I posted an article called Recent NIMBY just before I left on my Heartland trip. It dealt with the "Not in My Back Yard" phenomenon. People often agreed with development until it came too close to their homes. They didn’t want anything that might negatively affect the value of their properties. Sometimes their arguments seemed justifiable and other times they seemed frivolous. The common thread involved organized, orchestrated efforts to keep something away that might change the character or value of their neighborhood.
The article got a comment suggesting that I should take a look at the opposite phenomenon. I’d heard of it although I didn’t know much about it. The movement took its inspiration from NIMBY with a twist. It went by YIMBY, for "Yes in my Back Yard." YIMBY expressed a frustration with the consequences of NIMBY behavior particularly as it related to housing. Adherents argued that locking-out development came with a social cost. It created acute housing shortages where only the wealthiest people could afford decent places to live. Blue collar workers, young professionals and public servants found few places where they could live while NIMBY forces blocked new housing. Naturally the movement gained the most traction in places like New York City, the Bay Area, Seattle, Vancouver and Toronto; all places with income disparities and rapid gentrification.
I repeated the same exercise I used in the earlier article. This time, however, I searched for recent news articles mentioning YIMBY.
New York City
Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York. Photo by pelcinary on Flickr (cc)
New York City served as the epicenter for the movement. Much of the recent press coverage I found came from a single source, the New York YIMBY website. I could have picked any of a hundred or more contemporary instances so I went with the most recent example from the site.
The city’s Brooklyn borough included a neighborhood called Greenpoint. It formed the northernmost corner of Brooklyn, bordering the East River just across from Manhattan. Greenpoint long served as a working class neighborhood with a large population of Polish immigrants. For decades they worked on the docks at the Port of New York, in local factories, or in mom-and-pop shops serving their immigrant community. However, and in the last decade in particular, Greenpoint began to change. Its proximity to Manhattan attracted a wealthier class of residents who started to displace the original inhabitants.
One of the properties tracked by New York YIMBY recently was 13 Greenpoint Avenue/26 Kent Street, Greenpoint. It would replace an old industrial site and warehouses with an 11-story mixed-use structure. This would provide another 77 housing units to an area desperate for more (map).
The Annex. Photo by Andrzej Wrotek on Flickr (cc)
The Annex area (map) of Toronto, Canada began as a streetcar suburb in the late Nineteenth Century. Eventually Toronto annexed the area into the city, and thus provided a name. Residents of The Annex tended to be better off financially than average, although it also included student areas near the University of Toronto. The Annex started to gentrify in recent years, becoming one of the most desirable communities in the city.
The Toronto Star recounted YIMBY efforts in The Annex recently. It cited "a generation increasingly frustrated by the rising cost of housing that shuts young professionals, less affluent residents and newcomers out of the city’s well-serviced, transit-connected neighbourhoods." They hoped to see denser development, subdivision of large houses into multiple apartments, and family-sized condos. These were things their NIMBY counterparts generally opposed. The story was positioned very much as a generational clash, with Millennials living in cramped apartments with sky-high rents while their Baby Boomer parents "rattling around in near-empty homes."
The clash continues.
San Judas Flea Market – Nolensville Pike. Photo by David Antis on Flickr (cc)
I wouldn’t have thought of Nashville, Tennessee as a place with a YIMBY movement. Nonetheless it grappled with housing issues and a lot of recent press attention focused there. Even the mayor got involved.
"We need YIMBY-ism in Nashville, and we need it now," [Mayor] Barry said at her State of Metro address… "It means yes, I want to live in a mixed-income neighborhood… Nashville desperately needs something we can rally behind that says we are not going to let our city be totally gentrified," she says."
The problem could be seen in several areas of Nashville including Nolensville Pike (map). Immigrants flocked to this affordable neighborhood as their initial foothold in the United States. They built businesses along the strip as they assimilated and pursued their dreams. However, as the fortunes of greater Nashville began to improve, rents started rising along Nolensville Pike. While not quite as stark or as urban as some of the other cities with a growing YIMBY presence, the conditions here followed a familiar pattern.
I admitted feeling a sense of déjà vu as I read these articles too. It seemed similar to what I’d seen in my close-in neighborhood just outside of Washington, DC. By pure luck, I found myself on the fortunate side of that equation, in a home I couldn’t possibly afford if I wanted to buy it today. However I had a lot of sympathy for those not so fortunate. I guess I’ve always been more of a YIMBY.