Overcoming Density Opponents by Listening to Them

Urbanist Brent Toderian does not begrudge NIMBYs; he values them. In an interview with David Roberts of Vox, he explains that the problem doesn't lie with development opponents as much as it does with the decision-makers.
June 21, 2017, 2pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Urbanist Brent Toderian, who helped make Vancouver, Canada famous in smart growth circles as its urban planner for six years, now works as a city planning consultant. He shares his tips to overcoming objections to increased density with David Roberts, who writes about energy and climate change for Vox. 

I work all over the world, and there are NIMBYs everywhere. Density is never easy. Change is never easy. We have a bias towards the status quo and we tend to weigh loss more heavily than gain. That is human nature.

Density-phobia is not endemic to urban areas either, as the developer of a four-story affordable senior apartment building in the small city of Prospect, Kentucky outside Louisville, will testify (see Planetizen post, June 15).

To me, NIMBY is not a pejorative. It means people are saying, “that thing — we don’t want it in our backyard, in our neighborhood.” There’s nothing inherently bad about that. Sometimes it’s a reasonable point! ... There are things we don’t want in our backyard, and when you combine that with human nature, almost anything in your backyard that you don’t currently have is going to be a challenge.

So I don’t begrudge NIMBYs. I value them. I listen carefully and I learn what they’re afraid of, why they say no. Often I will learn how to do yes better and address their fears, or at least mitigate them.

Residents who oppose the "increased traffic, the height and density" of the 198-unit Prospect Cove, for example, are not necessarily the problem, explains Toderian. Rather, he blames the decision-makers who can be overcome by the opponents' fears.

I think we need to train our politicians on how to work with the NIMBY mindset and do the right thing in its context. Doing a “yes,” but a better yes, educated by NIMBY fear.

Toderian elaborates on how planning commissioners and city council members need to respond to NIMBY fears, particularly when there's a basis for those fears, and relates them to his experience in Vancouver.

Vancouver has a track record of delivering density in a pretty good way, so we can have a different conversation about change and density and height.

Toderian also has advice for YIMBYs. They should advocate for QIMBY: Quality In My Back Yard. He goes on to define the three components to "density done well."

The dialog in Vox with Toderian continues in:

Hat tip to John Hartz via Sierra Club Transportation Forum.

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Published on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 in Vox
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