Commentary: The battle over backyards
By Will Shoemaker
Protestors protesting protestors. What is this world coming to?
As goofy as it sounds, there’s a movement afoot in cities across the country whose members are griping about the gripes of others. Yes In My Backyard, or YIMBY, is a crusade in direct response to Not In My Backyard, or NIMBY, cries that have halted affordable housing development in areas where YIMBYs say it’s needed most.
We’ve seen it before. The Big Bad Developer plans to erect housing units in a location totally out of character with the surrounding neighborhood, and a few well-meaning NIMBYs point out that people will be living in those units. And where there are people, there are dogs. And dogs crap everywhere. So what the Big Bad Developer is really proposing is a mountain of dog crap.
Enter the YIMBYs. The movement is comprised mainly of Millennial activists who are fed up with what they call “skyrocketing rents” and what they consider “undue political influence” of NIMBYs. The YIMBY movement has even grown to the point of activists organizing the first-ever YIMBY conference last year in Boulder.
According to NextCity.org, about 150 YIMBYs from around the country convened for the call to arms. Many of these young, angry activists generally adhere to progressive policies but aren’t afraid to dance with developers in the face of NIMBY opposition to housing projects.
“Whereas homeowners’ groups and other vested interests often dominate comments at public hearings, YIMBYs seek to testify on behalf of what they consider the silent majority that will benefit from more development and, particularly, more housing in urban areas,” NextCity reports.
With NIMBY-esque opposition to housing projects now surfacing at both ends of the Gunnison Valley — Brush Creek near Crested Butte, of course, but longtime seasonal occupants of Mesa Campground are not taking kindly to new owners’ plans for a tiny home community — I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see our own brand of YIMBY protestors.
My guess is probably not. Our would-be YIMBYs are too busy trying to scrape together enough cash to pay rent on the three-bedroom home they share with 10 others. And let’s face it, those public meetings that NIMBYs never miss are in the middle of the day when teachers, police and firefighters are otherwise “occupied.”
You don’t think they’re going to run out of class or leave the scene of an emergency just to get spiked in a verbal volleyball match by deep-pocketed part-time residents, do you?
And, really, how can you compete with the sky-is-falling premonitions of the NIMBYs? As they point out, there won’t be enough parking. Trails and bus stops instead? Nobody rides bikes or buses anymore.
Further, we won’t be able to breath with that kind of density. Hundreds of inhabitants packed into a few small acres is a recipe for squalor. In short, affordable housing is the politically correct way of saying “ghetto.”
Besides, as an article this week in the Denver Post notes, opposition to affordable housing is a longstanding tradition in Colorado mountain towns. “Very few affordable projects are uncontested,” according to the article. “Residents tend to support workforce housing, except when it’s nearby.”
And on top of it all, there’s a point of view picking up steam in our valley, inspired by Nancy Reagan, that suggests it’s OK — in fact, warranted — to just say “no.” That anything new or different is going to ruin what we are, or were, or want to be.
It’s a perspective that crops up every few years when we look up from our ski tips and mountain bike tires long enough to realize that the world is — gulp — changing around us, and we might just get sucked into the maelstrom. I mean, since when does saying “yes” to anything actually result in progress?
The only solution I see is to place a gate at the county line to ensure our cool-factor doesn’t escape and the I-70-mega-resort influence doesn’t infiltrate. We’ll build a wall, and make Vail pay for it.
To that, even the most ardent NIMBY would surely say, “Yes In My Backyard.”
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)