The Rise of the NIMBY Movement, and How Homeowners Came to Own the Whole Neighborhood

The history of how homeowners came to wield expansive power over the development of entire neighborhoods and cities is complex and can't be traced to any one policy or market trend.
January 4, 2018, 5am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Dan Brown

Emily Badger explores the rise of the "Not In My Backyard" (NIMBY) movement to power—and its ability to expand its political influence beyond the backyard to the entire neighborhood.

The causes of NIMBY campaigns are familiar. "In Seattle, the neighbors don’t want apartments for formerly homeless seniors nearby," writes Badger. "In Los Angeles, they don’t want more high-rises. In San Jose, Calif., they don’t want tiny homes. In Phoenix, they don’t want design that’s not midcentury modern."

Common among these opposition campaigns is a conviction "that owning a parcel of land gives them a right to shape the world beyond its boundaries," according to Badger, who traces the roots of the idea that the influence of property owners should reach well beyond the property line.

Badger references nuisance laws, schools, race, and advent of citywide zoning in this examination of the exclusionary tendencies of NIMBY campaigns. The article's conclusion is particularly powerful, suggesting how deep a cultural shift will be necessary to disentangle the power of obstructionists from the future needs of cities and communities: "We want people to be invested in their neighborhoods, but not to the exclusion of anyone else who might live there, too. We want to empower neighbors to fight a trash dump, but not to halt every housing project the region needs."

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Published on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 in The New York Times
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