Confessions of an ex-NIMBY

push the needle
3 min readFeb 4, 2019
Every NIMBY buys into this frozen image of neighborhood character hoping, under delusion, it never changes

A lot of you know my stance, I am a pro city urbanist who thinks single family zoning has ruined the country. I like riding my bike and love the density & scale of international cities. I don’t like driving and, quite frankly, never really did. I love transit, and I love dense, mixed use neighborhoods.

All this aside, I used to be a NIMBY.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was everything we make fun of online about NIMBYs (you can probably find embarrassing old tweets from me too). It all started when I became a homeowner and purchased a house in an urban village, at which point I recall asking “what’s that?” Like every other homeowner in 2015, I freaked out when the Seattle Times leaked that the city was exploring upzones to homes like mine.

All the NIMBYisms overcame me. Where will these people park? What do you mean there’s no parking requirements! What about our daylight? What about our trees? I don’t want a townhouse or rowhouse next door! I totally get where these NIMBY complaints come from, because I had the same misguided anxiety before. The fear of increased property taxes, crowded buses, hard streets to navigate, tall buildings next door, etc. overtake your mind. Something stupid happens to your brain when you buy a home, you assume everything around you will remain the same and you don’t want to share it with more people.

But something changed my mind (well, lots of things, actually). I watched my friends get priced out. Here I was, counting my new land value dollars I wasn’t cashing in on, complaining about the city wanting to add all this density as some conspiratorial tax revenue scheme, and at the same time my friends were suddenly talking about moving to another city or state. That upset me more than my view, my parking, my daylight, my neighborhood character, etc. The NIMBY mindset is always self focused, which is why it never builds community and just turns you into an asshole.

I now realized I sounded like a selfish jerk.

Over a year of inward reflection and study, I realized I was wrong, and that housing growth is good, and flexibility is needed to achieve the city we want. I still believed in upzoning Aurora, even though it started as the classic ‘put density on arterials’ because Aurora can be fixed from a street design perspective and brings us enormous opportunity. You can probably find some of my old quotes in the planning docs from the community outreach, things I am embarrassed are written down in ink. But it serves as a friendly reminder that none of us start out as YIMBYs, we just arrive there after careful, thoughtful considerations.

I’ve gone full 180 on my NIMBYism.

Now, I’m happy when I see one house go down and 5 townhouses go up. It happens all the time in my neighborhood. Density is the most critical item of a city. You need people present to build anything. That goes with equity, business, community, and quality transit. So if my bus is packed to the gills, bring it on! I’d be happy to share my bus with more residents. And when the day comes that my neighbors house turns into 5 houses, I will be the first one at their doors welcoming them to this urban village. Even if they take my parking spot!

Becoming a YIMBY hasn’t just made me a better climate oriented activist, or transit activist, or urban activist, it has made me a better person, a better neighbor, and hopefully kept me from being a total asshole.

--

--

push the needle

Architectural rambler pining for a more sustainable Seattle. Density advocate | Transit advocate | Family housing advocate | @pushtheneedle (twitter)