Monday 9 October 2023

The NIMBY Problem

Standard drill in a lot of the urban econ lit is that governments need to pull planning up to higher levels to get around local NIMBYs. The small number of loud people with infinite time to stall local planning just don't get the same hearing if planning's decided at a regional or state-level rather than at town council. 

And there's some decent evidence for that. Auckland's Unitary Plan is more enabling than the prior underlying plans were. A pile of apartments were built because of it. 

David Foster and Joseph Warren go through a countervailing force in the Journal of Theoretical Politics.

Nimbyism is widely thought to arise from an inherent tradeoff between localism and efficiency in government: because many development projects have spatially concentrated costs and diffuse benefits, local residents naturally oppose proposed projects. But why cannot project developers (with large potential profits) compensate local residents? We argue that local regulatory institutions effectively require developers to expend resources that cannot be used to compensate residents. Not being compensated for local costs, residents therefore oppose development. Using a formal model, we show that when these transaction costs are high, voters consistently oppose development regardless of compensation from developers. But when transaction costs are low, developers provide compensation to residents and local support for development increases. We conclude that nimbyism arises from a bargaining problem between developers and local residents, not the relationship between local decision-making and the spatial structure of costs and benefits. We suggest policy reforms implied by this theory.

Ben Southwood goes through it here, arguing that when NIMBYs can't be paid off at the margin, they instead aim to wreck everything: throw so much sand into every set of gears that nobody can ever build anything anywhere because building is just too hard. 

I've liked the idea of giving councils a share of the upside that central government enjoys when councils facilitate growth, so that councils can both find ways of dealing with costs they have to face in facilitating growth, and so they have the resources to provide whatever local amenity improvements are needed to overcome local opposition. 

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