Saturday, 25 May 2019

Are NIMBYs killing your city?

We've been told - are still being told - that the big city is the future. From the proponents of agglomeration theory to advocates of green economics, the dominant argument is that we need to pile everybody up in rabbit hutches. This is either to save the planet or else because such cramming will give them access to many more shiny experiences under the fabulous city lights.

The thing is that, as they get to the point of wanting to settle down (how dare they want to give up on the endlessly unfulfilling lifestyle of the big city), maybe have a family, the sheer expense and inconvenience - yes inconvenience - of city life (plus its noise, dirt and crime) switches a switch in folks' minds. Move to the suburbs it says. Buy a house with a decent sized yard (or garden if you're civilised). Get near some good schools. Spread out a bit.

As the evidence tells us:
By contrast, the biggest winner is Houston, a region many plan­ners and urban theorists regard with contempt. The Bayou City gained nearly 15,000 millennials (net) last year, while other big gain­ers included Dallas–Fort Worth and Austin, which gained 12,700 and 9,000, respectively. The other top metros for millennials includ­ed Charlotte, Phoenix, and Nashville, as well as four relatively ex­pensive areas: Seattle, Denver, Portland, and Riverside–San Bernardino. The top twenty magnets include midwestern locales such as Minneapolis–St. Paul, Columbus, and Kansas City, all areas where average house prices, adjusted for incomes, are at least 50 percent lower than in California, and at least one-third less than in New York.
And the same goes for the UK as the Centre for Towns recently mapped - leaving aside the churn to other large cities, the move out from London into its suburbia is accelerating. Some of this - Canterbury, Thanet, Tendring, Colchester - is a long old haul if you're going to commute back into the big city but people are moving there, leaping the under-developed and over-priced green belt areas and populating places previously seen as too far to travel from.

We have to find a way to ensure that we are protecting the things we care about - community identity, heritage, wildlife and environment - while allowing for people to escape the trap of the city and the city's rent. Suburbia is much maligned but it is not less 'green' than a dense city and it offers other things - calm, tranquillity, community and child-friendliness - that the big city doesn't offer. If, like most people, you eat out occasionally (and at a selection of two of three preferred places), visit the theatre or cinema two or three times a year and museums or galleries once in a flood, then the supposed advantages of the city diminish besides the desire for safe streets, places to play, god schools and, above all this, a home with a garden.

Right now, supposedly for the sake of 'open' countryside, we are allowing the NIMBYs to kill your city. From being places populated by the full range of economic classes, cities are increasingly places where only the richest and the poorest live - in the USA the most unequal places aren't in Trump-voting flyover country but in the great progressive cities, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, New York. The ordinary middle classes - teachers, nurses, firemen, cops as well as the clerks and administrators - can no longer afford to live in the city and social housing, such as it exists, is filled (quite rightly) with the least well-off, minimum wage earners and the vulnerable.

Despite this progressive (as well as conservative) city leaders still pretend that this inequality can be resolved without new suburbs - listen to Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester:
“Whilst it is not possible to develop an ambitious 20-year plan for Greater Manchester without losing green space, it is clear that many communities feel strongly that the plan as currently drafted is unfair and disproportionate.

“As a result, it could diminish quality of life in some communities and restrict people’s access to good air and green space. The plan needs to be rebalanced to respond to these concerns and demonstrate a commitment to sustainable development.”
The NIMBYs have won - build more densely, pile up people into the sky, cram cheap housing onto former industrial sites, anything but allow new suburbs, new places for a new generation to breathe more freely, escape the harshness of the city and bring up a new generation.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

This sits oddly with the evidence of a long term decline in global population dose it Not?