YIMBYs Leading the Pro-Density Fight

Minneapolis has become an inspiration to other cities about how to successfully challenge NIMBY factions that oppose density and zoning reform.
June 1, 2019, 1pm PDT | Camille Fink
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Tony Webster

Philip Kiefer traces the path Minneapolis took to passage of a plan last year that eliminates single-family zoning in the city. A city council member who supported increased density was an important start, but the YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) momentum was bolstered by some creative grassroots activism, says Kiefer:

The way [John] Edwards sees it, the NIMBY [Not in My Backyard] talking points — concerns over neighborhood character and belligerent renters — are a kind of propaganda, "so it’s time for some counter-propaganda." The early Neighbors for More Neighbors memes were done in the style of National Parks advertisements. "Remember: Only you can prevent sprawl," says a beaver in a park ranger hat. "Help keep America green. End single-family zoning."

The Neighbors for More Neighbors advocacy group organized members to show up at public meetings, community events, and neighborhood walks, and the outreach paid off when the city council passed the Minneapolis 2040 plan in December.

"Without the YIMBYs, the Neighbors for More Neighbors organizers think, the eventual plan would have been substantially watered-down, or consensus never would have emerged. As Edwards put it, the YIMBYs had city council 'looking over both shoulders,'" writes Kiefer.

Seattle activists looked to Minneapolis as they cranked up their own zoning reform efforts. Although they faced a number of setbacks and fierce opposition, the YIMBY contingent came together and support for increased density was high, says Kiefer. In March, the city council passed the Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation to allow larger developments and to promote affordable housing.

"The real work wasn’t necessarily convincing the other side, [Patience] Malaba said. It was persuading enough people that changing some thing as dry as zoning codes could have an outsized influence on their homes, their neighbors, and their booming city," notes Kiefer.

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Published on Tuesday, May 21, 2019 in Grist
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