"When it comes to someone actually building housing, on your block or on a block near you, people don't want it. [With] 'Yes in my back yard,' the most important part is 'my back yard.' ... It means that you have to support building even when it's a type of building you hate. Is it sprawl? Like, get over yourself. Is it ugly? Get over yourself. Is it low-income housing? Get over yourself. Is it luxury housing? Get over yourself. We really need everything right now."
-- Sonja Trauss, advocate for affordable housing in San Francisco
In public meetings, a lot of debates boil down to resolving conflicts over the status quo and how much change people are willing to accept as communities adjust to an ever-shifting list of problems, opportunities and priorities.
NIMBYs are always part of the discussion.
Perhaps an overly dismissive term, NIMBY stands for "not in my back yard," a stance frequently expressed in more complex terms at city council, quorum court, planning commission and other public meetings. "NIMBY" is a movement people float in and out of, based on whether they believe a project adversely affects their properties or their ways of life. Faces change, but the dynamic remains fairly steady at local planning commissions: It will hurt my property values; crime will increase; the traffic will overwhelm our streets; the noise will hurt our quality of life; and this plan will change the character of our neighborhood/town.
Nobody considers himself a NIMBY. Each person's opposition is rooted, from their perspective, in reason, common sense and the good of the community.
In recent years, however, larger cities have witnessed the birth of a new collection of activists calling themselves YIMBYs. You guessed it: It stands for "Yes in my back yard." These folks stand ready to stir things up, to offer counterarguments to the usual NIMBY responses that, if embraced, have the effect of preventing change necessary to address unmet needs within communities. This often arises in debates over housing developments.
In some cities, like San Francisco, YIMBYs have organized to resist policies that stand in the way of high-density housing. Real estate prices and housing costs are astronomical in San Francisco, pushing people who don't make massive incomes farther and farther out of the city.
YIMBYs are doing battle with the NIMBYs. The operating theory of YIMBYs is that established residents use zoning and other land-use controls to prevent or constrain new development that could provide affordable housing options. It's a new version of the haves vs. the have nots.
In Northwest Arkansas, people concerned with development of communities often stress that our quickly growing, but still manageable, region stands at a critical juncture. Smart planning can avoid the pitfalls experienced in places like Seattle or San Francisco. Doing things as they've been done for decades, they say, will do little to dodge the development problems now plaguing those larger cities.
Fayetteville, for example, will return Tuesday night to debate over using city policy to encourage development of "accessory dwelling units." The changes will encourage existing homeowners, through planning codes, to build attached or detached dwellings that family members -- say, a parent or an adult child -- could move into, or that the homeowner could rent out.
The goal is to expand housing options by capitalizing on existing lots now dedicated only to single-family homes. Doing so requires no major public infrastructure changes and has the hoped-for effect of expanding Fayetteville's inventory of affordable -- some say, attainable -- housing.
The city's policy would shift from what, once upon a time, were standards that discouraged encroachment of back-yard rental units into single-family, mostly owner-occupied neighborhoods. Instead, the city's approach will encourage these accessory units by giving them an easy path toward approval.
The city is going so far that it would eliminate a requirement that a lot's principal home must be owner-occupied, clearing the way for property owners to double up on income by renting not just the accessory unit, but the original home as well.
Will this policy shift give rise to NIMBY arguments, such as those the city heard from neighbors who resisted the extension and resulting development of Rolling Hills Drive? Or those who want the city to spend millions acquiring the Lewis soccer fields property rather than allowing it to be sold by the University of Arkansas to potential developers?
Fayetteville city leaders have set as priorities the promotion of "in-fill" development and a drive to increase population density. The hope, in conjunction with those policies, is that affordable housing opportunities will expand.
That will test just how far residents are willing to embrace change to achieve those ends. If in-fill is a priority along with preservation of green space, demand for property within the city will go up, so prices will, too. That will pressure developers to build taller, multi-family units, resulting in the population densities some advocate as vital to sustainable growth practices, including less use of automobiles and more functionality for mass transit.
These changes undoubtedly mean the Fayetteville of tomorrow will look much, much different than the Fayetteville of today. It will be intriguing to see if "not in my back yard" arguments will grow as these changes come along, and to what extent Fayetteville's elected leaders are willing to ignore them for what some insist are changes for the greater good.
The question must be asked: How much NIMBY is healthy and how much will put a stranglehold on the most functional, and therefore livable, future of your community?
Commentary on 08/06/2018
Print Headline: In my back yard?