To a large extent the power of NIMBYism springs from the right-wing tax revolt of the 1980s: Issi Romem: America’s new metropolitan landscape: Pockets of dense construction in a dormant suburban interior

Not just center city but suburban regions in NIMBY regions need to increase their density: more townhouses, more ADUs.

To a large extent the power of NIMBYism in suburban—and many truly urban—jurisdictions springs from the right-wing tax revolt of the 1980s. With property taxes capped, development ceases to be an opportunity and becomes a problem—how are we going to fund their services?—for the technocrats and the bureaucrats who manage America’s local government and infrastructure.

Their shift from being pro- to anti-development is a big part of the problem:

Issi Romem: America’s New Metropolitan Landscape: Pockets of Dense Construction in a Dormant Suburban Interior: “City planners tend to favor concentrating residential development in dense hubs because they lend themselves to service by public transit, which helps reduce the impact of new residents on emissions and traffic congestion…

…Yet this rationale for limiting densification to transit hubs and corridors amounts to acquiescing the battle for development elsewhere…. Confining development to dense hubs is a sensible approach, but it has come at a great cost. Over recent decades, America’s expensive coastal cities have slowed down their outward expansion and increasingly come to rely on residential densification within the developed footprint to accommodate the people drawn to them. Yet rather than pick up its pace, densification has become less common. As a result, residential construction in the expensive coastal cities has failed to meet demand and prevent runaway housing price appreciation, resulting in an affordability crisis…. The track record of the current paradigm–minimize metropolitan expansion and concentrate new housing in dense hubs–suggests they will keep under-producing housing in the future as well…. I am suggesting that, while cities continue to fight the battle for development in dense hubs, they also question the de facto exemption granted to low-density suburban areas from the onus to produce more housing….

In order to nurture new residential development in the dormant suburban interior, local land use policy would need to undergo a revolution. The construction industry and the financial ecosystem would need to evolve as well, and infrastructure would need to be greatly upgraded. The very first step, however, involves grasping America’s new metropolitan landscape and realizing just how much of it has gone dormant. That is where the problem is, as well as the opportunity…

April 21, 2018


Brad DeLong
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