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Cheers - AE

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Your place, my rules.

Recently I had a rant about the royal interference in a redevelopment by a royal pain in the arse and partly due to a house renovation going on nearby and which I talked about at the same time as I discussed Charlie's feudalistic intervention. I make no secret of the fact that I'm a small "r" republican in principle - slightly larger "r" now I live in a country whose queen is resident of another nation many thousands of miles away - and certainly my blood was boiling at the way Charles felt it's his fucking God given right to poke his nose in like some medieval king or prince exercising power over subjects. I find the idea that this still goes on fucking distasteful. But it also annoyed me because I don't think anyone - king, prince, politician, or regular citizen - should have the right to tell someone what they can and can't do with their property. As I said at the time:
A neighbour is redeveloping and intends to create a sundeck at the back of his house that overlooks our garden, and I'm not really that thrilled about it. But here's the thing - it's not going to affect me and it's not my property. If he was building an incinerator that might affect my health, or a tannery that would cause such a stink that our garden would be unusable, or something that actually overhung the boundary, or discharged something nasty onto our block, etc. etc. then I'd be protesting about it. If he knocked his place down and built a fourteen storey cock shaped tower I'd also object since it would probably knock a fair bit off the value of our place. But a sundeck? Can I complain about that? Well, some people certainly would, just as plenty of people other than His Royal Headcase objected to the Chelsea Barracks development, but here's the thing - if it doesn't actually hurt, whether physically or financially, then what right does anyone have to object to what people do with their property? Now one point of view would be that this sundeck prevents Mrs Exile and I walking around in the garden naked, but this is nonsense. If I want my dick to get a suntan all it will take is me not minding the neighbours seeing it, and if that happens a far more likely scenario is the neighbours objecting that my dick prevents them using the sundeck (no, I'm not referring to the shadow it casts). So while I have the right to moan about the sundeck they have the right to say fuck off, it's our place and it's not hurting you, but if it's a big deal make us a fair offer for the place and it'll be yours to do what you want with.
Yesterday I read a very interesting post post up on the subject of land use, private property rights and zoning at Thoughts On Freedom. I found it particularly good because it deals with how respect for property rights and the mechanisms of self interest can actually achieve similar results to zoning and restrictive land use laws without the negative effects of loss of freedom, erosion of property rights and the creation of incentives to suck up to or even bribe the people who make the planning decisions in order to get your way.
It is well known that the libertarian political philosophy is antagonistic to coercively imposed rules that limit people’s freedom to use their private property as they see fit. Indeed, the very essence of libertarianism is the nonaggression principle that condemns the initiation of force against person or property. As a result, libertarians have been critical of zoning laws, which restrict the ability of property owners to develop their property or use it for their desired purposes.

Because of this antipathy to zoning laws, some critics of libertarianism fear that a libertarian society would leave people incapable of exercising any control over their neighborhood and preserving the character of their surroundings. They worry that the decisions of surrounding property owners could change the character of their neighborhood to the detriment of their property values or preferred lifestyle. For example, some may worry that their local park will be developed into a housing complex leaving them with nowhere to take their children to play. Others worry that their neighbors may build huge structures that overshadow their now sunny backyards. Whatever their specific concerns, many people share the view that zoning laws are required to prevent their neighborhood from being despoiled by outrageous building developments or uses.

Fears of inappropriate building development or drastic changes to the character of a neighborhood are often grossly exaggerated. Some are inclined to fear that without the protection of coercive zoning laws a skyscraper might be built in a small suburban neighborhood or a brothel might open up next to a children’s preschool. However, even in the absence of any restrictions, the possibility of such outcomes is extremely remote and fears that the repeal of zoning laws would open the floodgates to outrageous developments such as these are overstated.

Building developments and commercial usage of buildings are almost always strongly driven by the desire for profit and therefore they will almost always cater to the tastes of prospective property purchasers and customers. There is not likely to be much demand for residential or commercial space in a skyscraper towering over a sleepy suburban area, simply because such a tall development would unnecessarily and wastefully economize on cheap and ample ground space, leading to excessive expense. Similarly, no brothel worth its salt would choose to open next door to a children’s preschool (or at least operate during school hours) since this would almost certainly drive away potential customers. In general, developments such as these are avoided simply by the desire of property owners and businesses to do business in an area that is suitable to their particular industry.
That's just an appetizer. Go get a cuppa and read the rest for yourselves. It's fairly long and has quite a few footnotes with sources and further reading to follow up on, but worth the time I'd say. It does say that there should be "no such thing as a right to preserve the value of one’s property, only its physical integrity" which I should say I'm not sure I agree with although I'd put it a different way. I'd turn it on its head and say that my right to develop doesn't come with the right to devalue my neighbours' assets and vice versa, but my position isn't concrete and I'm open to persuasion. Certainly I don't have a problem with a business being devalued by a competing business setting up just down the road, and I don't have an issue with house prices going down in area A because area B has just been developed and is more desirable. But going back to my example above I do feel that wiping out a lot of the value of neighbouring properties by the construction of a fourteen story phallus would be unreasonable and that the neighbours would have a just complaint... I just can't quite explain why at the moment, which means I'm uncertain that my position is the right one. Food for thought.
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