Sunday, February 22, 2015

The power of YIMBY

Posted By on Sun, Feb 22, 2015 at 7:30 AM

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NIMBY ("Not in my backyard") is a planning acronym for opponents to development projects. While the term may not be known by the majority of the population, the idea that a few neighbors can fight development, and often times win, is very well known. I won't get into the positives and negatives of the process, of which there are many, but instead focus on the potential to actually flip the process into something more productive.

How can we actually encourage and voice Yes In My Backyard, YIMBY-ism?

What if our city governments cataloged pro-development requests from the community and published them to encourage development? As a consultant to developers, someone who meets with both NIMBYs and YIMBYs, I see this as something that may actually encourage development.

Allow me to give an example. I own a home in Spring Creek, a neighborhood designed for pedestrian mobility in the traditional pattern with garages off of alleys, tree-lined streets and wide sidewalks. It’s a neighborhood originally designed to include walkable shops, restaurants and a diverse mix of residential housing options. A fraction of this has come to fruition due to market conditions and specific design standards that don’t fit into what developers typically create today.

More than a decade after the Spring Creek development broke ground, large mixed-use lots remain available for the walkable retail shopping experience. Due to the buyers’ understanding of what was to be in the neighborhood, there’s continued longing for a developer to come along and build the Keystone element to the otherwise walkable neighborhood. The residents, at least the original owners of the neighborhood, are YIMBYs in waiting.

Imagine that there’s a developer hoping to build a mixed-use neighborhood cafe accompanied by other shops, adjacent townhouses or second/third story apartments. Apprehension on the developer's part would be predictable given the density of such a product, depending on the area they planned to use; fewer parking spaces desired, added noise, etc. Now imagine if that developer had a website or database readily available to view that categorized neighborhoods interested in the same type of development pattern. Consider it a "Match.com" for developers and neighbors. The developer(s) could then evaluate land costs, the percentage of YIMBYs on their side and what the specific requests are.

Developers spend tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in the process of creating a feasible master plan somewhat speculatively — there’s a lot of risk involved with development. Some of that risk could be reduced with a matchmaking process, and the knowledge that developers have advocates for their projects before they begin. When there are a known number of YIMBYs to match or hopefully exceed the NIMBYs, it would provide a more predictable outcome for future developments, less risk for the developers and banks, and therefore more development would occur.

What say you, City of Colorado Springs, care to innovate and reform the current broken NIMBY system?

John Olson is a licensed landscape architect, residing in Colorado Springs. He serves as the Director of Planning and Landscape Architecture for EVstudio Planning & Civil Engineering. He is also a co-founder of Colorado Springs Urban Intervention, which implemented Better Block Pikes Peak in 2012, the recent Walkability Signage found in Downtown Colorado Springs, and perhaps most notably, Curbside Cuisine.

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