Urbanity '17: The Great Debate

As we lead into the “Great Debate” at Urbanity, we thought it prudent to scope out the perspectives of either side – lest we start with any confusion as to what exactly a YIMBY, NIMBY or their less-established derivatives, BANANA, LULU, NIABY (amongst others) actually stand for.

The term NIMBY ("Not In My Back Yard") is traditionally associated with the parochial suburbanite that vehemently opposes any development (or developer profit) often to the detriment of the interests of low-income people. It has long been used as a pejorative term, casting the NIMBY as a selfish individualist who only care for themselves, “hypocrites who want the benefits of modernity without paying its costs”.

Yet, NIMBY-proponents, or at least those cast as the natural antagonist to the YIMBY – would argue that the YIMBY profit motive is what actually caused the affordability crunch in the first place.

Our “NIMBY” for the debate is Jonathan Sri, Councillor of Gabba Ward.

I certainly don’t think of myself as a NIMBY. I react quite strongly against that. It is unfortunate that in this highly-adversarial political discourse anyone with concerns about development are cast as uncooperative. [I am] a strong advocate for sustainable development. My main objection to the major development projects is that they’re not actually delivering any affordable housing.”

Sri sees his perspective as primarily economic, and he’s concerned that the filtering effect that YIMBYism promises – that construction and housing development increases affordability – is entirely misplaced. And there is strong evidence that rents in existing housing near new “luxury” developments rise more than rents in apartments not close to new development – without a filtering effect.

So, it is perhaps not so much that Sri isn’t the typical NIMBY as it is that the NIMBY isn’t the typical NIMBY.

A recent Stanford paper found that in “liberal” cities, whose citizens tended to favour redistributive social welfare and tax policies (typically associated with high-income, high-education) also ironically favour more restrictive housing development policies.

The same paper found that people like real estate developers only slightly more than they like corporate executives (not much). Which is exactly the sentiment that the YIMBY initiative – spearheaded in Queensland by Brisbane property consultancy, Wolter Consulting Group – is trying to counteract.

Co-founder of YIMBY Queensland, Natalie Rayment says that development is anything but ad hoc. “It is misinformed to say that developers get to do what they like unchecked. The fact of the matter is there is an extremely rigorous system in place that takes into account every aspect of development as well as future planning.” Rayment said.

The centrepiece of YIMBYism is opportunity. According to the YIMBYs, anti-growth sentiment, often reflected in restrictive zoning laws, can have a profound impact on society, contributing to price rises and locking new buyers out of the market.

Which is why Sri points out that he and Rayment will likely be more aligned than some may think: “I actually think there’s a lot of common ground [between Natalie and me], really it’s a more nuanced discussion about who benefits from development and what kinds of development we want to see.”

The crux of the Great Debate, then, will be on how we can solve the major problems facing our cities, from declining housing affordability to inclusive planning and sustainability. And we're certainly looking forward to it!

The Great Debate will open up the program on Day 2 at Urbanity.

The Urban Developer, in partnership with Queensland Government and Brisbane Development Association, Urbanity 2017 is a two-day conference held at Brisbane’s Royal International Convention Centre, 28 – 29 September, 2017.

Ticket registrations are soon to close. Be quick to ensure you don’t miss out.

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