Tuesday, March 13, 2018

When the NIMBYs were primarily motivated by racism and class bigotry, there was no NIMBY backlash.

We've commented before that much of the discussion of urban density, particularly on the advocates' side, tends to be overly simplistic and inappropriately moralistic. This last point is greatly complicated by the fact that historically the motivations for NIMBYism were more often than not pretty repugnant. Opposition to public transportation, low-cost housing, and integration of neighborhoods was based almost entirely on the desire to keep people of color and the poor as far away as possible.

These issues haven't gone away, of course – – try to add another subway stop in Beverly Hills and check out the response you get – – but the NIMBY/YIMBY conflict that makes the news and dominates the public discourse here in Los Angeles (and, I suspect, in the Bay Area as well) has very little racial and class component.

At best, the battle over Santa Monica is a struggle between the top decile and the top quartile. Sometimes, there's not even that much of a class distinction. To be hammer blunt, you have a bunch of well-off people who enjoy the fantastic weather and bland conspicuous consumption of the town and who don't want other well-off people coming in and clogging the place up.

Advocates generally argue that development will drive down prices both in the city of Santa Monica and in the county of Los Angeles. I'm skeptical. While I'm not saying this is a bad approach in general, the arguments I've seen so far seem simplistic and overly linear, and the proposed impacts wildly overoptimistic. I could easily be wrong on these questions but either way, this is not a moral argument and framing it in moralistic terms simply serves to cloud the issues.

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