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Many of the large cities in our country, such as New York City, the Bay Area, and Silicon Valley, are facing a peculiar problem. They have booming economies that are generating a lot of new jobs. However, they do not have enough new housing development happening to provide homes for those being employed to fulfill those job vacancies.
One of the obstacles planning commissions and city councils face while proposing affordable housing and large real estate development activities in residential areas is opposition from current residents in the form of the NIMBY movement.
There are a couple of different theories as to when the acronym NIMBY was first used. However, none of these origin stories have any connection to real estate development.
One takes us back to the mid-1970s when electric utility companies wanted to set up nuclear power plants in Seabrook, New Hampshire, and Midland, Michigan. The phrase is said to have been used by residents who protested the construction of these power plants.
Another theory says the acronym was first published by the New York Times in 1983 while reporting on a story about farmers in Colorado who were protesting a hazardous waste development site being built in close proximity to their lands.
What is the NIMBY movement?
NIMBY, an acronym, stands for “Not In My Backyard”, and has become synonymous with those who oppose new housing projects that change the existing structure of neighborhoods in cities.
Before any new housing development project commences, community meetings and consultations are commonplace in order for authorities to get a pulse of what the locals feel about the project. As with any situation, there are those who are pro-development and those who are against it, or the NIMBYs, as they are known.
In particular, they oppose new housing projects that aim to develop large-scale affordable housing, group homes that allow multiple individuals who may have special needs in single-family home neighborhoods, and multi-story residential projects to address the housing crisis in a lot of cities.
There are multiple reasons that irk NIMBY supporters with regard to these development plans. They worry that the security and quality of life of their neighborhoods will be compromised as these projects will encourage people of lower economic backgrounds to move in. This is looked at as a risk of increasing crime rates, rampant theft, violence, and public unrest.
They fear their property taxes will get lowered and their property values will also be affected. Environmental degradation is also featured as a part of their argument against these developmental activities.
Under the guise of retaining democratic control over development in their areas, NIMBYs want developers to build absolutely nothing anywhere that might change the socio-economic fabric of their neighborhood. This standpoint often paints the NIMBY movement in a negative light.
Opposing NIMBYs are supporters of the YIMBY movement. YIMBY stands for “Yes In My Backyard”, and is a movement that is for the development of affordable housing solutions in neighborhoods to address the growing housing crises that sees a lot of young, earning members of society unable to afford rent close to their workplaces.
Is it all wrong?
It would be short-sighted to sweep everything the NIMBYs say under the carpet just because they have a reputation for being anti-community development. They actually do make some very valid points in their argument as well.
For one, the more people that are living in a neighborhood, the more cars they will need to commute. This, in turn, is bound to add to the already existing bludgeoning traffic woes in our cities.
The increase in population in these neighborhoods, unless meticulously planned, will also lead to a decrease in the existing green spaces.
An increase in the population will mean more children, which means an increase in school taxes and will drain government coffers to overhaul streets and public infrastructure.
The answer, therefore, is not in ignoring these arguments, but in working with them. The ideal approach would be if zoning authorities worked with both the NIMBYs and YIMBYs to reach solutions that did the least damage to either party.
From a NIMBY standpoint, the approach needs to be what is called “soft NIMBYism.” This is an approach that does not outright oppose affordable housing developments. Instead, it calls for a compromise by making tweaks in the development plans to appease at least some of the NIMBY arguments.