spend the day at the tracks and ride my horse. Her name is Avocado Toast and she immediately puts my mind at ease!
BECKY: What a splendid suggestion! See, that’s the thing I like most about Fairview - everybody is always trying to help! It is precisely this wonderful neighbourhood character we are working to protect.
COUNCILLOR: And that is exactly how things are supposed to work - we meet, we discuss, and we vote. It’s the cornerstone of the great democratic system we are lucky to be born in!
NEWCOMER: But how is this democratic? All the people who are not yet part of this neighbourhood, and whose ability to become so is voted on, cannot attend these meetings. Heck, forget future residents - it’s five minutes to noon - anybody who WORKS cannot attend these meetings!
COUNCILLOR: Unfortunately, there’s a procedure we need to follow. Or are you saying we shouldn’t have rules?
NEWCOMER: Don't frame this as a battle between law and anarchy. The opposite of rules isn't no rules - the opposite of rules we have now are rules that don't benefit you.
DOUG: I don’t even understand what all of this whole fuss is all about! The basic claim alone that Fairview is becoming unaffordable is dubious! I mean, how can it be unaffordable if five houses are being purchased on my street alone?
NEWCOMER: They are...? By whom?
DOUG: Oh, by some corporation… BlackCock or something.
NEWCOMER: BlackRock? That’s even worse!
DOUG: Why would it be worse?
NEWCOMER: Because getting institutional investors into the game makes housing even more unaffordable! Family homes are now just a commodity to be monetized by hedge funds in a system engineered to capture 2/3 of one’s income on a basic human need. Housing is the one subscription you cannot cancel.
COUNCILLOR: Look, I’m sure your intentions are good, and it truly warms my heart to see such a fearsome fighter for social justice. But unfortunately this is not the time or the place to discuss economic policy. We need to move forward with the agenda, or we won’t get anything done. This didn’t become a world-class city all by itself! So please, let’s proceed with the process - raise your hand if you’re in favour of the affordable housing complex at Queen and George. (...) One vote. Now, raise your hand if you’re opposed. (...) Everybody else. Motion denied and we move on to the next item on our agenda: a proposal to build family housing and a new high school and playground at Colombo and High Street - the heart of Fairview. I open the floor for debate.
KAREN: Councillor, I’m sure I speak in the name of ALL the residents of Fairview when I say I applaud this initiative. It is true what they say, children are our future. But they are also something else...
COUNCILLOR: And what’s that?
KAREN: Loud. It’s just the fact of life, children are rowdy. And unfortunately that means a new playground will cause regular disturbance for all residents in its vicinity.
COUNCILLOR: And how would you mitigate this?
KAREN: Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying no to a playground. What we are suggesting is to restrict the playground to adult users.
COUNCILLOR: A playground for grownups?
KAREN: We would definitely hold this to be a fair compromise.
DOUG: My issue with the playground is that the trees in it will attract birds, and you know birds - they shit everywhere.
CHAD: None of this would have been an issue if we were properly consulted. But now, with the situation being as it is, we find it would be for the best if the whole project went back to the planning stage. Which, if you think about it, really only has advantages.
COUNCILLOR: What advantages?
CHAD: Well, by the time the project comes back from the planning stage, the children will be grown up and there won’t be a need for a school anyway!
NEWCOMER: IT’S A FREAKING SCHOOL NOT A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
COUNCILLOR: Please, wait for your turn to speak. Now, as much as I understand the constituents' position, I’m afraid this is a matter beyond our influence.
COUNCILLOR: The education issues are resolved at the provincial level. Meaning, it’s not possible to block construction of a school based on local objections.
CHAD: But, but... You're taking away our liberty!
KAREN: Help, I’m being oppressed!
COUNCILLOR: Unfortunately, my hands are tied in this case.
DOUG: Well, we’ll see who gets our vote in the next election!
BECKY: Indeed. I never thought I’d say it, but I just might vote for the Greens!
[gasps of consternation]
COUNCILLOR: … There is, however, one way to override provincial projects...
CHAD: Go on…
KAREN: We’re listening...
COUNCILLOR: Well, the only thing that can stop provincial development is for the development site to be listed as designated heritage property. Which just happens to be the last item on our agenda!
CHAD: … Now that I think about it, I seem to remember reading that the corner of Colombo and High Street is the site of the old Parliament.
NEWCOMER: A parliament? I haven’t seen anything remotely resembling a parliament!
CHAD: Oh, the building itself was razed to the ground a hundred years ago. In its place now is a car dealership. They sell really good SUVs actually.
NEWCOMER: Your point being?
CHAD: Well, building or no building, it’s still the historic site of the old Parliament. Meaning it’s worthy of inclusion in the designated heritage list.
KAREN: I’m sure I speak in the name of ALL the residents of Fairview when I say that building on this site would be like spitting on our illustrious 145-year-old history!
DOUG: Actually, it’s 155 years.
KAREN: Even better.
NEWCOMER: Please, you’re not protecting the past - the only thing you’re doing is destroying the future!
CHAD: On the contrary, we’re trying to preserve the future too! After all, what is the future but the past that hasn’t happened yet?
BECKY: Well said. The nerve, calling us “destroyers”... A bit rich coming from someone who plainly doesn’t even like this city!
NEWCOMER: Actually, I love this city! … It just doesn’t seem to love me back.
KAREN: You have no right to say that! This neighbourhood welcomes everyone!
NEWCOMER: What about single men?
BECKY: There are limits to our tolerance.
NEWCOMER: And the limit is the shadow in your backyard?
CHAD: This is not about our backyards! This is about the quality of life in the community!
NEWCOMER: Like having an unobstructed view of the park? Well, I hope you like looking at tents!
DOUG: Listen now, we’re just trying to protect the neighbourhood character!
NEWCOMER: What neighbourhood character? What you’re trying to do is protect your investment vehicles.
KAREN: We just want to keep the neighbourhood safe.
NEWCOMER: Safe! Safe! Safe! I think we all know what "safe" is a byword for.
KAREN: Oh that is so typical for you people, turning everything into a gender or race issue. Hate has no home here!
NEWCOMER: Of course it doesn’t - it can’t afford it!
BECKY: Please, I’m willing to bet if you owned a house yourself, you’d be singing a very different tune.
NEWCOMER: It’s not about the houses! God, is this all you people can think about? Do you really think I’m here because I want a goddamn riding lawn mower?
DOUG: So, if this is not about houses, why are you here?
NEWCOMER: Because we’ve become a society that would set our neighbour's barn on fire to make ourselves some smores. Because we have more measures to tackle the homeless than those to tackle homelessness. Yes, by allowing change, by making concessions, every one of us will lose a little... But all of us will gain a lot.
COUNCILLOR: I think we can all agree, those are admirable ideals. And in the spirit of the glorious democratic system we are blessed to partake in, we’ll now put the issue to a vote. Please, raise your hand if you’re against adding the structure under consideration to the heritage list. (...) One vote. Now please, raise your hand if you’re in favour? (…) Everybody else. I hereby pronounce the old parliament / SUV dealership is a designated heritage property, and hence off limits to any development. Comments?
NEWSLETTER: So the committee’s housing policy is basically “get fucked”?
COUNCILLOR: This is your final warning - you’re either going to control your language or I’ll cut your mic off!
CHAD: We’ve been very patient with you! If you think you’re smarter and you can do better, you’re free to vote, volunteer, or even run for office!
NEWCOMER: You cannot fix the failings of a system by using the same system... It’s actually quite sad when you think about it: we've completely transformed our understanding of science and technology, but our political and economic thinking would be recognisable to a Roman senator and a Florentine banker! Politics and economics are still waiting for their Copernican revolution.
COUNCILLOR: I’m afraid Copernicus, not being a Fairview resident, is irrelevant to our discussion.
NEWCOMER: Well, take “Copernicus” out from “Copernican revolution”, and all you’re left with is “revolution”. Because when you make it impossible for people to build, don’t be surprised when they destroy.
COUNCILLOR: Is that a threat?
NEWCOMER: Consider it a tip. Not that I expect you’ll know what to do with it. Blind men have no use for mirrors… Oh, and by the way, it's called the Program.
COUNCILLOR: What is?
NEWCOMER: The app you were talking about at the beginning. I should know, that’s what I “do”. Picking up gigs on the Program is the only reason I can survive in this place.
COUNCILLOR: Well I’m glad you’ve found your place in our world-class city. You’ll see, with a bit of patience things will get better for you.
KAREN: Indeed. And if I may speak frankly, it’s obvious you’ve been under a lot of stress, and I’m sorry you are unhappy. Have you considered unwinding a bit? What I do when I need a bit of “me” time is spend the weekend at our cottage. 20 minutes in the hot tub and I feel 20 years younger! You know what they say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
NEWCOMER: So what do you make when life gives you shit?
COUNCILLOR: That’s it, mic off.
COMPUTER VOICE: CALL DISCONNECTED.
[din of construction in the background]
COMPUTER VOICE: RECORDING IN PROGRESS.
CHAD: Hello? Is anyone here? Anyone?
COMPUTER VOICE: NEW CALLER JOINING.
CHAD: Finally, somebody!
KAREN: Do you have any idea who these construction workers are? I don’t remember us permitting any new construction in Fairview!
COMPUTER VOICE: NEW CALLER JOINING.
BECKY: Well I don’t know, but I can tell you they put up brick walls on my window panes last night!
KAREN: You’re kidding!
BECKY: I most certainly am not - all my bloody windows got walled up overnight!
KAREN: What’s happening here?!
COMPUTER VOICE: NEW CALLER JOINING.
DOUG: People, thank heavens you’re here! Somebody cut down all the trees in my street!
BECKY: Are you serious? Where is the councillor??
KAREN: Oh, she will hear about this! FAIRVIEW IS A SAFE NEIGHBOURBOOD!
COMPUTER VOICE: NEW CALLER JOINING.
CHAD: Speak of the devil.
DOUG: Councillor! Have you heard what happened last night? Trees missing! Walls erected!
BECKY: I went to sleep in Fairview and woke up in Syria!
KAREN: I WANT TO SPEAK TO THE PRIME MINISTER!
NEWCOMER: Actually, it’s not the councillor.
KAREN: Oh, it’s you.
BECKY: I apologize, young man, but we don’t have time for your social justice homilies today. Don’t you see what’s happening? Strange men with construction hats all over Fairview! Gasp! Who would do such a thing?
NEWCOMER: Well if that’s your question, consider the case solved: I did it.
NEWCOMER: Well, me and dozens of other people. It was a team effort.
CHAD: But how?
NEWCOMER: The answer is simple: the Program.
DOUG: That app?
CHAD: What the heck are you talking about?
NEWCOMER: I was telling you about gigs I’m picking up, right?
NEWCOMER: Well all these jobs - cutting down trees, building walls - all of them were offered as paid gigs on the Program.
CHAD: Paid gigs?
NEWCOMER: Hm, “paid” might not be the most precise term, since everybody’s getting compensated in credits.
CHAD: Credits? Is this some kind of crypto play?
NEWCOMER: Actually, you can think of credits as an alternate currency. Or, rather, that’s not quite right - they’re more like an alternate economy.
CHAD: Have you been licking frogs from Colorado?
NEWCOMER: What I’m trying to say is, just like the rich have their own private economy - y’know, the one that only goes up and no one but them can access - the Program established a parallel economy that awards people’s labour. An economy in which the only way to BE more than another is to DO more than another. And between an economy that’s based on rent seeking, and an economy that has people actually creating value, guess which one is going to come out on top?
CHAD: Ha, I knew this was all about money - regardless of your lofty speeches to the contrary!
NEWCOMER: Again, credits aren’t money… At least not the way we think of it.
CHAD: What do you mean?
NEWCOMER: I mean, money, when you get down to the bottom of it, is just a way to manage resources - for example, paying someone to move a pile of bricks. The trouble is, as a way to achieve this, money is as dumb as the said pile of bricks. Whereas credits have all these advanced features that make them superior.
CHAD: Oh yeah, like what?
NEWCOMER: Like a decay factor - basically if you try to hoard credits, they become less valuable. They seem to be worth more in individuals whose social standing is high, awarding altruistic behaviour. They also increase penalties of law - the richer you are, the harsher your punishment if you engage in any wrongdoing. So far no one was able to transfer them to their next of kin, and they disappear when the individual dies, suppressing multi-generational wealth. Oh, and this is especially cool - they’re influenced by location, meaning you get more credits if you go where your skills are more likely to be utilized!
KAREN: Listen Pickety, if I wanted an economics lesson I‘d listen to my financial advisor’s crappy podcast! I don’t care how any of this works - what I care about is that your people vandalized the entire neighbourhood!
DOUG: That’s the part I don’t understand - who’d issue gigs like that?
NEWCOMER: Oh, that’s the easy answer. You see, after the recording of the Committee’s last meeting got published online, thousands of people heard your complaints. Including the one about what menace shadows in backyards are. So a sympathetic soul issued a gig to cut down all the trees so you wouldn’t have to suffer shadows any more…
DOUG: Of you bunch of hoodlums!
NEWCOMER: Oh, and best of all - no birds!
BECKY: You may think you’re all clever, but I promise you this is not the end of the matter!
NEWCOMER: Ah, I’m glad you spoke up. I believe it was you who griped about hypothetical residents of the condo development being able to look into your bedroom?
BECKY: Well indeed I did! And I’d do it again! A man’s home is his castle! And he must have privacy in it!
NEWCOMER: Which is just as well, as folks online checked the images of your house on Google Maps - where they discovered that YOU have unobstructed views into your neighbours’ bedrooms! So to protect their privacy, they walled up your windows.
BECKY: Bloody hell!
NEWCOMER: I do have to give credit where credit is due: you guys were absolutely right about the homelessness issue.
KAREN: What about it?
NEWCOMER: It’s precisely what you said: it doesn’t make sense to build a shelter without addressing the root cause of homelessness. So the project plan got upgraded and the shelter will now include a safe injection site and a rehabilitation centre.
KAREN: Overdose clinics in Fairview?!
NEWCOMER: I know, isn’t it wonderful? Also, I owe you an apology: as it turns out, the SUV dealership was indeed built on the site of the old Parliament.
CHAD: Well, I did tell you so.
NEWCOMER: However, with the SUV dealership now a designated heritage property, we have to build the school on the closest lot that is NOT on the list. Meaning we will have to demolish your house unfortunately.
CHAD: What?! You can’t do this!
NEWCOMER: But we can. You see, people voted. And you wouldn't want to hinder democracy, would you? …Oh my, I almost forgot the best piece of news - you’re getting a parking lot!
NEWCOMER: Since you were so worried about the paucity of parking places, we checked the city records and discovered that you’re actually parking your vehicles on city property - which is illegal. So, to help you out, we issued a gig to tear down everything surrounding your houses and turn it all into parking! It will be able to hold 6000 vehicles - so truly a world-class... parking lot.
BECKY: Young man, tell me... How do you think this ends? This Program is just going to swoop in and make the whole world a Utopia?
NEWCOMER: No. On its own, the Program is neither good nor bad. It's like a hammer - you can use it to build a house, or break a skull. … Actually, calling it “the Program” is a misnomer. What it should be called is Programs.
CHAD: So... Which Program did we get?
NEWCOMER: The one we deserve.
KAREN: … You know what? You’re right! I’m sure I speak in the name of all the residents of Fairview when I say we were too… “Exclutionary”. But we see the errors of our ways now. And we extend our warmest welcome to everyone! Everyone can come in!
NEWCOMER: “Come in”..? Oh dear, it seems you still don’t grasp what’s happening here. It’s not that other people can come to Fairview now - it’s that you can't get out.
NEWCOMER: Well I told you how one of the main factors in allocation of credits is one’s location, right? This means that you basically only get credits if you stay within a designated boundary. I guess the Program calculated that some people are so useless, it makes more sense to pay them just to stay out of the way. And Fairview got designated as an area for such people. So I wouldn’t expect much from folks who arrive here, honestly.
KAREN: But, but, what about the neighbourhood character?
NEWCOMER: Oh I think it will be preserved perfectly.
[The Program main theme]
ANNOUNCER: This episode of The Program was made by eight people: Joe Fisher, Jacqueline Ainsworth, Phil Sampson, Franz Robinow, Ray Kennington, Martha Breen, Christien Ledroit, and IMS. Synthetic voices generated by narrationbox.com. Some NIMBY complaints you’ve heard in the episode are from actual neighbourhood planning meetings, while some of them are made up. Think you can tell which are which? Head to programaudioseries.com/quiz and try to guess which ludicrous remarks are real. Should you want to chip in for the author’s mental health treatment, you can do so at the show’s website as well.
original art by Carlos Costa
Courtesy of Tim Franklin