Is New York City friendly or unfriendly to developers?

While New Yorkers may think they and the city are relatively open to development, Megan McArdle argues the city is quite unfriendly to development:

Outside of the Observer’s home city, and a few similarly restrictive metro areas, the presumption is that developers should be allowed to build whatever they think will sell, subject to reasonable concerns about thinks like flammability and sewer connections.  They don’t let the neighbors tie up your project for years with tangles over landmark preservation or zoning or frivolous complaints to the building commission.  They don’t slap height limits on attractive, centrally located neighborhoods.  They don’t pass “inclusionary zoning” or affordable housing mandates forcing you to devote a certain number of your units to below-market rents.  And as a result, housing is affordable.

I am constantly surprised by the extent to which New Yorkers regard all this not only laudatory, but normal–even as they bemoan the high cost of housing.  Some of my lefty neighbors on the Upper West Side were at one point simultaneously enthusiastically supporting “affordable housing” organizations–and agitating to block construction of a new building that would ruin their lovely natural light.   Obviously, some of this is sheer hypocrisy; everyone is theoretically in favor of affordable housing, but they are also in favor of getting a high selling price for their home, and when those two conflict . . .

But as that Observer snippet suggests, much of it isn’t hypocrisy.  It’s a genuine belief that allowing any developer to build anything at all is an aggressively pro-capitalist position; allowing them to build where you live is extreme generosity.  Coupled with a genuine failure to connect all those neighborhood review boards and zoning restrictions to the fact that there don’t seem to be enough apartments to go around.

New York is probably strange in this regard considering its density and demand for expensive housing. But, McArdle also seems to suggest that most of the rest of the country doesn’t have many rules about development. Is this true? Lots of big cities as well as communities within metropolitan areas, even conservative ones, have some restrictions on development. For example, take a look at some of the debates over teardowns taking place in communities across the country. These debates aren’t just taking place in communities like New York City even as these communities take a variety of positions on how to proceed regarding teardowns.

My guess is there is a continuum of responses in metropolitan areas to development. Places like New York City and Portland, Oregon are unusual in the restrictions they have placed on development. On the other hand, not all places are like some of the more expansive Sunbelt cities that are characterized as allowing anything. It would be interesting to see such a continuum and where communities can be placedon it.

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