If you want a picture of the future, imagine a car parked on a human face — forever.
That, at least is going to be the real Boston 2030, especially with the new zoning rules taking effect in South Boston. The Boston Globe reported that the new rules are “an attempt to restore order . . . and fairness” to development in the neighborhood.
The rules, however, do nothing of the kind. Rather, like most development rules, they are a secret transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich and set in stone the views and prejudices of a tiny minority able to make its voice heard and bully or intimidate all others into silence.
The changes are very simple: 1) the maximum floor-area-ratio is being raised to 2.0 from 1.5; 2) the maximum building height is being increased from 35 feet to 40 feet; 3) the amount of offstreet parking required for new residential units is being increased from 1.0 spaces per unit to 1.5.
While the increase in FAR is good, an increase of five feet in allowable height is not much to write home about, and, according to The Globe parts of the neighborhood had maximum heights of up to 50 feet, but the increased off-street parking requirement is absolutely heinous.
The problems with parking minimums need hardly be recounted on this blog — higher costs for construction translate into higher rents, uglier architecture, higher retail prices, less construction, less housing and higher costs. In, one almost doesn’t have to add, a city with an ongoing housing affordability crisis, a high cost of living and one of the largest wealth gaps in the country. Not only that, all the free parking will just encourage and promote car usage, contributing to SoBo’s (as it shall hitherto be known in this blog) traffic issues.
A regulation ostensibly undertaken to preserve a neighborhood instead entrenches those lucky enough to have bought in early, who have, unsurprisingly, taken a dim view of newcomers. Their attitude is “I’ve got mine, now screw you.” This is the attitude taken by Caught in [SoBo], which cheerled the creation of $70,000 parking spots a while back and whose editor seems to believe that the neighborhood is entering a golden age. It will certainly be a golden age of some kind, since her house has increased in value by nearly $250,000 since 2007.
South Boston’s dinosaur city councilors, Bill Linehan and Michael Flaherty, also look like they’re profiting nicely from their NIMBYism, judging by assessing data. Linehan’s three family has gone up in value by over $300,000 since 2007 and Flaherty’s four properties are worth a combined $3.3 million. And the City can only raise property taxes by 1.5 percent a year.
Now, it would be strange from a libertarian to object to someone making money from property. But these increases in value are not because they have improved their properties, they come from using the power of the government to create an artificial scarcity in the housing market. Nationwide, this costs the country $1.6 trillion a year, or about $8800 extra for every worker.
Limiting development in SoBo will redirect at least some of it to cheaper, poorer, less influential and less white neighborhoods like East Boston and Roxbury, which will increase homelessness and poverty. In addition, other neighborhoods will doubtless demand similar downzonings and parking requirement increases, potentially setting off a chain reaction that will ensure Boston will be a microcosm of Trump’s America: white, rich and surrounded by a wall paid for by poor people and workers.
However, there is one good thing to come out of this debacle. Mayor Martin Walsh’s true colors have been revealed — as those of a coward and hypocrite. Rather than be a leader, Walsh has sold out his own administration in supporting these changes. Imagine Boston 2030, GoBoston 2030 and Climate Ready Boston are three major planning itiatives the mayor has made the cornerstone of his administration and they are about promoting alternatives to cars, building greener, denser and more walkable neighborhoods and preparing for climate change. He has also talked about more construction and greater affordability. In fact, just a few days ago Boston Planning and Development director Brian Golden tweeted about how more construction helps affordability.
When, thanks to the pollution produced by the thousands of extra cars idling in SoBo looking for a parking space, the sea reclaims Boston for its own, we can hope that our merpeople descendents will tell the story of our leaders’ hubris and actually learn from it.