Ryan Avent savages liberal NIMBYism in his masterful post yesterday. While he focuses on examples in Massachusetts and New York City, I think if you extrapolate to Tree Town he also beautifully captures what is wrong with NIMBY organizations like the Germantown Neighborhood Association and their shills on Ann Arbor City Council. The city’s policies have consistently kept rents high in the interest of the city’s slumlords and NIMBYist property owners. It is unclear to me why the city continues to shovel money into affordable housing when the rest of its zoning and development policy acts is designed to inflate rents and property values beyond the reach of low income people.
Forget the economic benefits to the city, the people occupying the new housing units would have carbon footprints dramatically below the national average. But this basically does not matter to the NIMBYs however much they profess to care about the environment.
To the extent that public opinion matters and can be shaped, I think it would be a huge boon for humanity for attitudes toward NIMBYism to turn decidedly negative. People should be ashamed of this behavior, which is both selfish and extravagantly dismissive of property rights.
Ed Glaeser has applied these arguments repeatedly to the context of northern California, potentially one of the most carbon-neutral place in the US (because of its climate) and one of the most productive (due to Silicon Valley). Easing new development in the Bay Area would be one of the best things we could do for our economy and our environment, but NIMBY property owners there have stymied it for decades.
Of course it’s selfish — for wealthy liberals who are also homeowners, property values trump environmental politics every time. It’s as true in the People’s Republic of Ann Arbor as it is in NYC. This is a symptom of a bigger policy problem, which is our national obsession with homeownership. I would wager Detroit’s rates of homeownership in the 1960s, the highest in the country at that time, was a major contributor to that city’s collapse in the following decade. Homeownership has pernicious side effects beyond those for individual homeowners, and one of those is NIMBYism.
As I’ve noted before, the silver lining in this is that as people continue to be priced out of places like NYC, Ann Arbor and the San Francisco Bay Area, it will hopefully generate spillover for places like Detroit (for young artists) and Ypsilanti (for students and faculty who can’t afford Ann Arbor).