Neighborhoods Should Get Better

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I get that Molly Webb’s comment that “the true death knell of a happening neighborhood is an NYT trend piece” is intended to be read as a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I still find it disconcerting that there’s so much disagreement about whether neighborhoods should get better. If Midtown Village/Gayborhood gets more nice amenities, (and it should because this is, you know, Center City) we should be happy about that, and we should think about what we can do to increase the number of people and businesses who can reside there.

There’s this idea out there on the young professional side that there’s a short window between slummy discrepitude and broad popularity when a neighborhood can be considered good, and a similar version of this story on the long-time resident side that nice new public and private amenities are to be feared because they’ll lead to rising property values and higher taxes.

Both of these political attitudes are symptoms of a massive policy failure. They are signs that city government is badly mismanaging population growth.

Neighborhoods that get popular should build as much housing as people want. Rising land values should translate into increased development pressure on unused and underused properties, not exit pressure on longtime homeowners. And city government should give near neighbors a cut of the tax increment from new development, not just as a side-payment to buy support for more new construction, but as a general recognition of the principle that everyone should benefit when neighborhoods get better.

Mismanaging population growth has created a toxic politics where people fear nice new amenities and neighborhood improvements, rather than celebrating them. Many people have a perverse concept of affordable housing policy, where keeping neighborhoods affordable requires keeping out street trees and dog parks and neighborhood retail, or even keeping crime rates high, so that new people won’t want to move there.

Philadelphia’s not New York City. The housing demand curve is not flat like NYC. The number of people interested in moving to Philly is finite. There really is an option to lower market rents by building more total housing. City government can do a better job of putting the costs of more new development on vacant property owners and speculators instead of longtime homeowners, and devise creative policies like a “gentrification dividend” where near neighbors share directly and immediately in the revenue benefits of new construction and new public and private amenities.

This entry was posted in Miscellany.

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