Are you YIMBY or NIMBY? The Czechs are currently resisting construction. But the world says that cities must be built
It may be the number one Prague theme. Apartment prices. Their growth seems unstoppable. And the fact that the middle class in Prague will basically not reach its own new apartment has become a common Prague standard.
Developers are also calling for a flood of all possible solutions, calling for more massive construction. According to them, it has a chance to catch up with the huge demand and set housing prices. However, new flats are still still slow, even though the construction of new neighborhoods has already started on large brownfields, for example.
However, Prague is by no means unique in this respect. Most rich western cities are now facing a similar situation. Apartments are expensive in them, largely because they are not built much. According to a recent article in The Economist, per capita construction in wealthy cities has fallen by 50 percent since 1964. And a small supply of flats logically means higher prices, which in turn hampers cities in growth.
That is why support for new construction, known as YIMBY, is increasingly appearing in the world’s major metropolises, ie Yes, In My Backyard, or in Czech – Yes, in my backyard. This is in contrast to the slightly more well-known name Not In My Backyard.
NIMBY refers to a situation where people need new housing to be built, but first it is to be built in their vicinity, they protest against the construction, or they even actively block it. Proponents of the YIMBY approach, on the other hand, say only one thing: as much as possible must be built in cities, otherwise the availability of housing will not improve. And examples from some cities justify them in part.
For example, in São Paulo, Brazil, which in 2016 fundamentally dug through the city’s construction system as prices rose rapidly, with an increase in housing stock instead of rising prices, it signed a shortage of about 1%. And a recent study from Helsinki, which examined the impact of new construction on the housing market, confirmed that housing prices can be higher in all categories.
Ed Glaeser, a professor of economics and chairman of the Harvard University’s Department of Economics to illustrate the challenges of today’s cities, gives the example of New York, which he mentioned in an interview with the American Enterprise Institute think tank.
“New York in the 1920s was affordable because it built a hundred thousand apartments a year, and because it was a city that still cared for newcomers. Today’s cities only take care of those who already live in them, such as homeowners. But cities are at their best when they receive opportunities from outside the world, ”says Glaeser.
Prague seems to be taking slow steps towards more massive construction. According to the analysis of the Institute of Planning and Development of the Capital The City of Prague (IPR), which monitored development projects last year, is gradually increasing the number of completed flats in Prague.
“In 2020, even the highest number of current development projects since 2009 was announced, and the same applies to the number of flats that are created within these projects. The current activity of residential developers in Prague is thus the highest in the last decade, “the analysis says.
Already in the previous year, over six thousand flats could theoretically be completed in Prague, which have not been able to exceed this limit in the last five years. But that’s still not enough as new residents flow into the metropolis. By 2030 alone, according to the IPR demographic forecast, Prague could swell by 90 to 160 thousand inhabitants. And therefore it is necessary at least ten ten thousand apartments a year.
But the question is whether the YIMBY principle is starting to get more out of word in Prague as well. The city management is partially trying to do so. For example, by pushing for large projects to be shown to the public on models, visualizations or, for example, in discussions at the Center for Architecture and Urban Planning, which fall under IPR.
The fight against construction “in my backyard” often stems mainly from the fact that people find out about it only when its appearance cannot be managed, and they are frustrated by it.
According to Marek Vácha, a spokeswoman for the Institute of Planning and Development, however, the more positive acceptance of new construction in Prague is not yet much worn. “The NIMBY effect can also be observed in developed countries and be convinced that it is to some extent a natural sociological phenomenon independent of the quality of architecture and urbanism. However, plans for the construction of new buildings of the Vltava Philharmonic Orchestra, for example, are more or less positively accepted, which we are pleased about, ”says Vácha.
However, according to him, the shift in the way buildings are being built in the city is already being felt. “The city has taken on the role of moderator and we are tirelessly trying to explain why it is good to build in the city,” he adds.
The big developers, who are often under public pressure due to new construction, and it must be added that often and rightly so, do not agree on the current setting of public opinion. For example, according to Central Group owner and billionaire Dušan Kunovský, access to the construction of new buildings has recently been guaranteed.
“In the past, there was an almost class struggle against developers and relations were strained, but today, fortunately, common sense is winning and new construction is no longer perceived as a kind of gray zone that needs to be stopped,” says Kunovský. On the contrary, according to him, construction is gradually being perceived as a key part of the economy and as something that society needs for its development. “This can also be seen in the fact that legislative and practical steps are gradually being taken to speed up and simplify the permitting of new constructions,” adds Kunovský.
In contrast, the owner of the development and investment group Trigema Marcel Soural is more skeptical. “The Not In My Backyard approach still dominates in the Czech Republic. Of course, there is room for the opposite approach, but the question remained when and especially what the Czechs will lead to, ”he thinks. And he adds that the Czechs are a nation that is inherently reluctant to make any changes and that residential development is not available, quite the contrary. “Czechs remain skeptical even when new construction brings them objective benefits,” says Soural.
According to him, the situation will change only when prices break out of the chain, apartments will be at an absolute minimum and the vast majority of society will no longer have money. “So far, it looks like the housing crisis will lead to the Yes In My Backyard approach of the Czech Republic, unfortunately,” he predicts.
Such a scenario has already been seen in several other world capitals. San Francisco, for example, has huge problems with the unavailability of housing, where average housing prices are still 2.4 times higher than in expensive New York. And even staunch opponents of new construction acknowledge that construction is needed.
Developers have been talking for several years about the need for higher supply, which could slow down the growth of real estate prices more significantly. And the city now has a similar opinion.
“In a situation where demand primarily exceeds supply, construction will certainly help. Houses belong to the city. But we must also make sure that the construction is also high quality and housing available at the same time. This is one of the reasons why the Prague Development Company has been operating for more than a year, and the topic of the city’s housing stock is still relevant, ”adds an IPR spokesman.