Tag Archives: Robert Nelson

A BID for Ballston in Arlington, Virginia

Arlington County Board voted to create a Business Improvement District (BID) for Ballston, effective January 1, 2011. Set up like a typical BID, the county will assess a surtax of 0.45 per $1000 of assessed value of taxable property with the boundaries of the BID. Ballston, a commercial and shopping district, has recently expanded its borders with new construction and the BID is intended to promote and improve the area. Fifty percent of Ballston businesses voted in favor of the new district.

The BID functions as a public-private partnership with a non-profit board that oversees the budget on behalf of the interests of commercial businesses. Robert Nelson has written extensively on the BID model as a means for cities to improve their business districts, while giving commercial property owners more say in how tax dollars are applied to making those improvements.

The BID is Arlington’s third, in addition to Rosslyn and Crystal City.

Sidewalk Accountability and Parking Property Rights

While the latest installment of DC’s record-breaking winter snow has passed over the area, the mountains of snow lining streets and piled on sidewalks appear to be here to stay for the time being. These problems, unusual this far south, are testing residents’ patience with their neighbors.

DC law states that residents are responsible for clearing the snow from sidewalks on their property, but the monumental task that this poses after two major storms has left some unwilling or unable to face up to the task.  The Washington Post discusses the problem:

It was fully 48 hours since the flakes of Snowmageddon had ceased falling, but by midday Monday, many residents and merchants in Adams Morgan still had not cleared their portions of public walkways, disregarding the District’s law mandating that property owners clear snow and ice from their sidewalks within eight hours after the snowfall’s completion.

Through the Mid-Atlantic, rules regarding sidewalk shoveling vary from the mere expectation of courtesy to fines up to $100 for homeowners and business owners who do not do the right thing.  While these municipal rules vary in how well they encourage citizens to maintain sidewalks, this issue might be better dealt with at a neighborhood rather than a city level.

In Understanding Institutional Diversity, Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom examines community-based efforts for solving collective action problems like sidewalks covered in snow. She suggests that shunning can be very effective in encouraging community members to follow rules. Imagine being publicly embarrassed at a neighborhood meeting for failing to shovel your walks in a timely manner.

Robert Nelson of the Mercatus Center explains in Private Neighborhoods and the Transformation of Local Government that the rise of private Neighborhood Associations is helping localities deal more effectively with such collective action problems.  

In another snow-related economic conundrum, vehicle owners struggle to protect their rights to parking spaces that they have laboriously shoveled.  In Boston, drivers can legally save their cleaned spots with lawn chairs or cones, but no such official rule exists in DC. However, an unscientific Washington Post poll found that 76% of respondents favored the right to reserve parking spots, effectively suggesting that the effort of shoveling is worth a guarantee of property rights.

Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom at Mercatus Today

For anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, 2009 Economics Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, the co-director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, will be speaking today at a Mercatus Center panel discussion entitled “Challenging Institutional Analysis and Development: The Bloomington School.”

Registration for the event is now closed, but it will be livestreamed on the web at 4 PM.

In October, Emily Washington wrote about what Dr. Ostrom’s Nobel means for those interested in state and local government and governance and resource management:

Ostrom is most notable for her work related to collective action and common pool resources. In contradiction to the Tragedy of the Commons hypothesis developed by Garrett Hardin, she notes that informal social institutions can arise to maintain pooled resources successfully over time. Ostrom has focused on examples of people creating systems for sustainable natural resource management with the ecosystems that they depend on such as forests and fisheries.

[…]

While the idea of a top down authority to manage neighborhood affairs may sound more methodical and efficient than allowing spontaneous order and properly aligned incentives to direct common resource management, Ostrom’s work suggests that Robert Nelson’s policy prescription of Residential Improvement Districts may go much further toward optimal neighborhood governance than top-down city planning authorities.

Paul Dragos Aligica wrote about the prize here, and Peter Boettke wrote about it here.

Anyone with questions about the event can call Megan Mahan at 703-993-4930 or email her at mmahan@gmu.edu.

Bob Nelson Speaking at Mercatus

On Wednesday, November 11, Robert Nelson will be speaking at Mercatus about the rise of sublocal governance. His talk is from 12:30 to 2 in room 121 of George Mason University’s Hazel Hall, 3301 North Fairfax Drive, Arlington and yes, lunch will be provided. Here’s the blurb:

Professor Nelson will discuss the growing importance of sublocal forms of governance. The rise of private community associations, in which 20 percent of Americans now live, is a leading example.  The spread of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) is another important case.  Sublocal governments can specialize and otherwise more effectively address urban problems that have defied the efforts of conventional city governments. Professor Nelson will explore what this means for city and urban governance and the provision of public goods at various levels of government.

We will livestream the event here at Neighborhood Effects, technology willing. Anyone in the Washington area is welcome to attend, ask questions, and meet your bloggers in person. Email Megan Mahan (mmahan /at/ gmu /dot/ edu) to register or call 703-993-4930.

The “Right Size” for Local Governments

On NPR today, Morning Edition featured a story about peace officers in Texas, which number one per 330 state residents. The reporter tosses out this fact and then goes on to report on something basically unrelated: the number of police forces in the state.

The story begins skeptically:

Texas has so many police officers, some lawmakers are worried there are too many.

Among the many entities in Texas that have their own peace officers is the State Board of Dental Examiners. But you won’t generally hear these officers saying “Stop, put your hands up! Dental police!”

[…]

It turns out Texas is just full of small, specialized police forces: the State Insurance Department has one, as do the Lottery and Racing commissions, the Pharmacy Board, and a handful of water districts.

But the story ends on a very different note, profiling Gary Patterson, the police chief (and only officer) in the Blooming Grove Independent School District:

Patterson patrols the halls of Blooming Grove High School — home of the Fighting Lions — a benign figure in his blue police shirt with a tonsure of white hair and a shambling gait. After a long career as a dispatcher for the state troopers, Patterson came back to the town where he grew up.

“You’re kind of like a father or grandfather figure to a lot of them,” Patterson says. “Cause you’ve known them since they were in elementary and you’ve kind of grown up with them.”

It would be easy to criticize his position as one more example of superfluous Texas peace officers — until you follow him around the school. He knows the kids by name. He knows their parents. He knows what’s going on in their lives. He knows why they’re in trouble.

This story reflects a point made by Eileen Norcross and Frederic Sautet here, and by Robert Nelson here: in the public sector, where there are no prices to convey information, hence making benefits and costs hard to weigh, there is no universally correct number or size of local government entities.

It’s easy to scoff at the idea of a single-person police force for a three-campus school district. We likely assume that there are non-trivial fixed costs associated with running a school district police department, so economies of scale could be achieved by just having, say, a county sheriff’s deputy police the school. But we don’t really have the information necessary to make that call, and certainly not from the vantage point of a state capitol or the ivory tower.

So the bottom line: be skeptical when you hear “common sense” pleas to eliminate small local government entities like one-man police forces. There may well be a case for eliminating them, but proponents of elimination cannot just assume that economies of scale are achievable — and they cannot discount local knowledge as worthless.

Elinor Ostrom and Neighborhood Governance

nobel_lin_ostromToday the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Elinor Ostrom, making her the first woman to earn the distinction. Ostrom, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from UCLA, shares the award with Oliver E. Williamson. Both were recognized for their contributions to research in non-market transactions.

From the prize announcement:

Elinor Ostrom has challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized. Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, Ostrom concludes that the outcomes are, more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories. She observes that resource users frequently develop sophisticated mechanisms for decision-making and rule enforcement to handle conflicts of interest, and she characterizes the rules that promote successful outcomes.

Ostrom is most notable for her work related to collective action and common pool resources. In contradiction to the Tragedy of the Commons hypothesis developed by Garrett Hardin, she notes that informal social institutions can arise to maintain pooled resources successfully over time. Ostrom has focused on examples of people creating systems for sustainable natural resource management with the ecosystems that they depend on such as forests and fisheries.

Although Ostrom studied political science, she has made immense contributions to public choice theory. Her work has focused on communal natural resource management; however, Ostrom has also applied her insights into successful self-governance of many types of collective goods, including residences. In a 2003 interview with Paul Dragos Aligica she uses the example of the collective ownership rights of condominiums as a successful case of managing a collective good, especially compared to some failed public housing projects where residents do not have an ownership stake.

While the idea of a top down authority to manage neighborhood affairs may sound more methodical and efficient than allowing spontaneous order and properly aligned incentives to direct common resource management, Ostrom’s work suggests that Robert Nelson’s policy prescription of Residential Improvement Districts may go much further toward optimal neighborhood governance than top-down city planning authorities.

Here, Peter Boettke provides a brief analysis of the importance of Ostrom’s work in mainline economics.

Point Pleasant Beach to Mayor: “No New Taxes, or Police Furloughs.”

Residents in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey have resorted to a seldom-used method to protest their mayor’s proposal to raise taxes: they want him recalled from office. The recall petition containing 1,250 signatures was approved this week, giving Mayor Vincent Barella until July 22 to mount a challenge to the motion being placed on the ballot in November.

point-pleasant-beachThe movement to recall Mayor Barella began in the fall, after he asked the state government permission to levy local special options taxes on beach badges, paid parking lots, and alcohol — and more controversially, proposed parking fees on all neighborhood streets — to meet the $11.5 $1.5 million gap in the borough’s budget.

Republican state representatives don’t  like the idea. “We don’t support raising taxes, and [Barrella] doesn’t accept that response,” said state Sen. Andrew R. Ciesla (R-Ocean), referring to the all-Republican northern Ocean County delegation to the legislature. “He believes that it is appropriate to raise taxes in order to cure the financial ills of the borough on the backs of nonresidents and residents alike.”

And the Mayor’s Democratic rivals who initiated the petition also disapprove, claiming he has other options. Said one petitioner, “We have eight too many cops…. Manasquan has 6,500 people with 18 cops. We have 26 cops for 5,300 people.”

Residents’ motives seem clear — “No New Taxes!” — but the solutions aren’t as easy. Continue reading