Activists, like those who protested using Winfrey Point at White Rock Lake as a parking lot, are not necessarily NIMBYs.

Activists, like those who protested using Winfrey Point at White Rock Lake as a parking lot, are not necessarily NIMBYs.

All very relevant question to those reading this page. If you live in our neighborhood and read the Advocate, you’ve probably supported or opposed some proposed development — a restaurant at White Rock Lake, a new parking lot for Dallas Arboretum-goers, a multi-family retirement community or a residential rezoning of some sort.

Fall in the latter category, and you might at one time have been called a NIMBY or accused of NIMBYism. (Not In My Back Yard).

To those who follow our neighborhood’s zoning sagas, the scenario spelled out by land-use regulations lawyer Chris Bradford at his new blog, Club NIMBY will seem familiar:

“A developer requests a zoning change to allow a modest apartment building next to a mostly single-family neighborhood. The request prompts howls of protest from the neighborhood’s homeowners. At the zoning hearing, one homeowner after another trudges to the microphone to urge, earnestly and sincerely, that the development threatens his neighborhood’s character, the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of his home, and the lives of his children and small pets. If the neighbors think the hearing will go against them, they also will decry the lack of public process (regardless of how much process has taken place), and level accusations of gentrification or nefarious devotion to profit. Nothing has the potential to turn the bourgeoisie into revolutionaries quite like a zoning fight.” 

Being called a NIMBY is not flattering. (Though some people seem to take a sort of pride in it). Big picture, NIMBYism contributes to a widespread housing shortage, notes Bradford, who lives in Austin. “Over the past three or four decades, homeowners objecting to development have systematically curtailed the supply of housing where we need it most … economists on both the right and the left contend that zoning restriction has driven up home prices, exacerbated economic segregation, and created a drag on the national economy by redirecting migration away from rich, high-productivity regions to poorer, low-productivity regions.”

That in mind, we should be awfully careful about labeling someone a NIMBY, and know that any opposition to any development does not a NIMBY make.

As CityLab explains, obstructionism can be a bad thing sometimes, but other times, the obstruction of some new project in the neighborhood might be closer to heroism. As one CityLab commenter points out, “low-income communities are often the brunt of the build-anything-anywhere mantra, since developers will dump the most environmentally damaging projects in the lowest land-priced neighborhoods” and some are desperate for an advocate to scream “not in my backyard” for them.

Activists, like those who protested using Winfrey Point at White Rock Lake as a parking lot, are not necessarily NIMBYs.

The purpose of Club NIMBY, Bradford says, is to help readers improve their understanding of NIMBYism, and thereby he aims to diminish the sort of NIMBYism that he says “imposes serious inefficiencies on the economy and exacerbates social inequality and segregation.”

“Why are homeowners more likely to engage in NIMBYism than other types of property owners? Why has NIMBYism intensified over time? Homeowners, presumably, have always cared about their home values — if NIMBYism is simply about “protecting home value,” why is NIMBYism more prevalent today than in the 1930s, 1950s, or even 1970s? And why has it grown so much more sophisticated?”

These are a few of the questions Bradford addresses in his attempt to lay out a good theory of NIMBYism.

Though his first blog post is extensive and intense, he says to expect more on “congestion and overuse externalities, environmental and social amenities, the concept of ‘prestige,’ and the difficulty homeowners face in credibly signaling the effect of development on neighborhood amenities.

“I will explain why prestigious neighborhoods like down-zonings, and why historic preservation, which can be thought of as the ultimate down-zoning, is particularly popular,” he notes. “I will discuss why ‘neighborhood planning’  is one of homeowners’ best tools for propping up club value.

“I will also discuss other types of regulation that should be thought of as zoning’s close cousin. Regulations that restrict parking to neighborhood residents, for example, are, like zoning, attempts to limit outsiders’ access to neighborhood amenities. When a neighborhood enjoys particularly good access to downtown or another amenity, this proximity is itself an amenity. In such neighborhoods, homeowners can be expected to oppose street connectivity in order to monopolize the benefits of this proximity…”

If this is all starting to hit a bit too close to home and your feathers are ruffled and you are ready to chew someone out, head on over to ClubNIMBY.