The Miraculous Power of Self-Interest

I’m a huge fan of self-interest — when it’s harnessed in the service of the greater good. Even when self-discipline falters, when moral principles give in to fear or greed, and when government mandates fail, self-interest moves mountains. Self-interest is the Trojan horse I’m using to get people on board the low-footprint lifestyle movement.

And it’s looking like self-interest may finally win the day in the struggle to expand the supply of affordably priced urban housing. Young adults are having trouble finding affordable places to live near where the jobs are, and it’s partly because affluent baby boomers in urban areas are opposing efforts to create density and build new apartments near their single-family homes.

However, it turns out that self-interest may win out over this NIMBYism, as the older generations are discovering to their dismay that their kids and grandkids can’t afford to live near them.

Another common concern that’s bridging the divide is the environment: “As people of all ages work for environmental sustainability, they understand that we need to get people out of cars, and this means getting as many people as possible to live in or close to cities and use public transport. And that means making those areas more affordable.” (From When Millennials Battle Boomers Over Housing, article by Mimi Kirk on — great site to bookmark if you’re passionate about urban sustainability).

Hooray for self-interest, when it fuels the greater good.

Further Reading:

Minneapolis YIMBYs Go To the Mat for Zoning Changes. I love the use of the wrestler video to tell a compelling story. And the Canadian anti-sprawl poster, a takeoff on the old Smokey the Bear posters, is a winner!

Neighbors For More Neighbors, on Twitter: a movement to promote the legalization (or re-legalization) of fourplexes. One user commented that “replacing a single-family home with a fourplex has a bigger climate impact than solar panels.” I’m not sure of the figure, but there’s no doubt that sharing walls and a yard and other resources is one of the best ways to reduce footprint while cutting costs.

• And a couple of good books I’ve read recently: Unlocking Home: Three Keys to Affordable Communities, by Alan Durning (takeaway: allow more density). And (the cautionary flipside of revitalizing blighted downtowns) How To Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood, by Peter Moskowitz.