Readers Write: Affordable US housing ‘the Nordic way’; US Constitution: the vision vs. the letter

Letters to the Editor for the June 23, 2014 weekly magazine:

SEDAN: The May 12 cover story, 'The Nordic way,' reminded me of Sweden’s program to tackle its post-World War II housing shortages – which could be a model for the US.

JOHNSON: There are those who understand and honor the promise and vision of the Constitution and those who can’t seem to see beyond a simplistic, self-serving interpretation of its letter.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Immigrants Lidia Waczynski (left) and Jane Kimani (right) share a snack with Ms. Kimani's daughter, Alexandra Bjormstrom, in Kiruna, Sweden. Sweden has a generous immigration policy that has made its homogenous society more diverse.

Affordable US housing ‘the Nordic way’

The May 12 cover story, “The Nordic way,” reminded me of Sweden’s program to tackle its post-World War II housing shortages. In the 1930s, researchers found that vast numbers of Swedes were living in inadequately small dwellings, many with dirt floors and no shower or indoor bathroom. The situation was most severe in rural areas.

Seeing this as an urgent problem to be solved, Sweden put together a consortium of lenders, government officials, housing authorities, developers, and home builders at both national and local levels to work together. The result was an average of 100,000 new homes built every year between 1965 and 1974. Called the “Million Homes Programme,” it enabled Swedes to solve the housing shortage and gave birth to a revolutionary housing industry that used quality, factory-built housing.

Interestingly, Sweden tried to import this idea to the United States but, among other issues, such as the lack of uniform building codes, it was met with resistance from local labor unions. The approach merits a second look, as it could help alleviate the shortage of affordable single-family and even multi-family homes in the US. The homes built in Sweden reflected its penchant for quality workmanship and Nordic aesthetics. As your article points out, Nordic countries have the benefit of fairly homogenous populations that focus on working together to solve problems. Rather than see this as a Nordic trait, might we not see it as a model for us all? 

Paul Sedan

San Francisco

US Constitution: the vision vs. the letter

In response to Walter L. Myers’s May 26 letter responding to Sally Kohn’s April 21 & 28 commentary, “What I learned as a liberal talking head on Fox News”: Do you think that our political differences boil down to constitutionalists versus anarchists? I think that they boil down to those who understand and honor the promise and vision of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and those who can’t seem to see anything beyond a simplistic and often self-serving interpretation of their letter.

Chris Johnson 

Oakton, Va.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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