Will Minneapolis NIMBYs Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?

A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 18 2012 2:20 PM

Will Minneapolis NIMBYs Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?

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Mayor RT Rybak of Minneapolis

Photograph by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images.

The official position of Moneybox is that you should move to Minneapolis so we take a keen interest in developments in the Twin Cities. A correspondent recently sent me this account of neighborhood opposition to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's insidious vision of people moving to the city and living in new homes that have been constructed for the purposes of accommoding rising demand with increased supply rather than higher prices:

"I think there's a value in the city that we respect the single-family residential community," said Bob Corrick, who chairs the land use committee of a neighborhood group that has been sparring for years with developers who want to put more high-rise housing on the north end of Lake Calhoun. [...]
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But at Nicollet and Lake, where city leaders hope to relocate Kmart and run streetcars on a reconnected Nicollet Avenue, tension seems inevitable. Erica Christ, president of the Whittier Alliance Board of Directors, is talking with residents about what kind of dense housing they would tolerate. "The neighborhood will object to anything that's over four stories," she said.

With all due respect to Corrick, the question in a case like this shouldn't be "is there a value" but what is the value. I have, right now, a third-generation iPad. There would undeniably be a value in upgrading it to a fourth-generation iPad. But the lowest end fourth-generation iPad costs about $500. So my view is that while there'd be value in upgrading, it's not worth what it would cost.

One thing Corrick's neighborhood group could do is look at the land they don't want to see developed and buy it, thus leaving them free to do what they want with it. But they don't want to do that, presumably because eventhough there's "a value" in getting their way it's less than the value of using the land for higher-density construction. What they want to do instead is get the city government to block the high-density construction, because that way the cost is spread across the entire population of Minneapolis in the form of foregone tax revenue. And it's very natural for them to want to do that. That's why Erica Christ also wants to do it. But if each NIMBY group gets its way, then the "push the costs onto other people" plan becomes self-defeating. Others bear the costs of your NIMBY actions, but you bear the costs of their NIMBY actions. What's needed is a citywide institutional framework that leads to a less-dysfunctional outcome where valuable projects are allowed to go forward.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.