The yimby acronym stands for "Yes, In My Backyard." Usually it's written in all capital letters. Obviously this makes no sense at all unless you have been following its opposite, the NIMBY trend (Not In My Back Yard) that has become so marked in conversations about LULUs (locally undesirable land uses) around the U.S. OK, we promise not to introduce any more of the silly but useful acronyms now in use.
We would be the first to say that some neighbor outcries against landfills, nightclubs, poorly designed housing developments, big box stores, fast food drive-through lanes, or asphalt plants are well justified, even though proponents of these projects would call their opposition NIMBYs (what the people involved are called).
Unfortunately in many places, a NIMBY reaction has extended to anything that would increase housing density, which means number of housing units per acre, and housing affordability. Single-family homeowners routinely oppose construction of apartments and condominiums, or even two-family dwellings, nearby.
Sometimes the opposition is more subtle, such as when neighbors come out in force to oppose a housing development for vague reasons that all translate to opposition to a lower income group occupying the same neighborhood.
The budding YIMBY movement, if we could call it that, may embrace a wide array of land uses that the YIMBYs would like to support in their neighborhoods.
Certainly there is no cohesive definition as yet as to what YIMBY really means. We will zero in one topic discussed among the groups in vanguard cities for progressivism that self-style as YIMBY groups. Our purpose here is not to track the entire trend, but rather to use the concept as a lever for talking about something that really needs to happen quickly in the U.S. if we are to do our part toward alleviating the impacts of climate change.
That something is an increase in housing density in strategic urban core or transit-adjacent locations.
The photo we chose shows judicious use of densification (a jargon term you will encounter) in the form of building higher-rise housing on a major street where low-rise buildings have predominated up until now. Given proximity to a fixed transit station, many shopping and entertainment options, and a reasonable street grid for driving, the addition of this building to the housing stock might result in lower rents in the immediate area in the long run, depending on where demand and supply meet.
But there are other advantages, as we will see.
On the advantages side, we see several:
That list may be short, but it is mighty.
Our photo example case leads us to note three possible negative effects of densification:
If you want to keep track of who is championing the "yes in my back yard" notion, please take a look at the yimbytown website. On that site you will also grasp many other aspects of this trend that we have not described on this page. Watch for their next YIMBYtown conference. The 2018 conference attracted activists from growing U.S., Canadian, and British cities.
In fact the wide range of issues covered under this loose idea could be its doom.
But on the other hand, natural allies for the housing densification we have discussed include people and organizations in the smart growth movement, some urban planners, sprawl activists, and low-income housing and other social equity proponents. However, the concept is attractive to some conservatives also, who correctly understand that more compact development and living patterns will result in lower public infrastructure costs for both construction and maintenance.
The headwinds are strong also. They include unspoken but very real prejudices against people who are "other," and in the U.S. at least, the fierce determination to own a large private lot. The coalition of progressives and conservatives that we have hinted at obviously would not occur without some serious conversations about working together to increase housing density, agreeing to put aside other policy disagreements and style differences. But with persistence, people of good will could create such a coalition.