Sunday, July 01, 2012

Professor Mitchell Moss Debates Matthew Broderick Over the Future of NYU's Expansion Plans

As the son of a NYU Professor and as an economist who is interested in land use in center cities, I have been avidly following the NY Times stories about NYU's expansion plans.    A leading Wagner School Professor named Mitchell Moss is quoted in this NY Times article.    Mitchell is a friend of mine and he is a fan of progress and he isn't afraid of standing up to the forces seeking to protect the status quo.

While Matthew Broderick (think of Ferris B. and his famous wife Sarah J. Parker) opposes the expansion plan, Professor Moss steps up and counters Broderick's celebrity wattage with this witty quote:

"“This is not the pristine Village of Sarah Jessica Parker, of ‘Sex and the City,’ of Matthew Broderick,” Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban planning at N.Y.U., bellowed, prompting hisses from the audience. “This is the future of New York, and we have to build for the future.”

In 2010, Ed Glaeser and I published a well known paper where we ranked cities with respect to their household carbon footprints.  New York City was relatively green!   Of course the Village has charm,  but in this low crime era there are large social benefits from permitting high density to take place.  

It appears to me that there is a large bargaining game taking place and "preservationists" such as Broderick have an incentive to over-state how much they suffer from NYU's plan in order to improve the counter-offer that NYU makes.  This is similar to the situation in environmental economics of how much to sue an oil company when a non-market environmental good such as a pristine Gulf of Mexico or Prince William Sound in Alaska is injured.  Valuing non-market goods is tricky and leaves a lot of room to discretion.

The NY Times should know that NYU knows that the charm of the Village is its golden goose.  While Tom Sargent, Martin Kahn and Mitchell Moss and Paul Romer and others are awesome faculty members, the real reason that young people are willing to pay $55,000 of their parents' cash to attend NYU is to live and play in the Village. If NYU's growth plan kills the "golden goose" then NYU loses!   For NYU to keep its competitive edge in private school competition it needs the Village to thrive. It knows that and the NY Times should know that.  Instead, the NY Times relishes a "David vs. Goliath" story.    But, in this case, who is David?