YIMBY movement

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poster from Abundant Housing Vancouver

YIMBY is an acronym for Yes In My Back Yard, coined in contrast to the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome, describing a point of view and various advocacy groups which support growth, new housing, new transportation infrastructure, and broad urban development generally. 

 

History

1970s new coalition of builders, environmentalists, integrationists, consumers

"an unusual coalition of interests" now exists between social justice and environmental groups, housing producers, & priced-out consumers, observed Constance Perin in anthropological study of US land-use, "Everything In Its Place", 1977.

Suburban Action Institute

Suburban Action Institute was a pro-integration, proto-YIMBY group active on the East Coast in the early 1970s:

http://www.nytimes.com/1971/11/07/archives/the-suburbs-have-to-open-their-gates-the-suburbs-have-to-open-their.html

"As long as the costs of educating suburban children are borne by the local real property tax, a community will try to enhance its tax base by luring industry, and will try to keep out housing developments that attract families with children. A radical restructuring of the tax system for financing education is needed, both to end exclusion and to assure every child, whether born in a rich or a poor community, equal educational opportunity.

A statewide income tax for education is the remedy now advocated by the Regional Plan Association of New York, by the Lindsay administration, and even by suburban taxpayers who can no longer pay educational costs in newly developing communities." 
 

Early use of term, in waste management industry (1980s) and political advocacy (1991-)

The term 'YIMBY' appears to have first been used in the U.S. waste-management industry in the 1980s, to propose a point of view accepting the necessity of needed facilities being located somewhere -- in contrast to 'NIMBY' activism which by then was seen as a serious impediment to siting or operating facilities. 

The earliest known usage of "YIMBY" was to mean "Yes in Many Back Yards." In a June 19, 1988 New York Times article, "Coping in the Age of 'Nimby,'" by William Glaberson, this was attributed to David L. Morell, "a former academic who had written about Nimby issues and who is now vice president for regulatory policy at the Environmental Systems Company, one of the leading toxic-waste disposal companies in the country":

"The company's Mr. Morell has his own acronym answer to Nimby: Yimby, or Yes, in many backyards. And in one form or another many analysts are talking about similar ways of making people understand that they must share the risks that go along with the benefits of modern life."


The earliest usage found so far for YIMBY meaning "Yes in My Backyard" is by Richard Allman, community activist in San Francisco, in a letter entitled "I'm a YIMBY" in the New Bernal Journal of January, 1991. 

Also: "Getting to YIMBY: Yes in My Backyard." by Elizabeth Kiser, World Wastes 35, no. 12 (December 1992): 38-41.  
 

in Sim City (2003)

In the urban simulation computer game SimCity4, released in 2003 -- and still the most popular of all SimCity releases -- 'YIMBY' is an attribute given to some residential or commercial building which generally have a positive effect on the environment around them. In SimCity 2013, "These buildings cause a happiness wave within the area surrounding it and cause Sims to have the 'We love the new city buildings!' thought." (according to Simcity fandom site - simcity.wikia.com/wiki/YIMBY). 

Urban advocacy, mid-2000s on

In the 2000s, YIMBY came be used informally to describe positive advocacy for urban development.

A 2005 edit on the Wikipedia 'YIMBY'  page observed: 

"YIMBY is an acronym for Yes In My Back Yard, in contrast and opposition to the NIMBY phenomenon. Informal YIMBY coalitions exist in San Francisco, Los Angeles and elsewhere to provide community support for affordable and market-rate housing projects over the objections of NIMBY, BANANA and bureaucratic opponents."

 

YIMBY Festival (Toronto), 2006-present

"The YIMBY festival was founded by Christina Zeidler in 2006. Incubated at The Gladstone, YIMBY emerged from Christina’s work with Active 18, a local neighbourhood group that was responding to widespread unchecked development in Toronto’s Queen West Triangle. She realized that many neighbourhood groups were presumed to engage solely in antagonistic relationships that pitted them against city policy makers, and unfairly labeled them as being part of a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) movement. "YIMBY is about promoting the role of neighbourhood groups as a positive force for change, who seek developments and projects that enhance the quality of life of the community, and bring the vitality that meets local needs. Local residents know the most about the needs and challenges of their neighborhoods, and the festival stresses the importance of working with government staff and the development, business and institutional sectors to take charge of the planning process in their area. "Toronto has a rich history of civic engagement and community involvement. YIMBY provides groups with a space to spread the word about the issues that Toronto’s communities and our city at large face, and to showcase responses, actions, and opportunities for community members to get involved and become a part of the solution.  - from YIMBY Festival > About page [1]. accessed October 8, 2018. 


YIMBY Stockholm, & YIMBY Sweden (2007 to present)

in 2007 the first YIMBY-named organization was formed, YIMBY Stockholm, an independent polical party network operating in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Oslo, and Uppsala
 

Wikipedia (Swedish) page YIMBY,  translated to English, describes it thus:

"Yimby is an acronym for the English phrase Yes in my backyard , which is a counter reaction to the Nimby phenomenon, Not in my backyard . The term "Yimby" is linked to urban planning, which means that one is fundamentally positive about changes in its vicinity.

"Yimby is also an independent political party network, founded in Stockholm in 2007, which advocates physical development, densification and promotion of urban environment , and occurs in, among other things, Gothenburg, Oslo, Stockholm and Uppsala. The network criticizes several of the ideas that dominated urban development, especially during the second half of the 20th century, such as the spreading of the city, car dependence and the so-called " neighborhood planning," which meant that areas were planned as individual communities, rather than as parts of the larger city. The network also criticizes parts of the environmental movement and argues that a principle of resistance to densification and expansion of the city's urban forms is blocking the problem of exploration and dispersal of the city, which requires large natural areas and complicates the ability to build efficient public transport solutions . The network has also repeatedly criticized the lack of real parks in Stockholm, while there are many impediments in the form of unused green spaces."


NewYorkYimby.com

In the US, Nikolai Fedak in 2011 founded Newyorkyimby.com blog tracking real-estate developments. He later cited Simcity as a primary inspiration for his love of cities and development. [Rosenblum 2014].

In San Francisco by 2014 activists Amy Farah Weiss and Sonja Trauss were both separately using the title "SFYIMBY". 

SFBARF, SF YIMBY, etc

In 2015 in San Francisco, Sonja Trauss formed San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBARF) as an informal group, which led to the formation of SF YIMBY group and various affiliated organizations including YIMBY Action (a 501c4), CaRLA (a 501c3 focused on legal strategies for housing inclusion) and YIMBY political action committee). These have been among the most active and publicized YIMBY groups, but by 2016-17 YIMBY-affiliated groups arose in many other places, and a number of existing advocacy groups such as Better Boulder and A Better Cambridge identified or affiliated themselves with the movement. 

 

YIMBYtown annual conference

YIMBYtown_conferences (YIMBYwiki reference page). 

The first US YIMBY conference was held in Boulder, Colorado, in June 2016, hosted by A Better Boulder.

YIMBYtown_2017 was held in Oakland, California, in July 2017, hosted by East Bay Forward (now East Bay for Everyone).

An international conference, YIMBYcon, was held in Helsinki, Finland in 2016 and 2017.

YIMBYtown 2018 is being organized by Better Cambridge, to be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2018.
Web site:  (currently https://www.yimbytown.org/ 

 

Concepts

In earlier usage, the 'NIMBY' concept was perhaps more commonly applied to opponents of developments with some relatively well-defined, perceived nuisance threat: for example, a waste dump potentially handling hazardous materials. In the case of controversies over new housing development -- often a key concern of US YIMBY groups today -- the positions which YIMBY groups are advocating against often have a notable variety of stated or suspected motivations. For example, development resistance might be ascribed to protecting or raising home values, environmental protection, concerns for overloading infrastructure or schools, transportation or traffic issues, quality of life issues, a bargaining strategy to win concessions or community-group funding or tax revenues from developer, opposing gentrification, supporting gentrification, preventing greater diversity of residents, preserving greater diversity of residents, and so on.  

[Contrariwise, one might perhaps also say, development support might be ascribed to a notable variety of motivations..  developer profit, or reducing developer profit (i.e. expand development until marginal profitability is zero, or even push to overbuild and flood the market and lose money). Or opening and revitalizing the city, or invading and appropriating the city. and so on]. 
 

YIMBY organizations

see: YIMBY organizations directory.


YIMBYtown mailing list

Initially set up for the first YIMBYtown conference in 2016, the YIMBYtown mailing list (on Google Groups) now serves as a low-volume national mailing list for YIMBY organizers.  It is open for anyone to join, and the archives are viewable by anyone. 
Subscribe at: https://groups.google.com/forum/?#!forum/yimbytown.
 

YIMBY US National Call

starting in November 2017, US YIMBY organizers have set up a bi-monthly (sometimes monthly) conference call to coordinate between groups and projects.  Usually the fourth Weds of the month, 12pm PST. 

See: US National YIMBY call

 

Critiques 

interview with Jacob Woocher of DSA Los Angeles

on gentrification, rent control, Transit Zoning Bill #SB827, homelessness, policing, #Prop13, on @GroundGameLA podcast w/@bushidosquirrel. 
https://m.soundcloud.com/groundgamela/the-failure-of-ymibyism-or-why-sb827-wont-save-la.
 

David Levitus - in Streetsblog LA 

David Levitus. "YIMBYism and the Cruel Irony of Metropolitan History." LA Streetsblog, Feb 27, 2018
https://la.streetsblog.org/2018/02/27/yimbyism-and-the-cruel-irony-of-metropolitan-history/.
 

McElroy & Szeto in Berkeley Planning Journal 

 McElroy, Erin and Andrew Szeto (2018). "The Racial Contours of YIMBY/NIMBY Bay Area Gentrification." Berkeley Planning Journal, 29(1), published 2017-01-01.


"At the height of San Francisco’s hyper-gentrification in 2014, capitalist development groups began coopting anti-displacement grammar, thereby promulgating market-driven solutions for rising rents and eviction rates. Despite the historic roots of pro-development, this new form of San Francisco pro-growth activism emerged as a reaction to a renewed housing justice movement. It was during this time that over a dozen tenant’s rights and nonprofit housing development organizations consolidated the Anti-Displacement Coalition, collectively framing the “housing crisis” as increased eviction and homelessness rates. Coalition members called for specific policies such as eviction moratoriums, taxation on real estate speculation, and enforcement of short-term vacation rentals to stop the displacement of long-term working class communities. Through direct action and strong anti-displacement policy advocacy, the Coalition united a renewed movement against gentrification. In reaction, pro-development groups that were amplified by the Bay Area Renters Federation (BARF) initiated a surge of what they called “YIMBYism” against housing justice groups’ putative “NIMBYism” (Yes in My Backyard versus Not in My Backyard). While NIMBYism has long been understood as linked to racist and wealthy neighborhood preservation, in this article we assert that despite YIMBYism’s framing of housing justice activists as NIMBY, both YIMBYism and NIMBYism shelter similar racist onto-epistemologies."

"Since its formation, BARF has grown into a larger YIMBY movement. Galvanizing momentum on state and national scales, YIMBYism enjoys support from technocapitalists, developers, politicians, and urban think tanks, trumpeting new development, luxury or otherwise, as the only remedy (Bay Area Renters Federation 2014; Swan 2016; Szeto and Meronek 2017; YIMBYtown 2017)....“'YIMBYs' blame slow-growth advocates for the reduction of available housing stock, a cutback that they assert drives up property values. As such, YIMBYism grows by mobilizing a common enemy: resistors of new luxury and market-rate housing development. While these resistors are largely rooted in anti-racist politics, YIMBYism renders them racist 'NIMBYs.' This discursive strategy conflates wealthy NIMBY property owners who are determined to maintain the 'traditional character and culture of their backyards” with housing justice advocates who are fighting evictions and prioritizing affordable housing construction (HoSang 2010).'"

 

Lisa Schweitzer - from interviews with LA anti-displacement activists

In 2017, USC planning professor Dr. Lisa Schweitzer conducted a series of interviews with Los Angeles anti-displacement activists and explored their understanding of YIMBY ideas: 

"One of my points in yesterday’s discussion was, simply, that the rhetorical or persuasive burden on YIMBY advocates is higher than it is on the NIMBY component (which is different than the anti-displacement side, btw). I stand by that statement for the simple reason that NIMBY have policy inertia on their side. They have existing zoning laws on their side; they have federal home ownership favoritism on their side. They have close to 70 years of zoning being mainstream practice, at least in the US. It’s not just or right, necessarily; it’s that any form of progressive reform always has to break free of the event horizon of the status quo. Those who want the status quo only have to maintain it.

"Given that progressive reforms have happened and do happen, it’s not impossible. It just requires heavy lifting, and some of that heavy lifting is tediously having to repeat the same points on the policy agenda to anybody who doesn’t run away quickly enough.

"I’ve been spending my summer working on interviews with anti-displacement advocates (if you are reading this, and I haven’t pestered you, and you have something you want to say, hit me up), and it’s been enlightening. It caused me to back up and examine what premises you have to accept in order to arrive at a yes for YIMBY if you, yourself, don’t have a preference for urbanism. And it’s a pretty long persuasive journey.

a) that zoning contributes to sprawl (probably the least contentious);

b) that sprawl’s environmental and social consequences are sufficiently important to require that existing neighborhoods, which people may enjoy as they currently are, allow infill, even at the risk of crowding and other problems that strangers bring, in order to prevent the consequences of more building on the suburban fringe;

c) that infill development actually can fix affordability or the other problems wrought by exclusion/zoning/sprawl rather than just displacing and potentially harming existing residents; that is, it is possible to accommodate as many new people (or more) in existing neighborhoods, closer to the city center, as it would have been to put them in new suburban developments on the fringe to address housing demand in urbanizing metro areas;

d) that doing so will result in more good than harm overall; and for various subgroups at any given time,

e) that doing so will result in more good than harm *to them personally* overall.    

 

from: Lisa Schweitzer, Lisa (2017). "Getting to Yes with YIMBY in LA, or my summer interviews." Lisaschweitzer.com, 19 July 2017.  https://lisaschweitzer.com/2017/07/19/getting-to-yes-with-yimby-in-la-or-my-summer-interviews/.
 

Jacobin article by Karen Narefsky, August 2017

Narefsky, Karen. "What’s In My Backyard? YIMBYs look to the free market to solve the housing crisis. But the profit motive is what caused the affordability crunch in the first place." Jacobin, 08.08.2017.
 

Others

O'Malley, Becky. "Why is a YIMBY like Sebastian Gorka?" Berkeley Daily Planet, Friday July 14, 2017.
http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2017-07-14/article/45873?headline=Why-is-a-YIMBY-like-Sebastian-Gorka---Becky-O-Malley. 

Stone, Casie. "The YIMBYs push unaffordable housing." ("Casie Stone analyzes the platform put forward by a range of 'Yes In My Backyard' organizations--whose arguments fit nicely with the interests of real estate developers."). Socialist Worker, July 20, 2017.
https://socialistworker.org/2017/07/20/the-yimbys-push-unaffordable-housing.
 

Media Depictions

Joelalemon Street Tunnel (@exadyto) on Twitter 31 Dec 2017.
"Worth watching on Netflix: the Kate Mulgrew character in the three part arc that ends season 4 of Cheers (1986) sounds like a proto-YIMBY."
 

See also

 

References