In defense of NIMBYs – the rights of municipalities to map their own futures….

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Sometimes I venture into the blogosphere of politics…OK – I’ll admit it – I’m a political junkie but there are worse faults a real estate agent could have – so please don’t hold it against me.  I guess I get some of this fascination with local governance from my late mother who was involved in our local political scene for decades.  She foresaw the trend of the shifting burden of the tax base from corporate entities to individuals 15 years  before retroactive Certioaris flattened much of the New York tax base like a pancake.

But I digress…

Matt Yglesias  wrote a post on the need for moderate priced housing in the DC area and suggested rezoning to allow for greater density.  This set off a wave of responses including some rather typical “NIMBY” comments and cautionary tales about how zoning changes may not result in the desired moderate priced housing.

“Not In My Back Yard”

NIMBY is an acronym for “not in my back yard.”  It is  generally is a derogatory term used for retired busy-bodies who fight such laudable causes as affordable housing, cluster housing and increased density in their neighborhoods.  NIMBY’s stand in the way of progress.  Even the tinniest whiff of a new development  seeking permits is supposed to bring out swarms of  fear mongering NIMBYS –  each looking for any roadblock no matter how trivial to throw in the way of true “progress.”

Dreaming like a developer…

During the boom, developers created their own swarm and descended into cities like mine  (White Plains NY) in an effort to “revitalize” the downtown areas.  They sought to imprint  “their vision” on these cities.   Such visions generally involved a mechanism that maximized profit with significantly higher density and high-end housing.  They asked for variances to increase “air rights” and pack more people into a smaller space.  These concessions to zoning were often accompanied by tax abatements and numerous other sweetheart deals.   These projects were sold to the public with the idea that they would “gentrify” the area and result in lower taxes for all.

The sad fact is that once you added in the tax breaks, the infrastructure changes including sewage, drainage, upgrades to the electrical grid, police,fire, schools you name it – many of  these projects became  money and resource sinks.  Residents fumed as their taxes rose ever higher and the resources they once enjoyed were diverted to these urban hubs because “the downtown needed it.”

Small wonder that new developers with new “visions” for these cities were often greeted by the citizenry like the skunk at a garden party.  Their visions were granted them often at the expense of those who had spent years paying taxes and making these locations desirable destinations.

Gentrification vs displacement…

Gentrification is often a euphemism for displacement.  As the wealthy move in, the demands for more services that they are accustomed can become a bottomless pit of expense.  In the past no one thought of leaving the restaurants open past midnight…but now – everything is open till 2 AM.  People are still out at 4 AM on the weekends.  That means overtime for police, fire and others involved in keeping the peace -further increasing the tax bite on all concerned.

More high-end restaurants and stores causes rents to rise squeezing out the Mom & Pop merchants that have been around for several generations. Many who had been looking to that new population as boon to business soon find themselves out of business and applying for work at Walmart.   High-end boutiques or big-box brands replace the locals until the urban hub is unrecognizable to anyone who had been away for just a year or two.   Residential rents rise to impossible levels displacing families who have lived there for years.

NIMBYs have their place….

This type of “progress” is generally not what the local residents of a previously stable community had in mind.  Certainly they are sold a different vision of the future. Often it takes some agitators (NIMBY’s)  to bring reality back to the city governments and push back against “progress” that acts contrary to the public good…that is the public who actually lives and pays taxes in the community.

So bad mouth the NIMBYs all you want.  And if you really want them to go away ….be careful what you wish for – you just might get it.

© 2011 – RMGHicks – – All rights reserved.

In defense of NIMBYs – the rights of municipalities to map their own futures….

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