The West’s homescapes are shifting

2020 has redefined what many call ‘home.’

 

“Home” is our focus this month — how shelter and connection to place define our lives and the lives of the people around us. This feels especially compelling right now, with a global pandemic forcing us to stay inside, or perhaps, if we’re essential workers, to live away from home.

Lissette Lopez rides her bike in the strong wind that blows in her neighborhood in Salton City, near California’s Salton Sea.
Mette Lampcov/High Country News

2020 has shifted our idea of what makes a home. It used to be that the list of necessary rooms included kitchen, bathroom, bedroom. You can add “office” to that now. Thanks to ubiquitous Zoom meetings and television shows, we’ve all become voyeurs, peeking inside the homes of others, checking out their books or beds or kitchens as they work, intimate yet far away. The freedom to work remotely has had serious economic consequences, which we break down in our Facts & Figures department. Check out the eye-popping numbers that accompany the urbanites fleeing to small Western communities, creating new boom towns, now called Zoom towns. This mass migration has driven home prices so high you’ll think we misprinted the numbers. We didn’t.

Our feature this month looks at an offshoot of this phenomenon: What happens when wealthy second-home owners try to change the politics of a place with their dollars? Nick Bowlin tells the epic tale of a recent election in Gunnison County, Colorado, where disgruntled second-home owners fought back after county officials asked them to leave when COVID-19 came to town. It’s an examination not just of how far money can take you, but of what makes a community, what causes us to call a place “home.”

In “What Works,” we hear about the rogue constables of Pima County in Arizona, led by Kristen Randall, who put away gun and badge and just started talking to people she was supposed to evict in Tucson. Two colleagues joined her, and the trio helped people stay in their homes and even saved the county money. Now the rebel constables are hoping their method can inspire other communities.

Katherine Lanpher, interim editor-in-chief

Lastly, meet Kimberly Myra Mitchell, the winner of this year’s Bell Prize, the essay contest for young writers that celebrates High Country News’ founder, Tom Bell. In her work as a wildland firefighter, she found an unexpected balm for her grief over her father’s death, a reminder that, no matter what happens, we still carry our people — our true homes — with us.

From our homes to yours, we wish you a good 2021.

Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

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