Hyperlocal control is unlikely to be better than local control

Hoo buddy I have *thoughts* on street-by-street zoning. A new paper from John Myers, Co-founder, London YIMBY touts “polycentric, bottom-up regulation of land use.” Who wouldn’t like that? 

But as I pointed out recently, since local control sounds great in theory, but ends up being terrible in practice it stands to reason that hyperlocal control will be worse. 

Tyler Cowen seems to think it would help by giving homeowners a direct incentive to involve themselves in land-use decisions. First, homeowners already have a direct incentive to involve themselves in land-use decisions. It’s called homeownership. It’s precisely because they believe land-use decisions will impact their quality of life and property values that they are currently so involved in land-use decisions. The fact that the Multnomah Neighborhood Association raised $70,000 from affluent homeowners to block new middle-income housing and in SF wealthy homeowners donated more than $100,000 to sue to block a new homeless shelter indicates that homeowners are quite incentivized to involve themselves in land-use decisions. 

Cowen hopes developers would have an easier time swaying local communities than a city-wide board. San Francisco actually has just this situation. While most cities grant permits by-right, in SF every developer has to get every neighborhood’s approval before they can build. The result is no building in the richest, whitest parts of town. 

Cowen does see possible downsides, including “that the street-level community meetings will involve so much debate that neighbors will come away with hard feelings for each other, leading to local enmity rather than community,” Cowen writes. 

Like when wealthy homeowners literally shouted down SF Mayor London Breed and screamed that homeless people are diseased, drug addicts, and criminals at a community input meeting on the proposed shelter? One wonders whether Cowen has ever been to a public fight between NIMBYs and YIMBYs. Shit ain’t pretty. 


  1. Learning that you disagree strongly with your neighbors about the future character of the neighborhood is an incentive to vote with your feet. And recognizing that a community full of affluent, employed, married parents has different needs than a community full of welfare-dependent, unemployed single parents or retired empty-nesters is merely recognizing minorities’ right to self-determination.
    How can you even entertain the hypothesis that a powerful collective running roughshod over the wants and desires of local residents is preferable to the local residents maintaining control of their property and their neighborhood? How can you condemn “rich, white” neighborhoods for blocking projects on one side and then point to Multnomah raising $70,000 as an example of positive community involvement?
    The notion that a centralized government knows better than local people what is good for them leads to things

    • cathyreisenwitz

      Multnomah raising $70,000 is an example of extremely negative community involvement. Sorry I didn’t write that more clearly. I completely agree that people who don’t like what their neighbors are doing/building should absolutely vote with their feet and move. Don’t abridge others’ property rights to enforce your own preferences.

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