The Real Deal New York

NIMBYs “impose cost” on New York: Krugman

Liberal economist sides with industry and de Blasio on density

February 19, 2016 10:01AM
By Konrad Putzier

Paul Krugman and a rendering of Fortis' planned development at the former LICH site in Long Island City

Paul Krugman and a rendering of Fortis’ planned development at the former LICH site in Long Island City

Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman is known as a vocal champion of the left. But that doesn’t mean he can’t side with the real estate industry – at least on the issue of density.

“New York City doesn’t have to be as expensive as it is,” he said at a talk with mayor Bill de Blasio hosted by the City University of New York Thursday night. “It is possible to build higher.”

Krugman, who writes a regular column in the New York Times and has come out in favor of density in the past, went on to bash the city’s NIMBYs. He argued that those who resist higher density are “imposing a cost on the rest of New York” by constraining housing supply, which ultimately pushes up its cost, hits low-income families hardest and aggravates inequality.

NIMBYism – an acronym for “not in my back yard” – is a dismissive term for neighborhood activists who oppose high-rise construction to keep an area’s character intact. In New York, NIMBY activists have historically held great sway through local community boards, which the city has to consult for zoning changes.

To Krugman, NIMBYism is a national problem. “What you see is that there’s a peculiar and fundamentally dysfunctional dynamic, which is the population doesn’t flow from low-productivity to high-productivity parts of the country – it’s the reverse,” he said. In other words: young people aren’t moving to cities like New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C. or Boston at the rates they should. Restrictive zoning that makes housing in big coastal cities unaffordable is partially to blame, he implied.

Unsurprisingly, de Blasio agreed. The mayor is currently trying to push a zoning plan through city council that would allow developers to build higher in some neighborhoods in return for affordability concessions.

“To be real with people: we are going to need a certain amount of height and density” to create affordable housing, de Blasio said, criticizing New Yorkers who support liberal policies on a city-wide level but oppose the creation of affordable housing through density in their own neighborhoods.

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