Saturday, March 02, 2013

Are Green Cities Elitist?

What do cities such as Boston, Boulder, CO, New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland and London have in common?   These green cities are aesthetically pleasing and housing is quite expensive.  What happens to the urban poor and middle class in such cities?  Did the incumbent land owners in such cities intentionally pursue "green city" policies to simultaneously improve their city's quality of life and to gentrify their city in order to shape who their neighbors would be?  I believe that the answer to this question is "yes" but this is difficult to conclusively demonstrate.  You can read my 2011 Journal of Urban Economics or my 2010 Journal of Housing Economics paper on this broad subject.

A similar dynamic is now playing out in Africa in Nigeria's mega city Lagos.   Here is a good quote from the NY Times Article: 

"Under Lagos’s energetic governor, much lauded in the international financial media, this crowded megalopolis of high rises, filthy lagoons, fierce traffic jams and sprawling slums, home to perhaps 21 million people, has proclaimed its ambition to become the region’s, if not Africa’s, premier business center.
Infrastructure and housing projects abound, including a light-rail network whose trestles already vault crowded neighborhoods, and a vast upmarket Dubai-style shopping and housing development built out into the Atlantic Ocean, inaugurated last week by former President Bill Clinton. A new Porsche dealership has opened in the financial district.
In this gleaming vision, the old Lagos of slums has an uncertain future. Two-thirds of the city’s residents live in “informal” neighborhoods, as activists call them, while more than one million of the city’s poor have been forcibly ejected from their homes in largely unannounced, government slum clearances over the last 15 years, a leading activist group says.

The government is clearing slum land, evicting the poor squatters and erecting new shiny skyscrapers.  This is  progress but is it fair?  What will become of the squatters?  What is the intent of the government?  Did these squatters have de facto property rights to the land?     Will these individuals gain better employment opportunities as the shiny city is built?  What happened to the Coase Theorem here?

We need longitudinal data to trace out how the urban poor's residence location, work location and income dynamics are affected by urban gentrification.