The YIMBY moment hasn’t exactly arrived in America but it’s on the platform and the train is coming. The framework for political arguments in many City Halls has transformed from “Neighborhood vs Developer” to “YIMBY vs NIMBY.” State Houses like California are being shaken up by YIMBY legislation, both passed and proposed.
The movement’s growth has created a scramble to define where it lies on the broader political spectrum. Various YIMBYs have staked a claim to be the true flagholders for popular local political labels, whether that be “progressive,” “free market,” or other. Opponents have been quick to identify YIMBYism with disliked groups in their local environments, whether that be United Nations Agenda 21 or the Koch brothers.
Now this is one hot take pic.twitter.com/vOIwuo3pBf
— Chandler Forsythe (@ctftx) February 21, 2018
Sorry, YIMBYs — the market won't save us. https://t.co/gp38wU6pqp
— Jacobin (@jacobinmag) August 8, 2017
This ideological mishmash is more than rhetoric. I correspond daily with (or twitter my life away, my wife would say) folks with radically different beliefs about economic systems who nevertheless work together toward a common goal of addressing the housing shortage. It doesn’t feel like an uncomfortable alliance of convenience, but rather a group of friends with different ideas. In a world where we’re constantly reminded of evergrowing ideological divides, how does this movement maintain this hodgepodge?
Jaap Weel gets to part of the answer here:
The ability to bridge ideological divides is a strength baked into the YIMBY movement from the start. We have @SonjaTrauss to thank for that, I think. You can't make a city affordable to more people without more homes in it, whether you're a liberal or a radical or whatever. https://t.co/TdAk5HLeey
— Jaap Weel 🥑🌐🏳️🌈 (@weel) January 8, 2018
YIMBYs believe places should accommodate as many of the people who want to live or work there as they can. This belief is so simple and the need so basic that it can fit into nearly any ideology. Indeed, human beings have been building and designing cities since millennia before Adam Smith or Karl Marx. Rather than saying that YIMBYism is socialist or capitalist, it’s more accurate to say that socialism and capitalism can be YIMBY or not.
— Dan Keshet🚶 (@DanKeshet) February 8, 2018
A free market YIMBY platform could be “abolish height limits and developers will build more housing to meet market demand.” A socialist YIMBY platform could be “raise property taxes to build public housing.” An environmentalist YIMBY platform looks like SB827 while a social justice YIMBY platforms can focus on ending practices that exclude people from the best jobs or schools. All of these policies share the fundamental assessment that there aren’t enough homes (and/or workplaces, etc) and we need to build more of them, but they accomplish that goal through different mechanisms.
Many YIMBYs are inspired to ideas based on their previous ideas about economic systems (“cut regulations”, “community land ownership”, “better planning”). But further complicating the ideological picture, policies are often judged within YIMBY circles based on their ability to address the housing shortage and not necessarily based on ideological priors. It’s not uncommon to see the same person arguing for different solutions that could be glossed as “socialist”, “planned market”, or “free market.” Some ideas defy easy classification: for example, many YIMBYs believe that transit planning should be pushed to the local government level while land use planning should be pushed to higher levels of government. If you insist on looking at their ideas through a prism of capitalist vs socialist, this would be hopelessly confusing. But if you understand all of these as potential ways to get more people access to the places that they want, it makes sense.
So here’s a challenge: try to, instead of judging whether YIMBY as a whole is more an offshoot of one ideology or another, fully understand what problems it’s trying to solve and how you think those problems would best be solved.