What do NIMBYs Want?

BELL VIEW-Last week I wrote an article about what gets lost when a city changes. My comment about “the kids these days” drew a flood of attacks from a couple of anonymous trolls. They called me a loser, a cranky old man, a selfish piece of sh*t, an emotional child, and a bad lawyer. 

And worse, they called me a “Boomer.” And that ain’t right. I belong to the Blank Generation. I can take it or leave it each time. 

One of these trolls, I suspect, is a lawyer for developers. Or maybe the Koch Brothers or the Keystone XL Pipeline. The other I’m pretty sure is a “realtor,” who thinks the homeless should be hosed off the streets of downtown LA. I don’t know for sure, though, because these guys prefer to attack people’s character from under a sheet. It’s an honorable tradition that goes back to the KKK.

But mostly, they called me a NIMBY – that all-purpose insult of today’s young urbanist. 

Most of my political battles in this town started during my time in East Hollywood. Every time I pushed back against some developer’s stucco-encrusted knock-off dormitory, some hack would call me a NIMBY. It’s an easy attack whenever anyone opposes our society’s collective drive to make the rich richer. But after a while I started to think: “Damn – for a NIMBY, I sure do have a lot going on in my backyard!” Up-zoning along freeways, homeless housing, Ellis Act evictions, small-lot subdivisions – you name it. Just about every battleground issue playing itself out in Los Angeles was taking place fairly regularly on the streets of East Hollywood. 

Then I moved a little uphill and started getting involved in some community Facebook groups and blogs for Los Feliz and Silver Lake and … what do you know … these fairly static upscale communities are just chock full of “urbanists.” An urbanist, apparently, is someone who never met a development she couldn’t get behind.

In contrast to the hated NIMBY, these urban elites like to think of themselves as “YIMBYs” – or “Yes in my backyard!” (Exclamation point mandatory.) “Yes,” they cheer, “yes – in my backyard – build that skyscraper, eviscerate the old Los Angeles, bring us more steel and glass, up-zone next to freeways, create more spaces for people and fewer spaces for cars, and for chrissake bring us a Target store already …. And do it now!” The YIMBY cares not for planning, and generally believes zoning codes are racist, twentieth-century holdovers like blue laws or the Taft Hartley Act. They just get in the way of the marketplace working its magic to bring us all together.

But a lot of what these YIMBYs are screaming for doesn’t really happen in their backyards. Sure, Silver Lake and Echo Park are looking at a few massive developments – but nothing compared to Hollywood, East Hollywood, or Boyle Heights. Low wage and immigrant families can feel themselves being pushed out of their neighborhoods to make room for “affordable housing.” But while Los Feliz and Echo Park might get more crowded in the years to come, no one’s looking to push the well-heeled residents of these communities out of the way of progress. “We want cheaper rents!” they say. 

They point to Denver, where the gods of supply and demand brought the average rental price down from $1,367 to $1,347 – or, as I like to call it, “The Denver Miracle.” But pushing rents down from $1,950 to $1,925 isn’t going to do much for the thousands of our neighbors losing their rent-controlled homes to make way for new development. 

Most of the YIMBYs I know don’t have to worry about that kind of thing happening to them. In fact, some of my favorite YIMBYs actually live in the hills – where nothing will ever get in the way of their quiet enjoyment of the life they’ve become accustomed to. No – whenever a YIMBY starts screaming about “Yes in my backyard!” – more often than not he means, “Yes in their backyard!” Because nothing really Earth-shattering is likely to happen where they live.

So I propose a new acronym: the “YITBY” – “Yes in their backyard!” – for the urbanist who’s got nothing to lose. And I mean that: nothing.


(David Bell is a writer, attorney, former president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and writes for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.