Panel Paper: Who Does The City Hear?: Identifying Biases In Political Mobilization Toward Housing Via GIS Interface

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Hong Kong (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Michael Hankinson, Harvard University

Since 1970, regulations constraining the development of new market rate and affordable housing have caused prices in high income cities to dramatically increase, both burdening current renters and limiting the opportunities of those priced out. Yet, despite these consequences, there exists little empirical analysis of development restrictions as political behavior: who supports these restrictions and why? What type of housing would they favor and where? Not only is the existing literature scant on how residents evaluate new housing, but there is sparse systematic data of how racial, economic, and spatial biases influence public support for new housing.

This paper uses an original GIS interface to capture how citizens prefer their own cities to develop. First, this interface provides users with new housing units to spatially allocate within both their city, providing a detailed resolution of how social and racial biases affect neighborhood choice for growth. Is housing dumped within low-income neighborhoods? Do some neighborhoods see the housing as an asset? Second, the interface asks respondents to vote on hypothetical developments within their own neighborhood. Doing so, the tool experimentally captures spatial sensitivity (NIMBYism) in a real, spatial context. Finally, directly addressing the challenge of growth with equity, the interface uses questions of political behavior, such as city planning meeting attendance and turnout from the voter file, to measure the bias between a city’s most politically mobilized citizens and its less vocal, largely minority residents.

Data for this project will be collected in Boston from June 1st to August 1st. The data and analysis to be conducted underscores a central debate of urban political legitimacy. Who does the City hear and how should the voice of the most politically mobilized be weighed in the low turnout, hyperlocal politics of urban development? The paper also directly addresses the conference’s theme of measurement. By collecting granular data from a real context, this paper will inform elected officials and decision makers how to better balance the citywide need for new housing and their constituents’ preferences toward urban growth.