What Defines A Nimby?

Sometimes anti-development attitudes come from a legitimate desire for security.
By Elizabeth Lasky | Oct 26, 2018 |
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By Elizabeth Lasky | Oct 26, 2018 |
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In the San Francisco Bay area, and prominent cities on both coasts, the cost of housing is somewhat irrational. Those of us under the age of "I bought my house twenty years ago" blame this on a group of people we call NIMBYs. We consider these people backwards, unwilling or perhaps unable to face a future of dense residential urbanism. In response, they say "Die tech scum," since tech workers are the only new residents who can afford to live in their city instead of commuting from far away. It's tech workers vs NIMBYs, young vs. old, those striving to get ahead vs those who already got theirs.

I thought my attitude towards this was a global one. New construction is good in all places. If the real estate market demands it, it should be fulfilled. Yet recently a remark from an acquaintance gave me pause.

He showed me an article about a development that was blocked in my hometown of Cincinnati. The University of Cincinnati wants to build a new dorm, but it is against the wishes of nearby residents. My acquaintance called these development-objecting residents NIMBYs.

"But they aren't," I argued. "They're poor black people living in the ghetto next to campus. UC is a college, serving mostly middle-class students, and its campus has encroached on their neighborhood for decades, fueling fears of displacement. A few years ago, UC even demolished an elementary school to make way for more student housing, and the city let them."

In San Francisco, when white working-class residents object to encroachment by new tech workers, they're NIMBYs. In Cincinnati, when black working-class residents object to encroachment by college students, are they NIMBYs too?

Other people besides my acquaintance might not say this. Cincinnati’s black population, after all, has long had a disadvantage in this highly-segregated city, and the growth of UC may give them the further sense that they will be uprooted. Yet a longtime resident of San Francisco who can barely afford to live there anymore might have similar insecurities, and believe that the local system is against him, too. Perhaps we should not dismiss the concerns of either group.

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