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How to talk to your NIMBY neighbors about zoning

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These art projects could help

Neighbors for More Neighbors

Every neighborhood’s got them: The people who fight against taller buildings that bring more residents. But how do you explain to your neighbors that their decisions are blocking out people and projects that could make their streets more vibrant and their housing more affordable?

That’s exactly the goal of Neighbors for More Neighbors, an art project by Ryan Johnson and John Edwards. The Minneapolis artists poke fun at the not-in-my-backyard sentiment that’s empowered NIMBYs to stop change in their neighborhoods for decades. Now a YIMBY movementyes in my backyard—has taken hold in many cities, pushing for residents to welcome more inclusive developments to their streets. A series of humorous yet attention-demanding posters are twisting NIMBY words into YIMBY action.

As Johnson told Henry Grabar at Slate, the idea is to help explain what zoning does in a more human-centric way. “It’s just so mundane that no one is interested in getting into it. And that’s where I think art is important: You can boil down these arguments and everyone can understand.”

Posters, postcards, and stickers are available for sale at the YIMBY Store (where else?) but there are also some other projects you can download for free. Especially powerful are a series of “Check your homeowner privilege” cards, which the artists recommend people hand out at community meetings where homeowners are likely to speak out against projects that bring renters to their neighborhoods.

That’s not the only YIMBY propaganda currently floating around on the internet. Last month, Berkeley graphic designer Libby Lee-Egan made #yimbyvalentines, which turned zoning terminology into romantic (?) terms of endearment.

Libby Lee-Egan

While these projects might feel like inside jokes for planners and policy wonks, there’s something to be said about bringing this kind of language out into the public realm.

In places like Seattle, which is working on adopting the comprehensive upzoning initiative named the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), and Los Angeles, which votes today on the divisive anti-development ballot Measure S, this kind of messaging can help housing advocates explain to local residents how their decisions to fight density are actually hurting their fellow citizens.

These types of decisions to block people out are especially incongruous in today’s political climate, when city leaders are publicly rallying around Americans affected by the travel ban or supporting sanctuary city status for undocumented residents. Cities like Seattle and Los Angeles, for example, say they want to “welcome” immigrants, but without being more permissive with the zoning and land-use on their own streets, they’re not making any room in their communities for their new neighbors to live.