The Gated City (Kindle Single) Kindle Edition
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Using a series of examples, the argument is put forth that dense cities are good for both human and economic progress, that market forces should be allowed to work, and that NIMBY instincts are ultimately counter-productive. In the short section presenting possible solutions, the author highlights strengthening urban property rights, building "alternative downtowns", and compromising with anti-development forces by offering new connections to mass transit systems.
This is a sensible persuasive piece, the kind of compassionate libertarianism you might expect to read on a particularly good blog. It would have been improved if the author had gotten to the point a bit faster, but it is an argument worth considering.
In short, it is a great look at the effects of NIMBYism that are not only causing a resegregation of America's most productive and desirable cities but driving down national prosperity in the aggregate as well. Avent examines in detail the networking/clustering effect that cities have for highly innovative and productive industries and that this leads to high wages, not only for the highly skilled workers but also for all the service workers who support them as well. He then links the high rent in places like San Fran and other preeminent coastal cities to zoning restrictions that stifle dense development and thus lock out less than affluent workers who then loose the boost to their wages that the city would otherwise provide. He makes it clear that the NIMBY attitudes and movements are often explicitly exclusionary, sometimes for good reasons, most of the time not so good reasons but that without dynamism and density opportunity for millions is being removed.
Crucially he ties that phenomenon with the growth of Sunbelt cities like Phoenix, Vegas, Atlanta et. al. that having picked up the slack and provided lots of cheap housing for the millions of lower wage earners who can't afford rent in the cities and want to avoid long commutes. However, they are essentially going to poorer places that have lower productivity and in the long run are losing even more money than if they put up with high rent and/or long commutes and that nationally we are losing out big time, maybe even several tenths of percentage points of growth per year.
When looking at policy prescriptions for what ails us, you often hear about tax reform, lower regulatory burdens, better schools etc. But i think a powerful case has been made here that getting more people into our best cities may be some of the lowest economic fruit still hanging on the tree if we are only willing to remove NIMBY attitudes or at least limit them. Everyone will be better off in the long run.
NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitudes held by long time residents of urban areas restrict the implementation of affordable housing, increase the cost and as a result the price of new homes in areas like New York City. Home prices then soar into the stratosphere pricing out young, energetic singles and families that tend to be the source of innovations. These families tend to leave high priced urban areas and move to areas where home prices are affordable and jobs that pay decent salaries (even if lower than the urban areas they moved from) are available.
So families are moving to the sun belt not primarily for the nicer weather than where they came from, but rather, they can afford a single family, detached home to call their own. As a result, dense urban areas are losing their intellectual and educational wealth to less dense areas that foster less innovation than the city environment.
The above is just a snippet of Ryan's thesis which is built up slowly and thoughtfully as the book progresses along.
My Personal Thoughts:
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Can't even walk down the street I grew up on. It's way too dangerous now even in daytime. Nighttime is a nightmare. I now live in a beautiful, safe, suburban community with my family in California. Home prices are only one of the reasons people abandon the cities.
The Gated City is an interesting read and was worth my time reading and considering carefully what Ryan had to say. Especially since I left dense city living and moved to a far less dense suburban environment.