Anyone familiar with local land use issues knows that one of the most potent forces in any debate over a proposed project is the NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”). “NIMBY” is generally considered a derogatory term, intended to imply hypocrisy; a NIMBY is said to be objecting to a land use they would find totally unobjectionable if located in someone else’s neighborhood. In contrast, the new YIMBY (“Yes In My Back Yard”) movement, developing out of New York and San Francisco, proudly claims its name as it seeks to help residents support and advocate for (some kinds of) development in their neighborhoods.
It hardly needs to be said that NIMBYism is often problematic, standing in the way of needed infrastructure which would benefit the community as a whole in favor of “protecting” the status quo. But we should introduce a little more nuance here. At the risk of providing aid and comfort to NIMBYs everywhere, it has to be said that sometimes “not in my back yard” is an appropriate response to a proposed land use. After all, the idea that not all land uses are appropriate in all places is the basis for the very concept of urban planning. And YIMBYs, in responding to NIMBYism, can also be problematic. Not to put too fine a point on it, but YIMBYs must tread carefully to avoid becoming mere shills for powerful development interests.
Let’s also be clear that not all objections to new development are examples of NIMBYism. Or, even if objections are NIMBY in nature, they may be a sign that no one would want a particular land use nearby and perhaps it shouldn’t be allowed anywhere. To that end, I’d like to introduce a new acronym, NIABY (“Not In Anybody’s Back Yard”). Let’s apply this to people and groups that fight against damaging, polluting, out-moded forms of development wherever they are. And that concept of course implies its opposite, YIEBY (“Yes In Everybody’s Back Yard”). Let’s apply this acronym to those who advocate for widespread and equitable development of the kinds of infrastructure that improve virtually any neighborhood where they’re located.
What does this have to do with transportation? A lot, actually. While NIMBYs and YIMBYs are most often associated with new buildings (particularly large multifamily housing developments), their motivations and viewpoints can be and are applied to transportation infrastructure as well. It’s no coincidence that ports and freeways are generally associated with low-income, minority neighborhoods, while there’s usually far better bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in wealthier, whiter areas.
At CRTP, we aim to primarily take on the role of NIABY and YIEBY. We’re avowed NIABYs when it comes to new vehicle lanes and freeways, and committed YIEBYs when it comes to bike lanes, sidewalks, and bus stops. Of course, we don’t dismiss the importance of location for most types of development. In particular, we believe strongly that the place for dense new residential and commercial development is in existing population centers, not in suburban or rural zones. It’s this pattern of development that will enable the successful transportation mode shift that’s at the core of our work.
So we call on YIMBYs to speak up in support of dense infill development, and we’ll support the NIMBYs when new sprawl is proposed. And we hope you’ll all join us in our NIABY and YIEBY transportation advocacy. Acronyms, unite!