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Depending on who you ask, there are only two ways of looking at neighborhood change: You’re either for or against it.
In the Washington region, and many other metropolitan areas, these schools of thought are often characterized as a fight over development between NIMBYs (“Not in my backyard!”) and YIMBYs (“Yes in my backyard!”).
But the reasons why residents are for and against change are often more complicated than simply supporting or opposing business and development. It doesn’t help that the term NIMBY is, in some circles, a bit of a derogatory term used to label certain residents as antiquated and even xenophobic.
Kojo explores the NIMBY/YIMBY binary and the language we use to describe neighborhood change.
Produced by Ruth Tam
- Roger Lewis Architect; Columnist, "Shaping the City," Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park
- Tracy Hadden Loh Staff Scientist, The Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, George Washington University; contributor to Greater Greater Washington; @busysparrow
- Angela Bradbery Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, 3C6
- Aiyi'nah Ford Executive Director of The Future Foundation; @aiyinah
- Christian Dorsey Chair, Arlington County Board; Principal Director, WMATA Board of Directors; @CD4arlington
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Depending on who you ask there are only two schools of thought when it comes to neighborhood change, you are either for it or against it. Increasingly here in the Washington region and elsewhere being against change and development has been characterized by the acronym “NIMBY,” which stands for "Not in my backyard!" Being for change and development has largely been described with the acronym “YIMBY,” "Yes in my backyard!"
KOJO NNAMDIBut as you may have already guessed local debates over neighborhood change are a lot more complicated than being for or against development. We're going to spend the next hour diving into this all or nothing mentality to neighborhood change. And we'll discuss local examples with people, who could be described as NIMBYs or YIMBYs. Joining me in studio is Roger Lewis. He is an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist for the Washington Post. Roger, great to see you again.
ROGER LEWISThank you for inviting me.
NNAMDIRoger, when did the terms “NIMBY” and “YIMBY” first begin gaining traction?
LEWISMy recollection is that they first were used probably in the 70s. I don't know, who first coined the terms, but I don't remember ever hearing them when I was architecture student in the 60s. And I remember certainly starting to hear them in the 70s and 80s. I think the, of course, the phenomenon of people who are pro and con goes way back. That's nothing new, nothing new about that.
NNAMDIYeah, but there's -- as you say the terms might be relatively new, but hasn't there always been neighborhood resistance to change? What is it about NIMBY and YIMBYism in particular that makes these mindsets distinct?
LEWISWell, I think it's first of all, it's easier for people to deal with either being for or against something. Where you get into the gray area -- black and white is easier to talk about than shades of gray. And I think that there has been a long history of people feeling the need to take a side and advocate or oppose as opposed to doing the homework and making the effort to really find out what are the facts, what are the pros and cons. Evaluating them in a kind of systematic, I dare say even scientific way.
LEWISSo I think the number of people who are willing to do that may be the problem. It's easier if -- particularly if there's some leadership which can sometimes be very dogmatic in its views and a few slogans and you suddenly find somebody as showing up at the hearing, who is opposed and it's mostly an emotional expression as opposed to a reasoned argument.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone is Tracy Hadden Loh. Tracy Hadden Loh is a staff scientist at The Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University. Tracy, thank you for joining us.
TRACY HADDEN LOHGreat to be on the show, Kojo.
NNAMDITracy, when someone actually uses the words “NIMBY” or “YIMBY” in a conversation or call someone that, what do they mean? What connotations do those words carry?
LOHWell, I think that what these acronyms are getting at is that, you know, people are feeling that in these conversations about change in the build environment that there are starting to be more and more people, who come at this with an ideology rather than as Roger mentioned like looking at the details of a specific project. So, you know, the acronym gets at this idea that there are some people who are just reflexively against everything, just as there are some people who are reflexively for everything.
NNAMDIWell, it's not a one size fits all acronym and yet these acronyms “NIMBY” and “YIMBY” get used like that. When does it not work?
LOHWell, I think it's when you look at almost any example of a particular proposed project, it's easy to start to see nuance. So for example, you know, near my own community in Prince George's County there is currently a proposal for an existing concrete plant to expand. And, you know, this is a project that requires a special variance in order to proceed. You know, it's got a lot of supporters in that there is an existing concrete plant on the site and it's on a piece of land that's already zoned heavy industrial.
LOHBut then there are also folks in the community that are concerned about, you know, what's happening on or around the site regarding air quality. And, you know, it's a kind of classic, you know, environmental justice narrative in that we're talking about frankly a fairly highly undesirable local land use that many many people would agree they don't want in their backyard.
LOHBut, you know, we're also talking about an existing business that employs people and creates jobs and, you know, is an important part of the local economy. And, you know, there is an important conversation to be had about, "Oh, okay so, you know, how are we monitoring air quality or is there air quality mitigation that's required?" "What are we doing for health and safety here while at the same time allowing this existing business that's already on an appropriately zoned parcel to grow?"
NNAMDITracy, zooming out to the region, Metro's Purple Line Project, what stage is it in now and has the debate over it devolved into a battle between so called NIMBYs and YIMBYs?
LOHThat's a great question, Kojo. And I think, you know, we are starting to move beyond the NIMBY/YIMBY stage in that the Purple Line is currently under construction. It's proceeding and there is tunneling and tree removal happening in the right of way that is planned for the Purple Line right now. So the project is happening. It is moving forward and a lot of the NIMBY/YIMBY issues have been if not resolved, have been put to bed in court.
NNAMDIOf course there's also a lot of support for the Purple Line as well. A lot of real estate is going to become more valuable, because of it, isn't it?
LOHYeah, I think that's very true, but I think it's also really important to understand that the Purple Line is going to dramatically improve accessibility for transit dependent populations in the suburban jurisdictions in Maryland that currently are dependent on a much less reliable and slower bus service. And it's particularly going to increase accessibility for those populations to education at the University of Maryland and at community colleges. And it's going to increase their access to good jobs in job centers like Bethesda and New Carrollton.
NNAMDIWell, so YIMBYism, "Yes in my backyard!" is about people wanting more development in particular housing. Is that the idea and if so, why is it associated with millennials?
LOHWell, that's a great question, Kojo. I think in our area I first started hearing the “YIMBY” acronym to do with the proposed liquor license moratorium in a specific neighborhood in D.C. And so maybe we associate, you know, the desire, you know, to go out to bars and to have lots of choices about what bars to go to with, you know, the younger, you know, child free set. But, you know, I think that the issue is clearly much broader than that as regards housing in particular.
NNAMDIHow has the concern over YIMBYism trickled down into local politics and in particular campaign finance reform?
LOHWell, I think we really saw it in the last county executive elections in both Montgomery County and Prince George's County. I think that, you know, all of the candidates were talking about the role of developer money in their campaigns. You know, I think the issue for people is that in local elections in particular, you know, money from the real estate sector is very influential. You know, at the national level we might be more used to hearing about, you know, union money, or, you know, the Coke brothers or whatever it is. But at the local level, you know, developer money is a significant chunk of the money that's at play and winning an election does cost money.
LOHSo that raises questions about candidates and who has access to them and whose interests are going to be represented by them. And I think in Montgomery County and Prince George's County we saw candidates taking different policy and rhetorical stances regarding, you know, how they wanted to position themselves relative to the real estate community.
NNAMDIRoger, what kinds of words have become common place in conversations with so called NIMBYs and YIMBYs? Are there other terms that come up in these conversations about urban development that are worth a second look? I'm thinking about smart growth, green space?
LEWISWell, I think, yeah. Certainly a lot of the proponents for many of these projects are talking about such things. And they're also talking about something we've talked about many times on the show, which is the short term, what can you do for me now view, versus the long term, what is the impact of this for our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren. I think that's one of the great challenges. We'll talk about this maybe later.
LEWISBut, for example, one of the earliest examples of how NIMBYism did not stop a project that ultimately proved to be a great success rather than disaster and that was the building of the subway in Arlington going along in that corridor, the Roslyn Boston Corridor. There was tremendous opposition and fear, anxiety among all those subdivision homeowners along that corridor that this was going to completely destroy their community. And, of course, 50 years later, they're sitting there enjoying homes values that have gone up by a factor of 10 and being able to walk to get their coffee at Starbucks.
LEWISSo I think it's very difficult for most people to get beyond thinking about what are you doing to solve my problems today? Is this project being proposed really going to help me, whereas so many of these projects are long term. They're realization is decades away. And it's hard to convince people that, you know, this is going to be a great thing if you're talking about it in 20, 30, 40 years.
NNAMDI800-433-8 -- go right ahead, Tracy.
LOHSorry, Kojo. I just wanted to add that I think it's really important that we also distinguish the justice issues that are at play sometimes in these NIMBY YIMBY dynamics. And that's that, you know, we can't treat all concerns with equal weight, you know. And that, you know, issues like affordable housing and air quality and exposure to particulates, they're not the same as concerns about views or parking or noise. There's a difference between, I don't want my eye to have to look at it, and I am scared about what my children might be breathing. There really is a difference between those two things. And I think that it's not okay how in these conversations sometimes we allow people to essentially treat, for example, affordable housing as if it's a toxic pollutant.
NNAMDIAre you a self-described NIMBY? Give us a call 800-433-8850. What does the term mean to you? Maybe Chuck in Washington D.C. might so describe himself. But, Chuck, speak for yourself. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHUCKHey, Kojo. This is Chuck Beam from the Council Government and a question to your guest. We project another 1.5 million people in this region over the next 25 years. And they need to have housing that has some quality of life not a huge community. And on the employer's side, they need access to employees. So my question is to the two guests. How do they – two guests view the role of major employers in this YIMBY/NIMBY debate are employers weighing in for more housing, more dense housing. Thanks.
NNAMDILet's start with you Tracy.
LOHChuck, great to hear from you. You know, this is a really important question and I think that there's definitely more room for leadership from major employers as a sector. I see the beginnings of this conversation starting to happen with the Greater Washington Partnership. But I think that employers play a huge role both when they choose the location of where they're firm or enterprise is going to be located. But also in terms of how their voice is heard in local government.
LOHAnd I think that employers as part of their location decisions, you know, and I think you see this starting to happen with Amazon and its recent location decision. That employers need to let local governments know that an accessible workforce is a material priority for them.
LEWISWell, I have not a whole lot to add to what Tracy just said. I mean, I think there are lots of stake holders. What I think is emerging in this conversation is it's not so monolithic. I mean, even among the NIMBYs for a particular project there are different views as to why person A might be in opposition versus person C, D, E, and F if I put alphabetic ids on them. So I think it is really a more complex as you said at the beginning of the show than just taking a yes or no position.
LEWISI think, again, what happens in reality is that usually these things get discussed and debated and there are many many meetings. And ideally as has often happened a resolution is actually reached. Now that's not always the case. There have been a lot of projects that have been stopped cold and died, because the opposition was able to finally either convince political leadership or the financial backers that this was too big a risk.
NNAMDISoon I have to take a short break, but we got a tweet from Virginia who says, "NIMBY should stand for Nature in my backyard. We suffer now from nature deficit disorder. We need air, sky, flora, and fauna around us for help. Stop invasive development." And I've learned a couple of new terms today, “BANANA,” "Build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone," and “CAPE,” "Citizens against virtually everything." So we can continue this conversation as you contemplate those. Tracy Hadden Loh, thank you so much for joining us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on NIMBY/YIMBY. Roger Lewis is still with us. He's an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist for the Washington Post. Roger, there's someone, Lorry in Arlington, Virginia, who has a question for you about the Boston to Allston Metro Line. Lorry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LORRYThank you. I heard Mr. Lewis's comments and I wanted to counter that with the -- I'm a resident of Boston and I've been a 20 year resident of Arlington. And just in my lifetime here in Arlington I have seen that the higher pricing of houses has driven out what used to be a community of young starter families. The average housing price in Arlington is now believe it or not $900,000. And that means that young families wanting to buy into this market are absolute precluded from doing it.
NNAMDIAllow me to have Roger Lewis respond.
LEWISLorry, I'm very aware of the problem, the challenge. What you just identified actually is a national challenge, which is finding a way to ensure that housing affordability is not sacrificed in the face of growth. So I think this is a subject for another program. But I think that one of the things that arises of course is when affordable housing is proposed often there are people, who don't want that in their neighborhood. So you've raised a valid point. There's no question.
LEWISThis is not limited to Arlington or the Roslyn Boston Corridor, which is that the public sector in the United States, we've sort of given up, I think in large measure committing to ensuring availability of affordable housing even while we obviously have reasons to encourage growth and build up tax revenues and there are a lot of other benefits. I mean, there is a balance problem.
NNAMDINow that we've laid the groundwork for what NIMBY and YIMBYism mean, let's hear from people who have either been referred to as NIMBYs or have experience with so called NIMBYs. Joining us in studio is Angela Bradbery. She's an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner representing single member district 3C6 in D.C.'s Ward 3. Angela Bradbery, thank you for joining us.
ANGELA BRADBERYWell, thank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIHow would you describe your constituents both in terms of demographics and what they're passionate about?
BRADBERYWell, first of all I think I just want to congratulate you on your 20th Anniversary.
NNAMDIOh, thank you.
BRADBERYAnd I think, of course, the big issue is the Ward 3 short term family housing shelter, which is in my district. I just want to say I applaud the mayor for her plan to close D.C. General and for her strategy of putting shelters in all eight wards and for getting it done. It's really difficult to get projects done and in the city and she's doing it and that's great.
NNAMDIBut in your ward that plan was met with complaints and even a lawsuit. I know what it looked like from the outside. From the outside, it looked like a bunch of rich wealthy -- a bunch of wealthy white residents of Ward 3, who didn't want a homeless shelter in the neighborhood. You are of the opinion that the situation was bit more complicated than that.
BRADBERYIt was definitely more complicated, yes.
NNAMDIIn fact, you say most of the people you represent supported the neighborhood homeless shelter. What did local media and residents in other wards miss about this debate?
BRADBERYWell, what they missed is -- and I think we referenced this with talking about the term NIMBY. You know, NIMBY is a very vague overly simplistic and pejorative term used to imply the target is just having a knee jerk reaction and there's no basis for their concerns. And it is a way to telegraph to people that the concern should just be dismissed. But it doesn't acknowledge that there are details that matter in these projects and they're things like what is the zoning. And, you know, how close are buildings to homes? What about light and noise and parking and traffic and those kind of quality of life issues.
NNAMDIWhat was the major sticky detail in this situation?
BRADBERYI think the problem really began at the beginning. It was when the city chose the site without involving the community and that was really the impetus for the lawsuit. And, again, the lawsuit was brought by a handful of residents, who were concerned that the city wasn't following its own process as far as engaging the ANC and engaging the community, and also with the zoning because the zoning for that site did not support what the city wanted to put on it. So those were issues, those were concerns.
NNAMDIAnd one of the issues also centered on a planned outdoor patio for the shelter. What was the concern there and how was it resolved?
BRADBERYSo the concern there was that a year -- more than a year after the city had gotten the zoning relief that it requested and just for listeners the city is putting a six story building on an area zoned for a maximum of three stories, which was the concern about the height limit. And so after the Board of Zoning Adjustment approved the zoning relief based on a design and then more than a year later we learned by accident that the city had added a 62 person capacity outdoor patio to the design without telling anyone, without talking to the advisory neighborhood team, which was formed to facilitate communication between the city and the neighborhood without mentioning it to the ANC.
BRADBERYAnd as I'm sure your listeners know outdoor patios are controversial just because of noise and other things. There are various examples around the city. So, you know, the residents just wanted really to be heard and for their concerns to be addressed.
NNAMDIThe plan was ultimately approved, correct?
BRADBERYYou mean the overall plan for the shelter?
NNAMDIThe overall plan.
NNAMDIWhat did the patio end up looking like?
BRADBERYSo we sat down with the city. We finally were able to talk to the city and explain the concerns and negotiate. So there will be an outdoor patio. And, again, the concern about the patio was never that there should be no patio. The concern was the process and how the neighborhood had not been consulted or even informed about it. So we talked about how we can address the issues like noise and light. And we came up to a resolution that I think will work.
NNAMDIAll right. I've got some more Ward 3 issues. But first I'd like to introduce Aiyi'nah Ford. She's a community activist and the Executive Director of The Future Foundation. Aiyi'nah Ford, thank you very much for joining us.
AIYI'NAH FORDThank you for having me, Kojo. How are you doing today?
NNAMDII am doing well. On the eastside of the city -- you live in Hillsdale. You work in Anacostia. How would you describe your neighbors in terms of demographics and issues that people are passionate about in your neighborhood?
FORDWell, I think it's important to provide the context that I'm an eighth generation native Washingtonian. And I could surmise that most of the folks giving influence to this conversation are not native to the spaces that they are giving influence to. I mean, so that's very important. So as someone born and breed there I have seen a large change not only in what my neighbors look like, but in who the influencers are and how they navigate the city, such small changes as calling east of the river eastend, because that's more hipster and more marketable.
NNAMDII thought that was Vincent Grey's idea, the Ward 7 councilmember.
FORDListen, I don't work for Councilmember Vincent Grey. I'm speaking for Aiyi'nah Ford. I'm going to leave it there.
FORDBut it's east of the Anacostia River. It's east of the river. Even this conversation around NIMBYism and YIMBYism is elitist and exclusive. You'll find that the people who use those terms are often the gentrifiers who benefit from using those terms. You won't find native Washingtonians sitting, engaging in a conversation about NIMBYism, or even knowing that it's an acronym in jargon term for not in my back yard. It is pejorative and disrespectful.
FORDAnd I think that in order to provide context, it's amazing to have Commissioner Bradbery here, because one of my notes was to discuss all of the argument that went on back and forth with the homeless shelter, as well as the current debate going on in Ward 5 regarding a halfway house. So, that just goes to show the change in culture. We've always been a city that has welcomed our returning citizens. In fact, we reelected a mayor that was a returning citizen. So, to go against our culture and who we are as a city and how we love and how we live is very disrespectful.
FORDAnd I think that we've got to offer that context. We can't just build things and decide that because it meets a community need, but it doesn't suit our eye, that that's okay. Even the conversation around property taxes, we're leaving out how it's impacting seniors. Seniors are losing their homes because these are home that they purchased when the city wasn't marketable to Rebecca and Susan. And now the property taxes are egregious. And so, you know, I think that those are the nuances of this conversation that get lost when you want to throw terms such as NIMBYism and YIMBYism out there.
NNAMDIWell, a lot of the issues you raise are issues that the mayor and the council need to address. But one of the issues that has been raised about your neighborhood is that it lacks a variety of food businesses and grocery stores. Last week, a Busboys and Poets opened up on Martin Luther King Avenue. How do you feel about that?
FORDI have mixed feelings. Again, as someone who is from the neighborhood, I do want to see us have diverse options. However, I feel that everyone should have access to those opportunities and it shouldn't be based on aligning ourselves with any political figures or any political platforms. I think that also, once you become a fixture in DC and utilize DC culture and narratives, it's very important to embrace, amplify and uplift DC artists. Yeah, so while it's there, there's nothing that can be done about it. It's beautiful.
FORDI would like to see DC artists being paid well to perform there, more than what's given out now. The hundred dollars that's given out now is not okay. I would like to see DC staff working there from the neighborhood, not from across the river, and staying employed there, because that's also been an issue that's, you know, traditional with Busboys and Poets. So, again, this is just -- when we speak about culture and how folks have benefitted, these are some of the issues that we've got to be mindful of. We can course correct. It can be changed, but they do exist, and we must name them in order to change them.
NNAMDIWhat would you like to see happen in your neighborhood? There are folks who would say, but what she's saying is typical NIMBYism. They don't want any changes in the neighborhood, whatsoever. What changes would you like to see to your neighborhood?
FORDI'll be honest with you. I would've loved to have had a Busboys and Poets, still have a Cheers at the Big Chair, and have a union town that has not become Chase Bank. I'm thankful that there's now an Everlasting Life that offers vegan options. I'll probably be having lunch there. There's also a Turning Natural. But if there's a young person who has an interest in opening up a burger shop or maybe selling their own fried chicken, it should be accessible to them.
FORDI think that union -- there's a program that's coming over that's going to be working with young folks, teaching them to cook and things. We can create a pipeline that gives them the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and to engage in CBE process, and to remedy the food desert. I think individuals like Xavier Brown of Soilful City who does urban gardening and has created the Pippin Sauce, he's a Ward 8 resident. These are some of our hidden gems that it doesn't benefit to uplift their work, because the folks who, you know, profit off this narrative that we aren't a great people who organize ourselves and give to our community, that they don't want you to know these people exist.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Here's Nichole, in Washington, DC. Nichole, your turn.
NICHOLEHi. I'm Nichole (unintelligible). I'm calling to talk about my community former dairy farm resident in Ward 8, and how our community is being demolished as we speak for a redevelopment plan, taking away public housing and putting in market-rate and what they call affordable housing. And so our acronym would be more along the lines of NOMHAN or NOMHAN, which is NOMHAN, not on my house and neighborhood. They make these plans and they present it to us, and we're to accept it. And right now, there's about three people left on this property of 443 units, and they're just tearing down homes, not caring about their mental health, you know, where they end up.
NICHOLEA lot of the people that are moved out move into other clustered, low-income communities with food deserts. And a lot of these people don't get to come back to these communities, because, like I said, they're taking away from the public housing stock to make these massive communities that have, you know...
NICHOLE...the Whole Foods and all that other stuff. Totally not...
NICHOLE...putting anything in place for the residents.
NNAMDIThank you very much. I'd like to go around the table on this one, because it seems that everybody understands that the terms NIMBY and YIMBY are inappropriate for what they're talking about. So, I'll start with you, Aiyi'nah. What would you see as being a more appropriate term for how you feel about development coming to your -- about real estate development coming to your neighborhood?
FORDI think I'm inquisitive. And I think that is the appropriate term, as everyone should be.
NNAMDIWhich is what you seem to be suggesting, Roger Lewis. She says she is inquisitive. What you were suggesting earlier is that people need to get all the facts.
LEWISWell, I think being inquisitive is a very powerful human characteristic, (laugh) and I share that. I mean, I think that's -- I mean, I think there is -- I think skepticism is a healthy thing. I mean, when someone comes along and proposes something, it should be scrutinized. And I think the -- I think what the challenge in Ward 8 -- and I've spent a lot of time in Ward 8, because my wife is involved with the charter school over there, Thurgood Marshall Academy. You probably have been there.
LEWISAnd, you know, I think one of the things that I think is obvious here is that each of these areas of the city -- these neighborhoods are different. They're not -- one size does not fit all, and I think that my comment would be that what works over in Ward 3 or Ward 5 may not work in Ward 8, and conversely. So, I think that -- I guess I believe that one of the key things we've talked about here is that -- I think was mentioned by Angela -- is the importance of engaging the community, actual people who live in a neighborhood with whatever's going to happen, no matter what it is.
LEWISAnd I think that -- and I will tell you, there's a lot more of that now than there was when I started practicing architecture in the '60s, when all this stuff was just simply done with very little community engagement. I think that, really, that's probably the most important thing about inquisitiveness, is that it animates the community to get involved.
NNAMDIAngela Bradbery, how would you see the use of the term NIMBYism in your situation? What term would you better prefer? What characterization would you...
BRADBERYI would say eyes wide open is a better term. And, you know, it's interesting. No neighborhood is monolithic, and it's really -- it's not quite accurate to say everybody in a neighborhood feels a certain way. You know, I think I would say the majority of people in our neighborhood, they recognize the need to help people who need shelter. And they want to help and they want to be part of the solution. That we had -- I actually recommended to the city that they do a three-story shelter in the current site, and then another three-story shelter elsewhere in the ward that, based on the zoning, that might be more compatible.
BRADBERYAnother development that is also in my district is the Fanny Mae redevelopment. And similar issues have also arisen. There were questions about traffic and lights and noise and similar concerns. And we're working through those.
NNAMDIAiyi'nah, got a quote from Mayor Bowser, "Busboys is about more than brunch and champagne, but about new economic opportunities." And Andy Shallal has been quoted as saying that "90 percent of the employees there are going to come from Ward 8." What would be your response?
FORDI don't respond to Messy Muriel. We've already seen that she doesn't really keep her word and that, you know, she's a talking point person. I'm about impact, not intent. And you can hire people, but will they stay employed? Will they make a livable wage? Will they be promoted and given leadership opportunities, or will this be the entry-level employee during their spring break? And so, you know, again, there's differences. There's nuances.
FORDAnd one thing I just wanted to get out on the table: it's extremely bothersome that we don't want to name the urgency of homelessness. Someone who's homeless can't afford to deal with a zoning conversation, and it's not equivalent to Fannie Mae. And as someone who has experienced homelessness, because I have, it is very important to name, that we need to do something and we need to do something immediately, because we've been having an emergency need to take care of the homeless. They're in tents, and they're visible all throughout the city.
FORDSo, you know, I really struggle with the heartlessness that must exist in order to want to take away levels to a homeless shelter or make two instead of one, which prolongs construction time. And there's so much that's going on in our city that's mostly impacting the people who were born here and the people who look like me.
NNAMDIHere's Perry in Northwest Washington. Perry, your turn.
PERRYThank you, Kojo. I want to start by just saying, Aiyi'nah, a question. I'm a native Washingtonian. I'm commissioner of Brightwood, our ANC Commission.
NNAMDII live in Brightwood.
PERRYOh, really? You do? All these years...
NNAMDII do, but go ahead, go ahead, go ahead. You only have about a minute. Go ahead (laugh).
PERRYReal quick. I've engaged in my position as commissioner because I, for the sake of your conversation, am a NIMBY in that I represent a residential SMD. And the fact is the people here love their pristineness, the low crime and the like. What we have is a big push for developments, house (word?) and the like, with a disrespect to the residents. And now I have a firsthand look at what that looks like. And the people who represent us...
NNAMDI(overlapping) How are you pushing back against that, Perry?
PERRYWell, first of all, I don't vote for everything that comes down the block. That's the first thing. Second thing is, what is important and relevant to me is that I say no so that we can engage in this process. The developers show up, and they say, oh, we've talked to the people here, and the people are crazy about it. Well, they won't show us minutes. We don't know this for a fact, and I am disturbed.
NNAMDIOkay. Okay. As I said, we're running out of time very quickly, because I wanted to get this in before we went to a break. John called in to say: I hope that the conversation can move from the terminology of NIMBY versus YIMBY, to a conversation on the behavior of planners, citizens and governments. That is what really shapes these issues. And I think that's an appropriate comment. I’m afraid we have come to the end of this segment. Angela Bradbery, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAiyi'nah Ford, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIWe're going to talk with Christian Dorsey from the Arlington County Board when we come back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Roger Lewis. He's an architect and the Shaping the City columnist for the Washington Post. Joining us in studio now is Christian Dorsey, chair of the Arlington County Board and the principal director at WMATA's Board of Directors. Christian Dorsey, good to see you again.
CHRISTIAN DORSEYOh, thank you, Kojo. Good to see you, too.
NNAMDIRoger, before we get specifically into Arlington, let's pivot to hearing more about YIMBYs, the people who say yes in my backyard. Are there negative connotations to that?
LEWISWell, I don't think it's a term that's been used nearly as widely as NIMBY. Yeah, I mean, I think that these are shorthand. These are symbols. These are words that are shorthand for a big umbrella under which there are a whole lot of things. I think that, as we've talked about on this program before, the problem is a lot of the proponents, the people who want to support, change or support an intervention, often don't show up at the public hearings, or, you know, they have to be mobilized.
LEWISI can't tell you how many times I've said to a client when I was an architect planner for a project when a hearing was coming up, you know, you can't -- the opponents are going to show up. They're usually the older folks. But if you want some proponents there, you're going to have to go get them to show up. And often, the proponents are the younger people who are working who don't have time to go to the hearings. So, I would just say that I think the YIMBYs tend to be less obvious and less measurable than the NIMBYs, if I can use those shorthands.
NNAMDIThe public debate over Amazon locating its second headquarters in northern Virginia is causing a debate about land use subsidies, affordability and plenty more. Does that debate fall into need categories of those who have the not-in-my-back-yard stance and those who don't?
LEWISWell, I mean, we've seen the Amazon proposal killed in New York City, because there a whole bunch of people who decided this is not a good idea. It isn't good for us, probably for many different reasons. I'm not real close to what's happening in Arlington other than what I've read in the newspaper. Obviously, there's a tremendous potential benefit, multiple benefits to Arlington County from Amazon coming in, just starting with jobs and tax revenue, and so forth.
LEWISBut there are still some people who say, wait a minute. You know, we've looked at this and we think maybe there's some downsides that we ought to really be looking at.
NNAMDIAnd a lot of those people are saying, we shouldn’t be subsidizing this, Christian Dorsey. Arlington subsidies for Amazon was released last week. Some people characterize them as generous. The criticism makes it seem like local officials are so pro-Amazon that they are pro-Amazon at the expense of current residents. How exactly are Arlingtonians getting the better deal here?
DORSEYWell, Kojo, you know, when you think about the incentives, those produce a return. And the return is we have calculated for every dollar that we provide directly to Amazon, we get $14 back for our community, which is what we invest in affordable housing, community development, parks, open space. So, by a measure of the strict analysis of what you give for what you get, our community is immeasurably better off than it would've been before.
DORSEYAnd the incentive itself is not taking revenues that we currently program for community purposes. It's creating a new revenue increment that comes from growth in the hotel tax. So, we think that we've structured this in such a way where all of the risk is on Amazon and all of the reward comes to the community. And if you can give me another economic development deal that's done that, I would love to see it.
NNAMDIWhat is it like to be a leader at a time when some of your constituents think you maybe care more about the interest of one of the world's richest companies than about its residents?
DORSEYWell, it's unfortunate, because there's no reason for us to be engaging with Amazon if we didn't think it was going to produce a wonderful benefit for our residents currently and set our community up well in the future. You know, this is not anything that gives me any great pride. I've spend hundreds of hours not only researching this and making sure that this was structured in such a way that it is good for our community. The real benefit is what it delivers after they're here. There's no glory that comes from landing Amazon itself.
NNAMDIThe criticism you hear from a lot of people who are opposed to this or people who have concerns about it is that there has been sufficient community involvement. So, what responsibility do local officials have to convince residents that this is going to be good for them?
DORSEYA huge responsibility, and that's why we've done more than we've ever done, quite frankly, Kojo. You led the way with a town hall in Arlington which set the stage for two other similar kinds of events that we did.
NNAMDIAt Synetic Theater in Crystal City.
DORSEYYou remember well. And Synetic is going to stay in Crystal City. I hope you got that news. But then we've had just hundreds -- dozens, excuse me, of other meetings with groups large and small all throughout the county to make sure that we're answering every question and addressing all of the information that needs to be put out there. At some point, you have to say that you've done all that you can do in that regard and you're ready to make a decision, and I think we've reached that point.
NNAMDIHave you been called a YIMBY?
DORSEYI don't think I've ever been called that directly. I've been called worse though, Kojo, so let's not encourage people.
NNAMDIOn the other hand, do the arguments of some of the critics of this get close to what is described as NIMBYism for you?
DORSEYWell, you know, I think if we use the framework that you all have been using, understanding that it can be pejorative but just following along with that general framework, very much the Amazon conversation fits into that. There are some people who are, you know, yes, we see all the benefits and we don't really care about the downsides. And then on the other hand there are people who don't want to talk about the potential benefits because all they can focus on are what are their fears and concerns.
DORSEYAnd that's what we've been trying to break through, to actually have a constructive engagement to look at what we know, what we believe and what we're unsure about. And once we put that all together, it's led most of our community to say, this is a positive step forward for us. But, of course, you're never going to convince everyone.
NNAMDIHere is Dennis in Bowie, Maryland. Dennis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DENNISYeah, I just want to point out that, quite often, groups that come together as NIMBY, often, when they start researching the issue and educate themselves, find great support in their argument in opposition to a proposal. I'm involved with a group that is opposed to the proposed Maglev that's to run between Baltimore and Washington.
NNAMDIAnd what have you discovered about Maglev?
DENNISWell, the group came together because they were horrified by the potential impact that it could have. And I told the group -- I spent 22 years on the Bowie City Council and saw a lot of people coming in opposed to development just because of their NIMBY fears. And they started looking at it, and they looked and discovered that around the world, there's only a couple of them that have moved forward, and they're heavily subsidized by their state and federal governments, and that the technology is not necessarily the best. So, what started out to be NIMBY in their attitude developed into a logical and rational opposition.
NNAMDIWell, that's the kind of thing that Roger Lewis was talking about, educating yourselves. Christian, you wanted to say?
DORSEYI think that's absolutely right. Sometimes this process works, where you do uncover information that is very useful in making a decision. We always have to be careful -- whether you're a NIMBY or a YIMBY -- of getting into the conformational bias, where you only seek out information that confirms and justifies your original belief. And that's what community engagement's all about.
LEWISWell, we should acknowledge right away, I mean, not all proposals or projects are good ideas. So, there's -- I mean, all these things should be -- proposed should be scrutinized and should be discussed. I mean, the caller, or someone mentioned planners, government citizens. Most of these kinds of projects today or proposals today aren't going to happen unless the planners, the citizens, the employers, all the stakeholders and government -- I'm a great believer in the fact that the public sector still has a major responsibility for, let us say, choreographing the process that leads up to either moving ahead with a project or saying, no, this is a bad idea, we're not going to go ahead.
NNAMDIWe only have time for this email from John in Southeast: I'm so sick and tired of one or two people from east of the river speaking as if they have exclusive jurisdiction over everything related to east of the river. Change happens, and rather than always fighting and railing against change, it would be nice to hear about collaboration. I'm a black man who bought a home in Anacostia about three years ago on W Street, not far from the Frederick Douglass House. Gentrification is not always about race. Most of the new homeowners I know in my neighborhood are African American. And guess what? They and I all want clean, safe streets, amenities like a Busboys and Poets, etcetera.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you very much for your email. I suspect what everybody who sat around this table would agree on is that people need to be involved in the process with their governments and with developers in trying to make these things happen. I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Christian Dorsey, always a pleasure.
DORSEYGood to see you, Kojo.
NNAMDIChristian Dorsey is chair of the Arlington County Board and the principal director of WMATA's board of directors. Roger Lewis, always a pleasure.
LEWISAlways a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
NNAMDIRoger is an architect and the author of the Shaping the City column for the Washington Post. Today's conversation about NIMBYism and YIMBYism was produced by Ruth Tam. Check out cartoons about the topic by our guest Roger Lewis at KojoShow.org and send us your photos of NIMBY and YIMBY-type resistance. We'll add them to our website. Coming up tomorrow, in 2016, more than 120,000 students nationwide were either restrained or secluded in school in response to serious behavioral problems. We explore the controversial method in local schools tomorrow with educators, experts and parents. That all starts tomorrow at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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