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The NIMBY Impact On Sprawl

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For growing urban areas, growth creates benefits for the entire urban area. This is especially true for transit-oriented development and efforts to create walkable, inviting urban areas.

But the cost of that growth is often borne primarily by current residents of the neighborhoods where the growth occurs. When these residents cannot see the full benefits that accrue to the city as a whole, they resist the addition of new residents.

It is this resistance that is explored in the Aug. 24, 2009, report, "Urban Growth Externalities and Neighborhood Incentives: Another Cause of Urban Sprawl?" by Matthias Cinyabuguma and Virginia McConnell.

"The result [of this resistance] is that existing residents have an incentive to block new residents to their neighborhoods, resulting in cities that are less dense than is optimal, or too sprawling," the authors conclude.

And this effect is felt in cities with fixed boundaries and those where boundary expansion is possible.

"We show that in both cases the city will tend to be larger and less dense than is optimal," the authors note.

The authors study the effectiveness of impact fees to redistribute the cost of necessary infrastructure upgrades but conclude these are unlikely to be large enough to have the desired impact.

"The problem of existing residents objecting to and attempting to block new development is always cited as one of the biggest, if not the biggest obstacle to higher density development in urban areas," the authors conclude. "This model takes a first step in considering effective policies for dealing with this issue."

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