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Small City NIMBYism

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While I suppose democratic participation in urban planning is a good thing, in practice, it leads to a lot of situations like we are seeing in Eugene. Housing prices are skyrocketing there, yet basic and obvious plans to ease housing prices and create decent public transportation systems flail because of NIMBYism. On the latter, the bus district’s efforts to expand their rapid transit bus system stalled in a combination of business outrage over the construction that it would require and right-wing morons hating public transportation. The signs opposing the project on the farms outside of Eugene were particularly hilarious. If anything, the anti-density forces are even more infuriating, as they are usually at least nominally liberals, especially in that city. Here we have a smart development looking to build density in a section of the city that could use it. It’s in an area where you already have some walkability but where you could use a lot more. But oh no. Not In My Backyard!

Coughlin’s land is zoned for “community commercial” use and designated as commercial land in the Eugene-Springfield Metropolitan Area General Plan, the region’s blueprint for growth that designates areas of land for different uses.

Retail stores and restaurants are allowed outright on community commercial-zoned land. Apartments are allowed as long as certain building height, dimension, parking and landscaping standards are met. Buildings can rise up to 120 feet under the zoning guidelines. That’s 10 or 11 stories in a typical high-rise.

But the land is surrounded to the east by single-family houses on lots zoned for low-density use, and to the west by Hilyard Street, a strip of city-owned park land and more single-family houses. South of 18th Street, only the seven-story Cascade Manor retirement community building is taller than Amazon Corner would be.

The city approved Coughlin’s project on Jan. 27 with some minor conditions, requiring him to pay for a crosswalk across Hilyard between 31st and 32nd Avenues, and create dedicated right and left turn lanes to help traffic on 31st get onto Hilyard.

Neighbors quickly appealed, setting up a March 1 public hearing. More than 100 people have written letters to the city, a vast majority assailing Amazon Corner as a bad fit for the neighborhood.

William Collinge, a public health researcher who has lived on Kincaid Street off of 32nd Avenue for five years, said he worries about traffic from the development spilling onto side streets such as Kincaid, Alder and Harris streets as motorists try to get downtown from south Eugene while avoiding traffic from Amazon Corner and Albertsons.

“What people are opposed to is the size and the traffic impact, and the implications of that for the character of the neighborhood and quality of life,” Collinge said. “We’re not anti-growth, we’re not anti-development. We’re in favor of smart growth, smart development that respects that character of the neighborhood.”

“We’re not anti-growth, we’re not anti-development. We just oppose any growth and development that might briefly affect my life or make the city livable for the next generation. We have single-family housing to protect after all!”

Obviously, cities like Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco are all dealing with these issues in much more serious situations, where people literally cannot afford to live there, but with enormous homeowner opposition to the density needed to make their city remotely sustainable for most people. In this case, it’s democratic participation undermining a democratic city. And there’s no easy answer in a world where property values are the coin of the realm.

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  • Chip Daniels

    I don’t know why “low density” somehow landed on the left side of the political spectrum.

    There are so many positive environmentally-friendly reasons, inequality-fighting reasons for higher density, I suspect it is the issue that cleaves the older suburban homeowning liberals from the urban renters.

    • kmannkoopa

      I think it is more homowners never want change, regardless of political bent. I once went before a town board for approval to expand a little league field, and all the neighbors complained the same way — “I love little league and kids but…”

      This was in a conservative part of a conservative suburb — Greece NY — which won its Supreme Court case over sanctioned prayer at town meetings

      • DrDick

        Pretty much.

    • Nobdy

      I think it’s a combination of resentment towards property developers (who are often shady assholes, to be fair) and a vague desire to be near “nature.”

      Throw in legitimate concerns about gentrification that bleed into weird arguments about “character of the neighborhood” and there you go.

      To be fair development does sometimes drive poor people out of their neighborhoods and encourage unscrupulous landlords to push people out so they can raze and build bigger, but such problems can be dealt with without halting development altogether.

      • Origami Isopod

        and a vague desire to be near “nature.”

        This, in addition to the property values issue, is a big part of it and probably has been since the 1960s. Someone in the comment thread was quoting Edward Abbey: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” Which isn’t completely untrue, but this project doesn’t seem to be growth just for the sake of growth. These sorts of liberals prioritize a bubble in which they can pretend to be “close to nature” over urban planning that embraces environmental and economic justice for everyone.

        • djw

          That’s not a particularly helpful quote for a city or region where population is growing. Their, it’s either growth by density or growth by sprawl, and one of those things is a great deal more cancerous than the other.

          • Origami Isopod

            Agreed. Abbey was referring to development of land willy-nilly, without regard to circumstance. Not to urban environments.

            In any case Abbey was pretty freaking racist, so he’s not someone I’d take my cues on environmentalism from.

            • witlesschum

              I think you may be too skeptical of urban planning advice from famous one-time desert hermits…

      • DrDick

        That is really a big part of the problem here in Missoula, as well as concerns about property values.

    • Linnaeus

      Owning a house is also how a lot – perhaps most – Americans build wealth.

      • Nobdy

        Doesn’t density increase land value though?

        • Linnaeus

          You still have to be an owner to benefit from it, though, right?

        • delazeur

          If you own a nice single family home in a quiet, low-density neighborhood your property value will be significantly impacted by the sudden appearance of a 10-story apartment building across the street. The underlying value of the land might go up as a potential building site for another high-rise, but it won’t make up for the overall drop in value.

          When a significant portion of your net worth is tied up in your house, that’s the sort of thing that keeps you up at night.

          • MattT

            Yes, the threat of a 10-story building next to a single family lot is what people try to invoke whenever there is a proposal to increase density by, for example, allowing duplexes or granny flats on larger lots, or allowing apartment complexes on major streets to go to 3 stories rather than two. It’s a caricature with virtually no connection to anything that ever gets proposed.

            Also, it is virtually always accompanied by complaints about how growth is increasing property taxes. People want their property value to get driven up by demand for housing and not pay any increased taxes, basically letting renters subsidize their investment.

        • njorl

          Density increases the value of land and decreases the value of homes.

      • Lot_49

        How most (middle-and-above-class) Americans believe they’re building wealth. Sometimes that works out; other times, not.

        • Linnaeus

          A fair point.

      • catbirdman

        Exactly. I rented until age 43, and what I could set aside was barely enough — with help from my parents — to afford my first down-payment on a home in a nice neighborhood in LA County. And it’s actually a mixed area, with some apartment buildings and some houses. I am happy with the mix, and don’t see a good reason to change it. I make enough to pay mortgage, bills, etc., but not enough to put nearly enough into a valid “retirement fund.” For all intents and porpoises, the house is the retirement fund. And it’s a good investment, relative to my other options. So yeah, stuff that would make someone else rich by changing the mix of SFH-to-MFH, at my personal expense, is going to probably meet with resistance. I really don’t think there are many folks out there who are setting aside adequate funds in an IRA or 401K to retire on Easy Street, or even just Scraping By Street — without a substantial bump from cashing in on home equity. That makes a huge difference in these “NIMBY” cases.

      • LeeEsq

        Land ownership is one of the most ancient forms of wealth in human history and until the 19th century, the most pre-dominate one. Trying to get humans from associating land ownership with wealth is going to take work.

        • Abbey Bartlet

          Man, I just aspire to have a washer and dryer in my apartment.

      • addicted44

        Rather, as we found out with the crash, owning a house is how people lose wealth.

        I don’t get how people still don’t get that being encouraged to take a huge loan, paying for construction that isn’t necessary, and taking on substantial risk and liability is somehow better than achieving the same (in albeit smaller premises but with likely a much better commute) goal without doing all that.

        Oh, and you’re also tied down in your location, so your job mobility is heavily restricted.

        Finally, attach schooling to your property and you have ridiculous incentives to raise property prices and divert money towards your district rather than those of the poor.

    • djw

      I don’t know why “low density” somehow landed on the left side of the political spectrum.

      Indeed. Relatedly, I was already a bit of a fan, and Rob Johnson in making me a bigger one, for calling out the reactionary consequences of anti-housing NIMBYism. Probably means he can never run for Mayor, though.

      One nice thing about Dayton is you don’t really get that. Pretty much everyone across the political spectrum recognizes the need to grow the tax base, and we’re a long way away from enough development taking place for “displacement” to be a thing.

      • howard

        is it? i honestly thought high-density was the left choice due to its economic and ecological benefits: that’s why i’m pro-density.

        • djw

          Well, yes, that’s the correct conclusion (and, I think, thanks to Johnson and others like him that politics/policy link is becoming clearer). But there’s a significant contingent of people in places like Seattle that are confused about that. The grim forces of density are driven by shady downtown interests and venal, greedy developers, we’re “the people” protecting “our” neighborhood, running roughshod over our historic heritage, etc etc. (See the comment from ‘david’ in my link for a particularly unhinged version of this worldview, or for a relatively moderated version of it in Seattle politics, Herbold in district 1). In a community where nearly everyone understands themselves as progressive, reactionary political projects still happen, but they get rebranded.

          • MattT

            This also perfectly describes Austin.

      • delazeur

        Relatedly, I was already a bit of a fan, and Rob Johnson in making me a bigger one, for calling out the reactionary consequences of anti-housing NIMBYism.

        That’s awesome!

        I particularly like the bit where he pointed out that business owners who think they will lose customers if parking spaces are sacrificed for public transit have their heads up their asses.

    • LeeEsq

      Besides what other people said, the American preference has been for low density and single family homes going all the way back to the colonial era. Part of this is because of deep-seated anti-urbanism in American culture and another part is because America is a big sprawling place and we had and have room to spread.

      • The Dark God of Time

        The land they found was profoundly changed by the original inhabitants.

        http://www.americanforests.org/blog/trail_trees/

        • Origami Isopod

          Heck, there were Native cities. This was not just a big empty continent, pace Wallace Stegner et al.

        • witlesschum

          Every New England town with “field” in its name is a testament to this. The Indians cleared the titular fields and also changed the landscape to promote deer habitat, then died from what John Winthrop called “this wonderful plague” just before the Puritans wanted to move in.

      • djw

        the American preference has been for low density and single family homes going all the way back to the colonial era.

        As I’ve pointed out to you many times when you repeat this line, it’s misleading to explain our present situation. In his important book, The Option of Urbanism, Christopher Leinberger presents significant survey research on the preferences of Americans, and demonstrates that the population has is split into three, roughly equally sized groups: those who would prefer suburban car-centric living, those who would prefer moderately dense urban walkable living, and those with no strong preference who could go either way. (The surveys were conduced some time ago; given what we know about the preferences of the generation coming of age since then, the overall mix of preferences has almost certainly shifted toward an urban preference.) However, the existing housing stock is not equal, but provides around 75-80% suburban car-centric options. The balance is starting to shift ever so slowly, but the primary source of imbalance is not consumer preference but malign public policy, which restricts urban walkability and protects suburban car centric development in myriad ways (funding new roads over transit, maintaining lots of low-density single family zoning in core cities and inner suburbs, etc etc).

        • N__B

          malign public policy

          Must favor REAL AMERICANS over the urban thugs louts.

        • Ronan

          I don’t know how Lee keeps coming up with this. I must have seen you respond to him on this point on at least 4 separate occasions.

      • Srsly Dad Y

        A simpler answer that might satisfy LeeEsq?

        Lee, if your theory were correct, then residences in the walkable downtowns of big cities would be cheaper, per square foot, than houses in the outer-ring suburbs of those same cities, since, by hypothesis, “Americans prefer” room to sprawl. But you don’t see that in any decent city. There is far more demand for walkability than supply. Unless those price signals change, there is no reason to think we have the Panglossian optimum housing mix.

      • njorl

        “…the American preference has been for low density and single family homes going all the way back to the colonial era. ”

        If by “low-density” you mean they preferred narrow town-homes separated by narrow alleys to 5 story urban tenements, then yes. If you mean single family homes with large decorative lawns, then no.

        For the most part, they had a preference for farms, which I don’t think should be part of the discussion of housing density.

        • djw

          Right. The agrarian ideal isn’t carving greenfields into 1/4 acre lots; the latter is largely a post-automobile innovation.

  • kmannkoopa

    in Rochester NY, you have a middle class neighborhood against a bowling alley in an existing industrial park over “traffic”

    Meanwhile my neighborhood is asking how soon they build apartments that have less than required parking.

  • Morbo

    120 feet? Sounds like a recipe for an urban hellhole. Call me when you have to have an election every time someone wants to clear 60′.

    • rea

      Hundred foot buildings are all very well in their place–that place is not the shore of Grand Traverse Bay, a gorgeous place that humans are in the process of loving to death.

      • Linnaeus

        I’ve been noticing that more and more whenever I visit there.

      • witlesschum

        Meh. Traverse Bay is fine but the whole U.P. and northern L.P. is ringed by places as nice or better if you want to go sightseeing. Let Traverse throw up some big buildings and become more of a city. And do something to create affordable housing. People drive absurd distances to work low wage jobs up there.

        • Morbo

          And do something to create affordable housing. People drive absurd distances to work low wage jobs up there.

          Bingo. I mean, the resort is an eyesore, but if you put the same building in town it wouldn’t be a big deal viewed from the hills. It might ruin the view for people who want to charge exorbitant rents to live in town though.

  • Linnaeus

    It’s getting interesting in my Seattle neighborhood. I’m on one of the few streets around here that’s zoned for multifamily housing, so new development is beginning to concentrate right around me. A couple of older buildings have been demo-ed for newer, taller condos and my landlord just informed us that he’s going to sell the building that I live in. There’s no indication right now that the new owner – if the sale goes through – intends to redevelop, but we’re waiting for that shoe to drop. The money’s just too good, especially when we’re in one of the few areas in the neighborhood where you can build apartments or condos.

    • ColBatGuano

      Yeah, I’m not sure when the last time djw was in Seattle, but the level of apartment building here has gone way up in the past three years. Every major arterial in the city has multiple building projects on it. I know, I drive by them every day.

  • Matt

    I’ve spent 6 of the last 8 years living in neighborhoods in Philadelphia that are full of old stone houses, great “wild” parks, neighborhood parks that host live music and movies in the summer, a neighborhood co-op grocery store (two locations), and some great restaurants, shops, etc., and two fairly convenient (by local standards) commuter rail train lines. (This is Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill.) What has allowed me to live here, and really what makes them great neighborhoods, is that in addition to the old stone houses (some really huge and expensive) there are quite a lot of apartment buildings (some 10-15 stories, but many 3-5), lots of duplexes (many also extremely nice stone places, but also some much less fancy, like where I live now) and some streets with row houses of modest size. Even though it’s very much a residential area, it’s able to be dense enough to support really nice community life, much of it easily walkable. I wish more places could be like this.

    • Linnaeus

      Philadelphia is one of my favorite North American cities, and for an east coast city, it seems more affordable.

      • Matt

        It is a lot more affordable than, say, Boston or NYC or DC, though not super cheap. Still, in my really very nice neighborhood now I pay just a bit more now than I did for a small one bedroom fairly high up in Harlem (close to City College) in NYC in 2007-09, and have about 3 times the space, not even counting the basement.

        The one recent bit of NIMBYism I did see around here was an attempt to stop a fairly nice but not especially large grocery store, which has two stories of apartments built on top of it and two other shops in the same building, from being built on the vacant location of a former car dealership. Much of this was pushed by the co-op grocery store, which didn’t want the competition, though I gather that their sales have not been hurt, and the new place fits in fairly well, generally making a good contribution to the neighborhood.

    • witlesschum

      Spent a week in Philly in fall 2014, seeing the sights. It’s a nice city, I liked it a lot.

  • one of the blue

    I lived in Boulder, Colo., in the ‘eighties when this kind of debate was going on there. People didn’t want to expand existing development no way no how. And of course high rise apartments, aside from university dorms, were completely off the table. Result 25-30 years later, the place is totally unaffordable to almost anyone who isn’t wealthy.

    Of course once you’re in and the only realistic way to build wealth is through the value of your home …

  • howard

    the one suggestion i have ever heard in terms of the nimby problem for urban planning is to take a jury-type approach.

    right now, the nimby people have a very direct complaint to get exercised about, and everyone else has a mild long-term problem that is harder to organize around.

    if instead of privileging the people who have time to show up for public hearings because they are exercised we made participation like a jury where you are called to serve with limited excuses, we could somewhat mitigate the nimby-ism by getting more broad-based participation.

  • delazeur

    On the latter, the bus district’s efforts to expand their rapid transit bus system stalled in a combination of business outrage over the construction that it would require and right-wing morons hating public transportation. The signs opposing the project on the farms outside of Eugene were particularly hilarious.

    I’m surprised that’s still going on. People had already been arguing about it for a while when I left Eugene 10 years ago.

    Also, I’m not at all convinced that Eugene is as liberal as people seem to think. The residents love their hippy aesthetic and laid-back culture, but that has never really translated into correspondingly progressive public policy. The phrase “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” is very apt, in my experience.

    • As far as city governance goes, what passes for progressive politicians in Eugene tend to be more “stereotype of incompetent leftists with pet causes” than “competent leftist politicians.”

    • Origami Isopod

      The phrase “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” is very apt, in my experience.

      I don’t know Eugene, but this is unfortunately true of many affluent lefties in the U.S. They are at best oblivious to economic justice; it doesn’t register with them, because they aren’t affected by its lack.

      • Bubblegum Tate

        As coincidence would have it, a friend of mine–a liberal who studies housing policy and is therefore quite exasperated with liberal NIMBYism of exactly this flavor–posted this a few days ago about Berkeley, CA:

        If you oppose new housing, you might not be as progressive as you think you are. Berkeley’s zoning code was written in 1916 by Charles H. Cheney to keep out the “heathen Chinese.” The whole point of things like height limits, minimum parking requirements, and lot size requirements is to exclude people. This is what institutional racism looks like: arcane technical language written in a city code somewhere. Berkeley residents can feel good about their “refugees welcome” signs, while restricting the supply of new housing enough to ensure that very few refugees can actually afford to live there.

        I fully agree.

        • LeeEsq

          1916 seems a bit late to be worried about keeping out the “heathen Chinese” since the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882 and the Chinese American population was on the downward. Are you sure it wasn’t the Japanese? That was the Asian group that was getting White Americans agitated than.

          • The Dark God of Time

            The 1906 San Francisco earthquake allowed a critical change to Chinese immigration patterns. The practice known as “Paper Sons” and “Paper Daughters” was allegedly introduced. Chinese would declare themselves to be United States citizens whose records were lost in the earthquake.[72]

            A year before, more than 60 labor unions formed the Asiatic Exclusion League in San Francisco, including labor leaders Patrick Henry McCarthy (mayor of San Francisco from 1910 to 1912), Olaf Tveitmoe (first president of the organization), and Andrew Furuseth and Walter McCarthy of the Sailor’s Union. The League was almost immediately successful in pressuring the San Francisco Board of Education to segregate Asian school children.

            The Asiatic Barred Zone as defined by the Immigration Act of 1917.
            California Attorney General Ulysses S. Webb (1902–1939) put great effort into enforcing the Alien Land Law of 1913, which he had co-written, and prohibited “aliens ineligible for citizenship” (i.e. all Asian immigrants) from owning land or property. The law was struck down by the Supreme Court of California in 1946 (Sei Fujii v. California).

            One of the few cases in which Chinese immigration was allowed during this era were “Pershing’s Chinese”, who were allowed to immigrate from Mexico to the United States shortly before World War I as they aided General John J. Pershing in his expedition against Pancho Villa in Mexico.[73]

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Chinese_Americans

            For ways that are strange,
            the Heathen Chinese is most peculiar
            Which I would rise to explain.

      • MattT

        This is definitely a thing, but it doesn’t cover all of it. Austin, for example, has a significant contingent of people who are very good on supporting public unions but adamantly opposed to anything related to increasing housing supply. I think there is unfortunately some racial element to the idea of affordable housing, which especially comes across in sneering at “urbanism”. Some of it also just a general resistance to any sort of change.

      • Redwood Rhiadra

        Eugene is near where I grew up (Modesto and Turlock, also in Stanislaus County), and my mother still lives there. Like most of the Central Valley, it’s primarily white (and the voting population is *much* whiter than the overall population), and even the “liberals” are racist as fuck.

        And that’s one of the big reasons why they don’t like apartments or affordable housing developments. My mother is generally a very progressive woman, both fiscally and on issues like gay rights, but even she constantly complains about “Sikhs” or “Asians” or “Mexicans” moving in and “destroying her property value” whenever a new apartment goes up near her. And pointing out the racism never works – “I’m not racist, I’ve got no problem with blacks. But these other folks never really become Americans and shouldn’t be here.”

        Like with everything in this country, it’s all about the racism. ALWAYS.

        • Redwood Rhiadra

          You know, I just realized the original post is talking about Eugene *Oregon* rather than California.

          Really, though, that just means fewer Latinos. My father lived up in Oregon in the Bush Jr years, and my uncle still lives there, and the “progressives” up there are just as racist as the ones in Stanislaus County.

      • JustRuss

        I live up the road from Eugene, and we’re grappling with the same issues. Exploding population, strict growth boundaries. Lots of people commuting in from towns with cheaper housing, so traffic is nuts around 8 AM and 5 PM. As a homeowner, I get it. It’s nice to see your investment growing in value, and having a single-family home in walking distance of downtown is the best of all worlds. But it doesn’t scale very well.

        It’s hard to blame people for just wanting to hold on to what they have. I’m not saying I agree with them, but I get it.

  • petemack

    I dunno about Seattle. Midsize to large apartment buildings are going up really fast here, if not quite fast enough to keep up with demand. Frisco and Portland are quite different there.

    • ColBatGuano

      I saw one prediction that rents might stay level or drop this year in Seattle due to all the construction.

  • N__B

    You know who was in favor of apartment houses? Fred Trump.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      for the white right people, anyway

      • N__B

        The irony of it is that, in the 50s and 60, Trump apartment buildings in Brooklyn and Queens had the reputation of being better-built and better-managed than their competitors.

        ETA: And some, if not most, of the direct competitors were also discriminating in leasing.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          oh, I don’t doubt the competition discriminated, not at all

          I am sortakinda surprised Fred’s buildings had a good reputation on the other counts though

          • N__B

            Apparently, the actual KKK member was more serious about his day job than his son.

  • solidcitizen

    I live seven blocks from the proposed development, and I quietly support it. Bistros, shops, and a pub? Yes, please. Watching my neighbors trot out the same tired arguments to oppose it is kind of sad. A big one, aside from traffic, is that a six story building will block out the sun. Possibly in backyards of the adjacent street, but not for the blocks some people are claiming. As someone else pointed out, the neighborhood is full of pine and fur trees over 60 feet and no one is complaining about their sun-blocking capabilities.

    I never realized how many people think of the single family home as the only appropriate housing stock for everyone. No one is going to shove us into sardine housing! My favorite was opposition to a nearby proposed development of 7 story buildings on a main commercial street. This development, it was argued, would turn Eugene into a “mini-Manhattan.”

  • texasdiver

    I grew up in Eugene in the 1970s and left for college in the early 80s. Nothing has really changed. And these sorts of policies have very real consequences for everyone not already vested so to speak. Especially the young. Of the 20-30 people from my HS graduating class that I am remotely in touch with or aware of through Facebook and such, those who left town and never looked back are universally more successful than those who stayed. Without exception.

    Partly this has to do with the fact that Eugene is basically a smallish college town. But it is also a consequence of the endless anti growth NIMBYism. Back in the day, Eugene was once a more interesting and vibrant city than Boise. Now those roles have completely reversed to my eye.

    I still go back to Eugene on occasion for Duck games. But pretty much all the friends and family I had there have drifted away over the years. Brothers, cousins, parents, aunts and uncles. Everyone leaves for some reason or another and then just never found a good reason to go back.

  • texasdiver

    By the way. I don’t think this is anything unique to the US. My understanding is that much of Europe is even worse. Which makes it much harder for the young to get a start and get ahead when all the drawbridges have been raised.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      well, for a long time we’ve been trying to make ourselves into the kind of country our ancestors wanted to get away from

    • Origami Isopod

      Obviously human need is paramount, but OTOH you also don’t want to be bulldozing thousand-year-old neighborhoods with irreplaceable architecture. Of course there’s going to be a middle ground between that and mass homelessness, but I imagine the balancing act is somewhat more delicate than it is in a U.S. West Coast city where nothing’s more than 100 years old.

      • N__B

        There can be legitimate historic preservation concerns in neighborhoods or towns a lot younger than 100 years, but I’ve almost never heard a legitimate histo presto concern said in a NIMBY context. The concept and language have been coopted in the service of NIMBY.

        • djw

          One of the most frustrating things about housing supply restrictionist NIMBYism is that it co-opts a bunch of things I would like to support in principle, if only they weren’t such potent weapons for the anti-housing crowd–historic preservation, Environmental Impact research, design review, local democratic engagement generally, etc.

          • N__B

            Almost all of my work is related to preservation – parallel to it might be the best description. There’s bullshit in preservation just like every other field, but most of the people in it really do think that they can improve communities by saving critical pieces of the built environment. Anyone in the field with half a brain* knows that using preservation to stop demolition of a piece of crap that no one cares about, as a way of stopping development, will weaken preservation. It’s crying wolf.

            I truly believe that preservation is how we keep the whole country from becoming McMansion Hell. (H/T to Origami Isopod for putting me onto that website.) And I really hate NIMBYism.

            * Yeah, I know.

            • djw

              Oh, that’s hilarious.

              To be clear, I’m on board with historic preservation in theory, and mostly in practice. Some of the rules on renovations, etc, in the historic districts here in Dayton can be a bit much, but historic district designation has been a crucial component of revitalizing (and preserving!) the neighborhoods surrounding downtown. Abuse by NIMBYs is maddening. (When I lived in Ballard they tried, as a last-ditch effort against a new condo building, getting a bog-standard 60’s Denny’s designated as “historically significant.”)

              • N__B

                Denny’s is a new one to me. My favorite will always be the Hudson River town that had the local brothel written up in the National Register nomination form as a single-family house with 18 bedrooms.

                • tsam

                  Heh. Wallace, ID was a mining boom town. It’s historic district is widely known for being a row of brothels. Sort of their claim to fame in the area. It was also where that super duper volcano movie with Pierce Brosnan was filmed.

                • ColBatGuano

                  I spent some summers in Wallace due to old family ties. The historic downtown is still well preserved, but I-5 looms over it like the Berlin Wall.

                • tsam

                  It’s I-90, which, incidentally, goes from downtown Seattle to downtown Boston.

                  That overpass wasn’t there when I was a kid, and there was quite a bit of uproar when it was built. The locals did NOT want it. NIMBY, as it were.

                • Breadbaker

                  To be fair, the particular Denny’s wasn’t entirely “bog standard”; its roof was unusual for a Denny’s.

                  But the thing no one will acknowledge is that the neighborhood is vastly improved by the building that replaced it; even if you miss Sunset Bowl, the reality is that there is a neighborhood now where only a couple of years ago there were vast stretches of parking lots. People live there now. It is good.

              • Linnaeus

                Arguing that the Denny’s on Market & 15th was historically significant was a bit much, but I was sad to see the Sunset Bowl go.

              • numbers

                Oh, God, that Denny’s. Googie, my ass.

                The latest “landmark” is Mama’s Mexican Kitchen on 2nd. It’s a one story brick shell. A seemingly enormous proportion of recent landmarks are old auto repair shops. Get your act together, Seattle.

                http://friendsofhistoricbelltown.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/20160319_183843-1024×552.jpg

                This was described in the caption as “beautiful”, presumably without irony.

            • Origami Isopod

              Thanks for the hat tip and also the background information.

      • tsam

        We have a nice historic district here in Spokane. Most of it originated c. 1880-1900. It is pretty fascinating to go To New England and see 300 year old buildings. We DO NOT feel inferior. At all.

        • N__B

          Tsam visited the east coast? Why was I not informed?

          • tsam

            Basic training and AIT at Ft Dix, NJ. (1987). Then I went to a school in Forestville, CT in 2000. Electronic access control factory. So I flew into Providence and somehow managed to drive to Forestville. This place was next door to ESPN, actually. I managed to get some wandering around Hartford done, but without portable computers, my wandering was pretty aimless. I was shocked at your PUNY STATES.

            • N__B

              I was shocked at your PUNY STATES.

              If you rub Fort Dix…never mind.

              • tsam

                I did. Look at the governor it got

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          this is semi-on and semi-off topic: one of my great-uncles moved to Spokane after WWII and I happened to find the address he was living at in the 1950s. So for kicks I looked it up on Google Maps and the house appears to have been abandoned for a long time- all grown up in trees and tall grass and is probably not worth saving- while all the other houses on the street look pretty good. I’m always sort of surprised when that kind of thing happens in a city, it just seems like the real estate would be worth too much for that to happen- let alone the complaints of the neighbors

          • N__B

            It can happen even with buildings worth millions: the rat-squirrel house. I don’t know why, but the randomness of this phenomenon appeals to me.

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              that kind of stubborn would be admirable, almost, if it weren’t for the fact letting her building go makes it tougher on the neighboring buildings

              edit: suppose if you get as far west as tsam it might be a moose-squirrel house?

              • witlesschum

                You gotta head north for moose, not west.

                I don’t think Washington has any, but one of my favorite childhood memories was when my dad got us out of school to go watch the Moose Lift moose released. The moose were captured in Ontario and brought to Upper Michigan in moose-sized wooden crates, the DNR would then knock off one end and an adult moose would run out and head up the hill into the woods.

                Sadly I wasn’t there the first day, when the governor was there to mark the momentous occasion. One of the four released moose didn’t go up the hill and instead took a left turn into the viewing area, leading to an undignified stampede of dignitaries dodging among the parked cars to get out of her way. One of my dad’s buddies who was there remarked that “Those State Police bodyguards might take a bullet for the governor, but we know they won’t take a moose.”

                • tsam

                  I have a moose that lives literally IN my neighborhood. I see her quite frequently walking down my street. (My dingbat old man neighbor feeds deer, moose and quail in his driveway)

                  There are plenty of moose right here in NE Washington, but nowhere else in WA.

          • Linnaeus

            Somewhat more OT: I looked up where my great-grandparents once lived in Detroit. There are are only a handful of houses on what used to be a densely -built block. Almost all of it is a grassy field now.

            • N__B

              In the early 90s I was doing housing rehabs in the south Bronx. Some of the street names seemed familiar, so I asked my father and it turned out that I was working about three blocks from where he had grown up. In his memory it was solid built-up with five-story apartment buildings on every lot. When he asked me what it was like, the only word I could think of was prairie: the grass was taller than me.

              It’s now solidly built up again. Sic transit gloria Bronx.

              • Linnaeus

                Indeed. Who knows, maybe there will once again be a house where my great-grandparents’ house was. Maybe.

          • tsam

            Really? I’d be willing to have an in person look if you want. Did you visit here?

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              oh, wow, thanks but that isn’t necessary. I was just screwing around and the thing that seemed interesting is that his house is the one abandoned house on the street (dunno if being at the end of a dead-end street makes a difference). I imagine it’s a deal like the rat-squirrel house

              • tsam

                Ok–let me know if you change your mind. I’m always fascinated by that kind of stuff…willing to help out if you decide you want it!

  • LeeEsq

    NIMBYism is a curse but housing and real estate have some features about it that makes doing anything about difficult to achieve. The politics behind it are really messed up. You have Right NIMBYs and Left NIMBYs fighting density and development for different reasons. The Right NIMBYs tend to be much more honest about it though, protect my property values and keep out those that I consider undesirable. Left NIMBYs use the language of justice and the environment, stop gentrification to save communities and preserve historic buildings and green spaces, to protect some venal desires.

    There are also liberals and conservatives in favor of building more housing but pro-development people on either side tend not to work well together. The Right side prefers just gutting zoning laws and letting the market work. The Left development side tends to prefer more government development.

  • Brett

    While I suppose democratic participation in urban planning is a good thing, in practice, it leads to a lot of situations like we are seeing in Eugene.

    It’s about having it at the right level. The type of zoning and zones available should be made at the state or federal level, not at the city level. And the lowest density zone should include putting in duplexes and small apartment buildings, like in Japan.

    It’s the hyper-localism of so much of US urban planning that allows this to happen. It gives the NIMBY busybodies and “never change anything since I moved in” crowd disproportionate leverage.

  • DrDick

    We see a lot of that here in Missoula, where rent and housing prices are insane for a town of this size (70K+). We are also somewhat naturally constrained in adding housing by the mountains.

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