Geographic scale matters in decision-making about cities.
You might have heard of NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard) and YIMBY’s (Yes In My Back Yard). These terms are often used derogatively, but I reckon it’s often completely understandable behaviour – just people trying to protect their interests.
There are lots of urban issues where people agree that something is important for society to have, but they just don’t want it anywhere near them (e.g. sewage treatment plants). I call this a NIMBY issue.
Conversely there are other issues where people love them on their street, but don’t want them on other streets that maybe they drive down (e.g. play streets). I call this a YIMBY issue.
Decisions on issues like these can go in completely different directions depending on whether the decision-maker is dependent on votes at a national level, regional level, citywide level, or local level. It’s therefore really important that these decisions get elevated or delevated to the right level.
I’ve listed out a few that spring to mind in the table below. Many of these are playing out in Christchurch right now (and other cities too). For some of them we’ve seen massive changes in recent years, brought about simply by changing the level at which the decision gets made.
|Prevailing Public Attitude||Implication|
|Slow speed limits||YIMBY: I want this on my street (so me and my family are safe), but not on any other streets (I like being able to get around the city fast)||If the decision is made at a national or citywide level, then we are unlikely to get many lower speed limits. If devolved to local level we will likely get more.|
(decisions on speed limits have recently been devolved from national to city level, at least for some types of streets, and sure enough we’re seeing way more low speed limits being rolled out)
|Intensification||NIMBY: I want this elsewhere in the city (so society in general is well-housed), but not on my street (I don’t want a 3-storey townhouse overlooking my backyard)||If the decision is elevated to a national or citywide level, then we will likely get more intensification. If retained at a local level we will likely get less. |
(decision-making has recently been elevated from city to national level and we’re getting more intensification: local level decision-makers are pushing back against it)
|Minimum parking requirements||YIMBY: I want this on my street so that street parking is freed up, but I don’t want it throughout the whole nation because it destroys housing affordability and cripples the economy.||If the decision is elevated to a national or citywide level, then we likely will get fewer minimum parking requirements. If retained at a local level we will likely get more. |
(decision-making has recently been elevated from city to national level, and we’re seeing minimum parking requirements being removed)
|Pedestrianised streets||YIMBY: As a business owner, I want my immediate street to be pedestrianised as it means a much nicer environment, but not the surrounding streets that motorists drive through to reach my area.||If the decision is made at a national or citywide level, then we likely won’t get many pedestrianised streets. If devolved to a hyper-local level we will likely get more. |
(currently playing out here)
|Bus stop placement||NIMBY: I want a bus stop somewhere within walking distance of my house because it’s convenient, but I don’t want it right outside my house (noise, vibration, litter etc.)||If the decision is made at a national or citywide level, then we likely will get optimal bus stop placement. If devolved to local level we likely won’t.|
|Low traffic neighbourhoods||YIMBY: I want this on my street (so me and my family are safe), but not on any other streets (I like being able to get around the city fast).||If the decision is made at a national or citywide level, then we are unlikely get many low traffic neighbourhoods. If devolved to local level we likely will see more.|
Waddya reckon? Any I’ve missed?
3 thoughts on “NIMBY’s and YIMBY’s: to Elevate or Delevate?”
Great article. That’s an interesting and important point about getting the right level to frame transport decisions. The other decision that I am well aware of as a commute cyclist in Ōtautahi-Christchurch is whether or not cycle lanes are separated from foot paths. To efficiently bike from A to B, I don’t want to be frequently braking and dodging to politely get around lots of pedestrians, especially people out walking their dogs. When there’s shared pedestrian-cycle paths with lots of pedestrians, I will instead ride on the road if there’s space, as it’s much faster.
I expect the decision on whether or not to separate pedestrians and cyclists has an element of NIMBY/YIMBY in it. If it’s a street with lots of car drivers on it, they want a safe place for their kids to walk and cycle but still want easy car access, so the local-level decisions tend to be shared pedestrian-cycle paths and wider 2-way roads. A whole city perspective that wants to transition more away from cars and towards more climate (and society) friendly modes of transport would instead be more likely to separate cycle and pedestrian infrastructure at the expense of space for cars.
Yea good point and i think you’re probably right about their being an element of short distance and long distance difference their. That said, the major cycleways mostly aren’t shared except for short bus through intersections and such like where there’s no option to separate them. At least the bits i can think of anyway.
I like how you’ve set out this concept. One thought regarding the bus stop example: I see could be a ‘hyper local’ NIMBY effect. But I think there is a more significant local YIMBY effect, in that local neighbourhoods want more frequent bus stops for convenience, but to the detriment of the overall network-slowing down overall travel times for everyone. So local decision making (for example, complaining about a local bus stop being cut) leads to more frequent than optimal placement.
For example, a Greater Auckland post has highlighted wider stop spacing as an effective option to increase average bus speeds. https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2019/08/28/faster-buses/