Research: increased resident participation in city planning produces extreme wealth segregation

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You don’t understand. The people who matter want it that way. Whose big idea was it to put a slum next to my mansion?


I live in a small liberal city with a high proportion of NIMBYish residents who are altogether too active in local government. Anecdotal, but I can attest to this. The city is in deep, deep denial about it’s serious housing issue and rent is disproportionately out of line with the population. Tell people you want to build a city-run waste treatment plant that will incinerate contaminants collected from any one of the five EPA brownsites and people freak the fuck out and will leave the ecological hazard sitting there and do nothing because they don’t want anything with the word “waste” in their backyard. (and these people are basically Hippie eco-warriors). We have a serious housing shortage and that maybe new laws maxing out the number occupants who are unrelated that can share an abode is contributing to the problem. Tell people that and you get complete silence.


So the message is that residents of a community should have input into zoning and planning new development, except when their input goes against the desires of urban planners?

This plays right into the Agenda 21 conspiracy theories,e.g. up-zoning of low-density residential land into higher density zoning


Forty years of urban planning has failed, therefore the solution is more urban planning.


Wait, I thought we were against gentrification on this blog? Now you’re arguing people participating in the decision-making process about the places they live is a bad thing because it prevents gentrification. I really don’t understand Cory’s politics sometimes.

I also thought Cory would be against disenfranchisement and FOR democracy, but apparently I was wrong about those things too.

I need to read the article and maybe the research paper, but my initial take is that this is a really stupid argument. Poor people don’t get a say in rich neighborhoods because they don’t live there. That’s no reason at all to discourage active particpation in neighborhood and city government by poor people.

Also, even if rich people didn’t use city government to prevent poor people from moving in, poor people would still not move into rich neighborhood because they cannot afford to.


In my area influential (and usually, rich) people prevent the construction of through roads in their neighborhoods, because they want to live on cul-de-sacs with no traffic. They’ll even send paid lawyers (who live locally, so they can’t be kept out) to governmental meetings to represent them, and of course the meetings are held at times and places that discourage participation by working class people.

This means all the traffic from wealthy communities has to use roads that existed before those communities were built. But unfortunately those old existing roads were mostly laid out during an era when the important traffic was huge ox-drawn wagons pulling grain from Chester County Pennsylvania to water-powered mills on the Red Clay in Delaware - so the roads are not optimal for modern traffic, and contribute to the degradation of water quality statewide by running through critical watersheds and mere inches from drinking water supplies.

So everybody loses. It’s much like the situation with charter schools - a mother wants the best for her children, so she sends them to charter school and lives in a neighborhood with no through roads. Thus her children grow up in a corrupt and degenerating system, because she wanted the best for them… it’s the tragedy of the uncommons.


Democracy can be little more than a figleaf for oligarchy.


Like most resource distribution, I think it would be better handled by using algorithms which have no bias in the outcome.

Yes, after reading the article I see the problem that Cory was getting at.

Basically, rich people democracy better than poor people. With more leisure time and greater resources, wealthier people have more freedom to form pressure groups to enforce land use restrictions or just tie up new development or permitting processes in red tape.

But over all, I think this is fine. Let the rich neighborhoods stagnate and decay. Dynamism happens in poor parts of cities where new businesses and young professionals can afford rent. Of course, that causes evil gentrification, so maybe there’s just no good answers here.

Edit: Jane Jacobs was advocating for poor folks to participate in pressure groups to prevent city governments from using eminent domain to kick the residents out of their neighborhoods and erect low income housing projects instead, which seems worthwhile. But rich folks have every bit as much of a right to participate in pressure groups to prevent city governments from using eminent domain to kick the residents out of their neighborhoods and erect low income housing projects instead.

I have this sneaking suspicion that if you prevented anyone from participating in pressure groups, that poor people would still end up getting the shaft.


But that isn’t what really happens, is it? The rich communities end up losing touch with what the real world outside of their gated communities is actually like while still maintaining the power to make decisions that effect everyone.


I guess I’ll have to do some research to be sure, but from what I can tell, most wealthy neighborhoods have only been wealthy for a few decades, not a few hundred years, so I think that may really be what happens.

I’m not saying the wealthy lose their power over all. They just sell their houses in rich neighborhoods or stop renting there. Since new businesses don’t open in rich neighborhoods and since young professionals don’t rent there, they become unfashionable so wealthy people stop moving in. So the neighborhoods they live in decline even if the (former) residents don’t become any less wealthy.

Fixed that for you.


And here I am thinking that gentrification is associated with higher rent and people being priced out of their neighborhoods. Huh, shows what I know.


Well, to be fair, depending on where you live, there may have been no city there a few hundred years ago? My entire neighborhood in North Oakland was built between 1917 and 1922. It’s stamped on all the sidewalks and various other construction.

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Yes, when people become more successful they end up having more money. WIth that money, they often rent newer properties with more amenities, or if they own, they often invest in their own properties by improving them which increases property values and therefore rents.

If you’re actually on the side of poor people, then it seems really weird to me to object to poor people becoming wealthier, which is at least a large component of what “gentrification” actually is.

So yes, a side effect of neighborhoods becoming more dynamic and successful economically is that the rents there increase – which can only happen when unemployment goes down and more people are able to afford those higher rents.

The alternative is that everyone stays exactly as poor as they are now.

You think the latter state of affairs is preferable?

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Yes, agreed, it will be hard to say whether neighborhoods are actually turning over in a lot of western US cities for a few more decades.

I’m especially interested in what happens to those single-families in San Francisco.

I’m just going to state the obvious: We’re talking about San Francisco, aren’t we? San Franciscans sure love talking about San Francisco, even when we’re talking about Manhattan.

Wealthy landowners swing an awfully big stick in this town. As they are attracted to the town by its liberal politics, they are able to represent their real estate holdings in terms that the liberal urban poor can get solidly behind: Preservation, liveability, preventing “Manhattanization,” etc. It’s “What’s The Matter with Kansas” for the liberal working class.

Much of the newly arrived job chasers in the tech world have presented exactly the argument Cory is stating here: Cities are ecologically sound, density around public transport improves this effect, and “demand” problems are solved by increasing supply. As they arrive in greater numbers, the dysfunctional state of the city becomes exaggerated to the point where it appears that working people are the problem and wealthy landowners have the solution.

It is all considerably more complicated than it appears on the surface. One thing is true however – all of the solutions from progressive to tech-libertarian will take exactly enough time for the damage to become irreversible and the city will be transformed. Fillmore, here we go again.


So do middle class landowners who own homes they bought in the seventies for a tiny fraction of what they could sell for today.

Owners at all levels want to give up resale value like they want to give up a cup or two of bone marrow.


Those 1.5 million dollar homes?