Tuesday, July 03, 2012
  Sailer's cliff theory

Sailer has been discussing the political and cultural connections of land characteristics for a long time. His latest observation is highly specific:
Why is [environmentalism] more powerful in California than in Texas? One reason is that California is more precipitous. The rock star is spending a fortune on political struggles to build on this particular ridge because from there he can see for miles and miles. Conversely, that prominent promontory is visible for miles and miles from the backyards of powerful people.

Pretty good rule, and resonates with a very old human impulse. Feudal barons and tribal chiefs and modern bosses always build on hilltops. Command the valley, spot invaders, let the peasants see who's boss at all times.

I've never lived in Calif or Texas, but I've lived in a number of cities with a flat valley and a commanding bluff. In most of them, the peasants stayed in the valley and the aristocrats built on the bluff, according to Sailer's rule.

My parents, constant status seekers, followed the rule perfectly in Manhattan. Their first house was an elegant and spacious old bungalow on the flat. Second house was a cramped standard tract module in the middle of a hill. Third and final house was a poorly built and unfinished split-level on a commanding bluff. With each move they chose lower house quality to achieve a higher altitude. [Incidentally, the first two houses look perfectly unchanged after 50 years. The third house has been altered: new windows and doors, new siding. Quality prevails, status fails.]

Spokane is the exception to Sailer's rule, which isn't surprising. Until quite recently, Spokane had its own unique pattern for housing.... or rather its own lack of pattern. Every neighborhood contains a mix of sizes and ages.

Good example in my immediate neighborhood. I'm on a flat 'bench', with a sharp drop down to the river about 2 miles west of my house, and a sharp upward hill about 1/4 mile east of my house. By Sailer's rule the two clifftops should hold a better class of resident, but they don't. The houses along the edge of the cliff are the same mix as the houses on the flat.

Some Google street captures will show what I mean.

Here's the top of the cliff overlooking the river: (both sides of the street)


Here's the bottom of the Wellesley hill:


Here's the top of the Wellesley hill:


Same mix everywhere. Standard 50s FHA modules, and nice but ordinary early-60s ranchers. One natural difference is visible in these pics: the hilltops have very few tall trees. Wind is 20 MPH stronger on those west-facing edges, and tall trees fall.
 


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