04/07/2014 09:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

More Housing in NYC Can Change National and Global Politics

This post is part of an ongoing series describing the MORE NYC plan to use the massive expansion of housing in NYC to address economic, social and environmental challenges.

A massive program of expanding housing in New York City can, as I've argued in this series of posts, decrease inequality in that City while expanding jobs and helping fight climate change. However, beyond the impact on the climate, those inside and outside NYC should recognize the national political impact such a program would have.

MORENYC has the potential to have a high impact across the issues of importance to progressives, while increasing the political strength of progressives as a political force as well. It also has the virtue of not needing to overcome filibusters in the U.S. Senate to have that impact and is ultimately incremental:  smaller victories will still lead to incremental gains, which can build broader support for expanding the program.

Building An Alliance, Not Just a Coalition:  First MORE NYC could be a model for how to build long-term alliances at the local level that can have broad impact. Too many multi-constituency efforts build only weak and/or short-term coalitions, largely because they concentrate on goals that are either only peripheral to the interests of one or more parts of the coalition or the gains are themselves are short-term.  In this case, the goals of MORE NYC will serve the core interests of each of the major potential coalition partners - building housing by housing advocates, expanding good union jobs for labor members, and having a large-scale impact on climate change for environmental partners. 

And since the payoffs from the program will unfold and need to be sustained over decades, this will build a strong, multi-decade alliance that will also pull in other constituencies benefitting from the fiscal and other related gains from expanding residential construction in the City.   That long-term alliance will be a platform for a wide-range of other progressive activism in the City and serve as a model for other progressive alliances around the country.

Expanding Progressive Voting Power by Moving Voters to Progressive Districts: Zoning in progressive areas like New York City, San Francisco and other traditional liberal areas has essentially made the growth of voting power in the most conservative areas inevitable. Edward Glaeser has observed: "the fastest growing places in the United States--Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix--are growing not because of high wages and temperate climates but because their governments are friendlier to new development than older communities in California and the Northeast. The path of America's future is being determined by the whims of local zoning boards that don't want more people living in their highly productive, pleasant communities."

Expanding the residential population of New York City will help reverse that flow and expand the number of progressive legislators in its state and the federal government.   This is not just a matter of adding a bit of population to already progressive legislative districts; moving people from sprawl to urban density (or vice versa) seems to change their inherent political leanings.   One analyst found that population density has been one of the sharpest determinations of voting tendencies in recent years: where population density was less than 105 persons/per square mile, sixty percent voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, where population was more than 1950 people per square mile, two-thirds voted for Obama.

Notably, even in supposed "Red States", progressives dominate cities, although there are usually just fewer of them, with a far larger proportion of the population living in sprawl. Additionally, studies show that long commutes reduce political engagement by voters, particularly among the poor, so providing more affordable housing in the core of the City nearer their jobs will create not just more residents but more political engagement by people likely to support progressive policies.

New York City Can be a Model for Other U.S. and Global Cities:  By embracing expanding its population, New York can be a model for other U.S. cities and fundamentally change the national and even global conversation on how progressive control of cities can drive greater access to affordable housing, better jobs and a bottom-up urban-led fight against climate change.  And if climate change is going to be stopped, it will be driven by changes and expansion of urban living around the world.  Right now, cities add 65 million people each year, with India alone projected to add nearly 300 million new city dwellers by 2030.

Too many of those cities around the world currently embrace low-density rules that undermine their environmental sustainability.   New York City retains an iconic status such that its adoption of a higher-density, sustainable growth program could have a global impact on urban development worldwide.

Read the whole MORE NYC plan here

Sign the petition to Mayor De Blasio in support of the plan

Past MORE NYC posts:

  • How an Alliance to Massively Expand Housing in NYC Can Fight Climate Change, Make Housing Affordable, Create Good Jobs and Fund Social Needs for all New Yorkers

  • Context: Why Housing Costs are So High in New York CIty

  • How Inclusionary Zoning Fees Can Produce Millions of Affordable Housing Units for NYC

  • Expanding Housing Can Produce Hundreds of Thousands of Jobs Across NYC

  • Want to Fight Climate Change? Add Lots More Housing in New York City

  • How More Housing Can Fund Social Needs

  • MORE NYC Can be a Better NYC