Can neighbors act respectfully toward a nearby teardown McMansion owner?

McMansions constructed in established neighborhoods can draw the ire of neighbors but one resident of Frederick, Maryland suggests civility should win the day:

As for the Magnolia Avenue controversy, the proposed house to be built is certainly not a mass-built, PUD-style “McMansion.” I believe it is just like the one being built near West Second Street and College. I walked down Magnolia the other day and there are numerous, very nice modifications to existing homes that I believe are inconsistent with the original architecture and a couple of houses that have been remodeled that don’t look like others there. I don’t think those modifications would have been allowed if this neighborhood were in the historical preservation area. I think the Artises’ home will be a great asset to the neighborhood. But now is not the time to restrict the Artises’ property rights after they made a significant financial decision based on existing laws and regulations.

I have met the Artis family. They are really nice people, and I believe any neighborhood would love to have them as their neighbor. Regardless of how this all turns out, I hope that we all remember that this is about a family more than it is about a house, and that our comments and discussions should remain kind and respectful — because we may be getting some nice new neighbors soon. We can’t just roll up the sidewalks once we move in and not allow anyone else in.

Granted, this resident is in favor of property rights and does not seem to mind the particular proposed home. But, the larger question is intriguing: is a McMansion next door or down the street worth incivility for years or a lifetime? The examples cited in the media – such as neighbors suing each other or consistently bringing the issue to the local government – suggest this is hard to do. Many would feel strongly if their immediate surroundings were impacted in a way that they felt was (1) negative and harmful as well as (2) unnecessary. Some would say that the teardown McMansion infringes on their quality of life and finances. They would suggest their anger and actions are justified.

At the same time, there are thousands of teardowns across the United States each year. How do the neighbors treat each other? Do they welcome the new homeowner to the neighborhood? If they dislike the new home, is there a frostiness that lasts a long time or does it eventually thaw? (For example, would someone deny their kid the chance to play with the kid in the new McMansion?) Perhaps the real answer is that many communities do not have thriving local social interactions to start with so the teardown issues do not matter much in the long run.

For more background on this particular case in Frederick, read here.

Why don’t we collect data to see whether we have become more rude or uncivil rather than rely on anecdotes?

NPR ran a story the other day about how American culture is becoming more casual and less polite. This is not an uncommon story: every so often, different news organizations will run something similar, often focusing on the decreasing use of manners like saying “please” and “you’re welcome.” Here is the main problem I have with these articles: what kind of data could we look at to evaluate this argument? These stories tend to rely on experts who provide anecdotal evidence or their own interpretation. In this piece, these are the three experts: “a psychiatrist and blogger,” “a sophomore at the College of Charleston — in the South Carolina city that is often cited as one of the most courteous in the country,” and “etiquette maven Cindy Post Senning, a director of the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt.”

There is one data point cited in this story:

Research backs up Smith’s anecdotal observations. In 2011, some 76 percent of people surveyed by Rasmussen Reports said Americans are becoming more rude and less civil.

Interestingly, this statistic is about perceptions. Perceptions may be more important than reality in many social situations. But I could imagine another scenario about these perceptions: older generations tend to think that younger generations (often their children and grandchildren?) are less mannered and don’t care as much about social etiquette. As this story suggests, perhaps the manners are simply changing – instead of saying “you’re welcome,” younger people give the dreaded “sure.”

There has to be some way to measure this. It would be nice to do this online or in social media but the problem is that face-to-face rules don’t apply there. Perhaps someone has recorded interactions at McDonald’s or Walmart registers? In whatever setting a researcher chooses, you would want to observe a broad range of people to look for patterns by age, occupation, gender, race, education level (though some of this would have to come through survey or interview data with the people being observed).

In my call for data, I am not disagreeing with the idea that traditional manners and civility have decreased. I just want to see data that suggests this rather than anecdotes and observations from a few people.

A picture of civility

Carolyn Wright over at Photo Attorney has some good reminders for copyright owners who are contemplating filing lawsuits against infringers:

While most photographers will contact an infringer either directly or through an attorney to attempt to resolve an infringement claim before filing suit, the law doesn’t require it. Instead, you may file your copyright infringement lawsuit immediately after finding the infringement without ever contacting the infringer.  But it’s usually best to first contact an infringer for a variety of reasons…. [emphasis added]

Carolyn cites the expense of litigation, needless escalation of conflict, alienation of a former/future client, and (potentially) mistaken accusation as reasons to talk to a suspected infringer before filing a lawsuit.

As in so many areas of life and law, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.  An overly litigious, scorched-earth approach to copyright enforcement rarely results in good outcomes, even (especially?) for copyright owners.

I applaud Carolyn’s civil approach to resolving copyright conflicts.  I can only wish that everyone took her talk-first, file-later approach.