Best of the rest: Superstar cities and NIMBYs

  • Best of the web
  • Wednesday 19 April : 10:04

People pass the skyline of Singapore's central business district on April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

How landlords maintain their grip on the world's biggest cities - and all the best land and property rights stories from across the web

So many of the world's most important land and property rights stories are taking place in the heart of the world's largest cities. Those who own land and property there are in a unique position to profit as cities swell - while the rest of us find city living increasingly tough and expensive.

In an extract from his new book 'The New Urban Crisis' published this week in The Atlantic, Professor Richard Florida, urban theorist at the University of Toronto, singles out the biggest cities where this divide between property-owners and the property-less is widening to chasm unseen anywhere else.

In these "superstar cities", as Florida calls them, such as New York, London, and Paris, wealth and opportunities cluster together - but not everyone is invited to share:

"The astronomical real-estate prices of superstar cities—and the staggering gap between these prices and those of most everywhere else—are the product of the underlying motor of capitalist development: a clustering force that pulls people and resources together. Two key things cluster in cities. First, and most obviously, is firms and industries. Big, populous cities develop thriving industry clusters, like finance in New York and London, movies in LA, fashion in Milan and Paris, and technology in the Bay Area. Even more importantly, skilled and ambitious people cluster in cities."

"But this process generates another force that operates in the other direction: While clustering drives growth, it also increases the competition for limited urban space. The more things cluster in a city; the more expensive its land gets. The more expensive land and housing prices become, the more people and businesses get pushed out."

According to Florida, this "land crunch" is not inevitable: it is caused and maintained by the efforts of urban landlords and homeowners who restrict what gets built, in order to keep the prices of their own real-estate assets high. NIMBYs - an acronym for “not-in-my-back-yard” - are city-dwellers who have historically argued against development to keep “bad” things, like prisons or waste-treatment plants, out of their own desirable neighborhoods.

But it's no longer about about blocking the "bad" - Florida argues - so much as blocking any expansion of housing supply that would threaten their greatest asset: the homes and land they own.

There's no shortage of debate on Twitter, where critics say Florida is over-simplifying the complexities of urban development. Give it a read and see if you agree.

And watch out for our film on Rio de Janeiro and the human cost of a city's growth. On Monday, we'll be releasing the video exclusively and hosting a Facebook Live conversation with the director.

- Matthew Ponsford

Discover more top stories from around the web this week. Have we missed anything? Tweet me @mjponsford or email place@thomsonreuters.com.

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