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Welcome - my name is Kevin Klinkenberg, and this site "The Messy City" is my blog and company website. I started blogging on urban planning and design issues in 2007, and began working in the field in 1993. Please feel free to connect with me on any of the social media sites listed here. Thanks for reading.

Freedom & NIMBY'ism

Michael Lewyn writes about some reasons behind NIMBYism (not in my back yard):

Where did this idea come from? Probably from the perfectly reasonable idea that people are affected by "externalities" arising from how others used nearby property. At one time, this idea might have limited to the most obvious externalities such as odor and pollution from a factory. 

But in the 20th century, zoning enabling acts and zoning codes gave city councils virtually unlimited discretion to regulate land development. Since city councillors have to run for reelection, they began to heed the voice of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) activists in their districts.

And then writes about the downsides of NIMBY's:

If NIMBYs can outlaw any new construction, society ultimately only has two alternatives. First, society can make new housing impossible, causing housing prices to explode. This strategy has been followed in San Francisco, where new housing construction is virtually forbidden. At the height of the housing boom in 2005, the city granted 1.2 housing permits per 10,000 people- less than one-twentieth the state average. (Even Detroit had more, despite the fact that Detroit lost 1/4 of its population during the 2000s). Not surprisingly, San Francisco is much more expensive than other mid-sized cities. Second, society can allow new housing where there is no one to object- that is, in farmland. This leads to lots of new housing in places without public transit, thus causing lots of greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution, and increasing everyone's transportation costs.

I think Michael & I are largely in agreement about NIMBYism.

I do find myself, however, understanding the reasons behind the roots of neighborhood opposition. In large part this is because the development industry has failed us as humans for too many years. Developers, builders & designers have provided us with too many ugly buildings, too many poorly-built structures that don't last and not nearly enough beauty and quality. It's not surprising that many people are skeptical that a new 5 story building will be of high quality when they have very little personal experience to support that. I get it.

As designers, we're unfortunately now in the position where the burden of proof is on us that new construction can in fact be great. Certainly I believe it can, but we're coming out of an era where often we proved otherwise.

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