The Soup / Housing Metaphor

[Seventh in the highly unpopular "metaphor series." See also: New Orleans, Bicycling/DancingVikings stadium/Star Wars, bikes/guns, gas/pop, and NIMBY/Amtrak.]

[A booya.]
1. The soup is the entire region’s housing stock

Imagine you have just woken from a deep sleep. When you wake, it’s the middle of the morning, and you are a chef cooking a great pot of soup.

Imagine that you are in charge of the largest pot of soup you have ever seen, a pot to feed a crowd gathering in a vast room. You can tell that the people are very hungry, but your cauldron is very large, so you have hope. In a few hours the people must be fed, but the soup is before you in a huge iron cauldron, cooking on top of a giant fire. The soup is full of veggies (and/or delicious chunks of meat, depending on your dietary preferences). The soup stock is rich and tasty, and a savory smell wafts from its bubbling surface.

2. The cooking fire is the real estate market

You’re in charge of the stew, but surprisingly, you’re not in charge of the fire underneath the soup pot. Instead, the giant steaming cauldron sits on a great pile of wood and coals that have formed an impossibly hot, glowing bed of flame, flickering and gleaming in mesmerizing ways.

Meanwhile, all around you, a constantly changing energetic mix of people in sharp fashionable uniforms feed wood into the fire. They poke at it with long tongs, toss in new logs, and fan the flames. Your toes seem to be melting, yet they work at a frenzied pace that never ceases.

None of them seem speak your language, or at least, they ignore you whenever you speak. 

“The fire is fine! It’s hot enough! Leave it be!” you shout. 

One of the uniformed crew turns to you with a quizzical look. She hesitates for only a moment, before turning her back and retrieving another log for the roaring fire.

The fire gets hotter, and the stew madly boils.

3. Housing displacement is burning the bottom of the stew

The stew bubbling before you is thick and full of chunks, but they constantly sink to the bottom of the giant iron pot. The tender vegetables (and/or meat) end up resting on the bottom of the cauldron, but as the fire gets ever hotter, you smell burning. 

You imagine the bottom, the food burning into a blackening crust. With the fire growing hotter all the time, it happens more and more quickly.

4. Affordable housing policy is your giant wooden spoon

To stop the stew from burning, you stir the pot. You madly stir the pot.

The only problem? You don’t have the large wooden spatula that might be ideal for the job.

Instead, all you have is a thin wooden rod. It’s a thin stick, just long enough to reach the burning roux at the bottom of the stew, but only if you lean over the hot and steaming cauldron.

The bottom of the pot is burning. The thick stew and chunks keep burning. The smell won’t go away. It gets more intense with every passing minute. 

You grab your wooden rod, lean over the pot, and scrape the bottom again and again. You scrape it furiously in small and large circles, keeping the ingredients mixing, keeping the bottom of the pot from scalding into a black mess. 

You're failing. If only you had a better tool for the job, this would be so much easier.

5. New housing developments are the fresh food

The people are clearly hungry. You want there to be enough stew for everyone. The pot is huge, but so is the hungry crowd.

So you pour more ingredients into the stew. Behind you on a wooden platform, bags of fresh veggies are stacked. Carrots, potatoes, onions, celery (and maybe meat depending on your preferences). Every once in a while you take a break from stirring the pot, grab a bag, and pour it into the bubbling stew.

If you have time, on top of the new ingredients, you’ll add some new stock and thicken it up with some fresh gravy. But you don't have time.

6. Complicated governance is the other cooks and their recipes

As you cook the stew, you realize you’re not alone. At your left elbow, an intense woman closes in. With a serious face, she reaches out a thick arm, and adds spices and red onions into a part of the pot.

At your right elbow, a thin man appears and drops in some thyme and a big heap of pepper.

All around the stew pot, a dozen people are working around the brim. Each wears a special chef hat or color-coordinated witty apron. “New Hope Soup Squad.” “Edina Excellent Eaters.” Each of them treats a tiny portion of the soup pot as if it’s their own, adding spices but rarely anything more substantial.

Surprised, you make small talk.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Oh, this is an old family recipe. It was my grandmother’s favorite stew,” says the woman on your left, as adding a some sort of sauce into their part of the pot. She reaches into her apron pocket and pulls out a jar of salt, pouring it in.

“Actually, this is a low-sodium stew,” says the man on your right, stroking his beard. “Scientifically proven to be good for you. Believe me, I’ve been eating it for years and it’s kept me alive”

All around them a dozen people consult notebooks or talk to themselves, adding spices or garlic or different kinds of liquid. It’s all going into the same pot, but nobody seems to notice.

Meanwhile, you keep stirring with your puny wooden stick, failing to keep the bottom from burning over the intense fire.

7. The metro population are the hungry people

Behind you, the great room gets more crowded. You can tell, just from the sound of voices in the air, that people are hungry.

“When can we eat?” is the recurring refrain, spoken in a dozen languages.

You look up and see a family of five, a mother holding the hands of two of the children.  

“Just a bit longer, just wait a bit longer,” she says.

Next to her, a father bounces a baby up and down in his arms. Next to him, an old man quietly pounds his frail fist on a counter.

“I’ve been waiting here all day,” he says to nobody.

Next to him, an man in a hat chimes in.

“When I was a kid, you got your food right away, when you were hungry!” he agrees loudly.

The whole room is full of people.

“Excuse me, my child has not eaten since yesterday,” a quiet man says to you. “Can we get a little bit of soup while we wait?”

“I’m sorry,” you say. “That’s not allowed.”

The quiet man turns away.

There are dozens or hundreds or thousands of people in the room behind you, it’s hard to tell. They stand in groups or lean on the railing or camp out on the floor in the corner. A mother tucks a baby in the crook of her arm, and bounces up and down gently.

“Just a bit longer,” she says. “The soup’s almost done.”

A thousand voices fill the air. People seem patient, but you can feel the energy filling up the room, charging the spaces between the walls and coats and people.

All the while, more people are coming in through the big double doors along the far wall.

“Smells good,” says a man entering the room. “When do we eat?”

The folks who have been waiting look up. Some glare. Others return their gaze to their shoestrings.

8. Inequality is the soup line

You keep stirring, scraping and scraping the bottom of the pot with your thin stick. You manage to get a bit off each time, but you’re losing ground. There’s always more charred and burning chunks of vegetables and roux.

You stop and taste a bit of the stew. “Seems OK,” you say.

“I think it’s as good as it’ll get for now,” agrees the aproned woman to your left. “But it’s not like my grandmother made it. I don’t know what went wrong.”

“OK, let’s dish it out!” you say. Suddenly a group of people appears behind you. A team of uniformed men and women carry a big rack of bowls, spoons, and napkins. They must have been waiting for just this moment.

A woman with braids stands on a chair, and all at once the people in the room look up. She takes a deep breath and shouts in a clear, direct voice.


Along the wall, a door you didn’t see opens up. A new group of people appear, chatting and laughing with each other.

“Perfect,” says one of the new men man to the woman next to him. “I love the flavor, it’s such a deal.” 

“I don’t know, we had better soup last year," she says. “I remember when you’d get a much bigger bowl for the price.”

The people keep coming through the door, almost all of them white and well dressed. They line up and grab bowls from the table. You hear a murmuring mix of complaints and praise.

All around them, the others that have been waiting in the large room have quieted down. They watch the new line thinned lips.

“It’s OK honey, we’ll be up soon,” says the mom bouncing the baby.

The team with the bowls are using a large ladle, and each time they fill a bowl they scoop up a big helping of vegetables and spice in the broth. After about a half hour, the line starts to slow. Soon the pot is half the size.

The woman with braids gets back up on the chair.

“OK! LISTEN UP. ANYONE WITH A REGULAR TICKET, FORM A LINE TO THE LEFT.” The people seem to know what she is about to say.


The woman dismounts the chair, and makes a gesture to a young man a few feet away. He is standing by an easel along  the railing. On the easel is a big pad of paper, and flips the page to reveals a big letter “A”.

You stir the pot, as the fire roars by your feet. The soup is getting thinner, as each new bowl is filled with the vegetables (and maybe meat). It continues to burn.

You watch as a thousand people look down at once. Each is examining a piece of paper they are holding. Groans drift through the room, sinking into the floorboards. Feet shuffle.

An hour goes by. The soup is going fast. 

A hundred more people come into the room. They look hopeful.

"NOW SERVING THE LETTER C," shouts the woman.


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