Participants of the housing industry are familiar with vociferous and regressive not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) residents. These are the stubborn owners who oppose growth and higher-density housing developments in their neighborhoods, preferring to keep their immediate area exactly as it was when they bought in.

But here’s something refreshing brought to light by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR): the emergence of yes-in-my-backyard (YIMBY) urbanites who welcome development in their cities.

YIMBYs are growing in numbers, particularly among urban dwellers whose dream neighborhoods harmoniously combine adequate housing, local amenities and transportation — all in a centralized (and highly desirable) location. The YIMBY perspective is gaining momentum across populous California cities, so much so that its supporters recently organized YIMBY 2016, the first international conference for YIMBYs.

Attendees included several pro-development groups from California, such as:

  • West LA YIMBY;
  • LA City Planning;
  • East Bay Forward;
  • San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation; and
  • SF YIMBY Congress.

Their goal: making economically robust cities accessible and financially feasible to more people through the development of urban housing — this in light of rapid gentrification and skyrocketing home prices and rental rates in high-demand cities across the country.

Bringing this to fruition will require multiple changes to housing and zoning policy, including:

  • loosening zoning restrictions to allow for higher-density housing and mixed-use developments;
  • policy updates that expedite the building and approval process to quickly address the very real need that presently exists;
  • permitting the expansion of existing buildings and creation of new developments;
  • offering density bonuses to developers for affordable housing, thereby incentivizing the right type of growth; and
  • concentrating more housing around accessible public transportation to allow for urban mobility.

Overcoming NIMBY opposition and moving forward

Anti-development NIMBY residents are often the loudest and harshest voices in housing conversations. While their opposition is rooted purely in personal interest, their dissent contains a list of fears developers will need to overcome to achieve YIMBY goals, whether they like it or not.

Much like YIMBY activism, NIMBY action is often undertaken as advocacy for their communities in an effort to preserve the quality and livability of their neighborhoods as they now exist.

For example, recent residential developments in Los Angeles solicited backlash from NIMBYs who argue refurbishing infrastructure is a larger priority than new development. They fear more centralized, high-density housing  increases crime and traffic, making the neighborhood less desirable.

Thus, NIMBYs tend to view development as an affront to existing residents, a benefit to greedy developers but a detriment to the local community.

As SPUR notes, the divide between NIMBY and YIMBY perspectives may be a result of a generational shift in values and expectations based on historical housing trends. While previous generations of urban activists primarily organized to prevent corporate developments from demolishing homes for profit, younger generations are faced with housing policies that protect existing homes at the expense of developing more housing — an obstacle that has further tightened the housing squeeze and driven up housing costs beyond financial reach (a problem felt most acutely by the young first-time buyer demographic).

Ultimately, older generations who prescribe to NIMBYism see development as a threat; younger generations — Generation Y (Gen Y), especially — view development as a necessary step towards modernizing cities and making them livable.

While both perspectives have their merit, today’s heightened housing demand, booming urban economies and growing attraction to city centers favor the YIMBY approach to development.

Fostering growth and development in high-demand cities is now crucial for creating sustainable and livable urban environments, ensuring housing for the large employee populations in city centers and preventing the mass displacement of residents who can no longer afford the rising living costs.