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Still Chugging Along

Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.

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What Could Go Right? The rent is too damn high!

Some solutions for the housing crisis

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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Some solutions for the housing crisis

Why is our society infected with such a sense of malaise? One answer that seems both obvious and too simple to be true: housing, by which we mean the lack thereof. Housing is crazy expensive right now because we don’t have nearly enough of it. 

That the housing crisis—and this is one time we feel the word “crisis” really does fit the bill—has a massively large ripple effect was the argument of a popular article in Works in Progress magazine last year, “The Housing Theory of Everything.” It traces back several of-the-moment issues, from inequality to obesity rates to climate change, to a shortage of affordable housing. 

This week, in his Atlantic-based newsletter Work in Progress (not to be confused with the magazine above), journalist Derek Thompson picks up on that piece and carries the ball further down the field, defining the problem more specifically for the United States and offering solutions. Why don’t we have enough houses for people to live in? It’s because it’s super tough to build them, Thompson says, due to four main bottlenecks: “material-cost inflation, anti-building rules, NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitudes, and barriers to innovation.”

His solutions to those bottlenecks are more immigration, and ending single-family zoning as well as environmental reviews demanded by neighbors, which take years and often have nothing to do with environmental concerns at all. He also lists a couple of potential housing technological innovations. One he didn’t list but we know is very popular with our readers is 3D-printed houses.

Some of these bottlenecks are harder to tackle than others. Inflation, for instance, is somewhat out of our hands. But others are workable, like the laws around permit applications that slow down building and increase associated expenses. “When UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation interviewed developers and construction workers about the costs of building in San Francisco,” Thompson writes, “everybody agreed on only one point: The most significant and pointless factor driving up construction costs was the length of time it takes for a project to get through the city permitting and development.” 

Cue Florida. In 2021, as a new op-ed in The Washington Post details, the state passed a law that requires cities and counties to post building permit applications online, where the public can see them. If an application is not addressed within 30 days, local governments must “refund 10 percent of the application fee for every additional business day of silence.” With an average application fee in Florida of nearly $1,000, this is a good incentive to meet the deadline. The result? More permits approved, and faster.

This month, Spokane, Washington went where few American cities have gone before, passing a zoning ordinance that will allow developers to build housing other than single-family, such as duplexes and townhomes. These multi-family options are much more affordable, and of course, house more people in the same physical space than a home for just one family. The ordinance is not permanent, however.

We’ve got a long way to go when it comes to the housing crisis, but this is definitely an issue where local solutions count for a lot. And if you’re one of the lucky ones that already owns a home, remember that nobody likes the guy with a NIMBY attitude. Don’t be that neighbor complaining about new construction. We need it!

Quick hits: four bans

 Slovenia and Cuba: same-sex marriage 
Slovenia’s top court has ruled that the country’s law allowing only straight couples to get married and adopt children is unconstitutional. The ruling will turn Slovenia into the 32nd country worldwide, the 18th in Europe, and the first country of former Yugoslavia to legalize same-sex marriage. While the Slovenian government has six months to update laws in accordance with the court’s ruling, they’re going to have the changes ready in one to two weeks. All hail Slovenian bureaucratic efficiency.

Cuba’s so-called “rainbow revolution,” which has been two steps forward, one step back for years, has made strides again, with the Cuban National Assembly passing a new family law code. The code would allow gay couples to marry and adopt, among other updates. A referendum in September must now approve the code for it to be adopted.

 Massachusetts: child marriage 
In January, we went over, in this newsletter, some progress in declining child marriage rates worldwide and mentioned that in most US states parents can still legally marry off their children. Soon, Massachusetts will likely join Minnesota, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to ban all child marriages without exception.

 Louisiana: animal cosmetics testing 
As of June, there are nine states that ban the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals, the most recent addition being Louisiana. New York is set to become number ten soon. While the Louisiana ban does carve out many exemptions, it does look like such bans are trending nationwide. California was the very first state to pass an animal cosmetics testing ban in 2018. The European Union has had one since 2004.

Before we go

As we talked about last week, the heatwaves are here, and the US is (kinda, sorta) dealing with it. The Forest Service will plant over one billion trees over ten years in sections of the American West facing recurrent wildfires. And a new informational website, heat.gov, will dispense advice for localities planning for extreme heat.

Everyone is watching the health and climate bill announced yesterday. Two bipartisan bills you should also be paying attention to: one on election reform and another on data protection.

Oops, we miscounted the tigers! There are 40% more wild tigers roaming their territories than when we last measured in 2015, “an uptick attributed to more effective monitoring.” Tigers are still on the endangered species list, but their numbers “appear to be either stable or increasing,” thanks to conservation efforts.

The world is awful. The world is much better. The world can be much better. Raise your hand if you agree.

Below in the links section, Botswana has nearly wiped out mother-to-child HIV transmission, cheetahs are returning to India, Germans are eating less meat, and more.


Sweden’s Museum of Failure displays more than 150 failed products to emphasize the role of risk-taking and failure in innovation. One of them is the Nintendo Power Glove, shared in this thread by writer and podcast host Trung Phan.

Progress, Please

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TPN Member originals 🧠

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Department of Ideas 💡
(A staff recommendation guaranteed to give your brain some food for thought.)

Should extreme biohacking be a human right? | Freethink
Should complete bodily autonomy be a human right? For instance, should those suffering and dying of diseases that are untreatable have the right to inject themselves with any drug they want in search of a cure?

Why we picked it: It’s a fascinating question, and I appreciate biohacker and former NASA scientist Josiah Zayner’s ethos and answers. He had me at “I want to genetically modify humans. I want to create a coronavirus vaccine in my kitchen. Because I can. Because it’s beautiful and cool. But like, you can’t say that sh*t.” —Brian Leli

New Member Alert

Sharon McMahon is a former high school government and law teacher who earned a reputation as “America’s Government Teacher” amidst the historic 2020 election proceedings for her viral efforts on Instagram to educate the general public on political misinformation. She is also the host of the top-rated Sharon Says So podcast, with more than 11 million downloads in its first year.

Read how McMahon is bringing Americans out of their echo chambers.

Until Next Time

Finally, Polish scientists say what we were all thinking.👇

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Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.