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If not in your backyard, then whose?
August 25, 2008 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Newcomers, with the zeal of recent converts, are often the most vocal in resisting change to the neighborhood they have just discovered. An exploration of NIMBYism. If not in your backyard, then whose? Probably a low-income minority group. Opposition to affordable housing is often thinly-veiled racism. How NIMBYism affects a seven-year old boy on LA's skid row.

African-Americans fight back against environmental injustice. A Latina activist blogs about gentrification. There's also YIMBYs (Yes In My Backyard).
posted by desjardins (61 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Excellent post and a fascinating phenomena. This problem really cuts to the heart of modern urban hypocrisy: most people will tell you that of course we should do more to fight homelessness, or drug addiction, or to rehabilitate prostitutes, but when you want to actually do any of that in their neighborhood they simply don't want those kinds of people here.

In some ways it's understandable, but really it's amazing how willing people are to compartmentalize and section themselves off from the rest of the world. Even in environments with a wide diversity of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, there's a basic stigma against disadvantaged people that still reflects the medieval notion that people must be worse off than me because they've done something basically wrong.
posted by baphomet at 6:23 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Great post - I've been wanting to do one on the homeless in rural areas.

However...Lopez's article would have been a lot better without the over-dramatic gems such as "...folks who know humility and dignity." Ugh.
posted by Liosliath at 6:34 PM on August 25, 2008


Journalist name of Piller looked into the NIMBY phenomenon and decided it was actually democracy. In fact, about the only form of democracy left to the average American.
posted by tommyD at 6:47 PM on August 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


Opposition to affordable housing is often thinly-veiled racism.

Or it's class consciousness. People choose neighborhoods with people of similar socio-economic backgrounds. Race, IMHO, is one factor, but not the determinant factor.

I grew up in a middle class white neighborhood that had a dotting of us "colored folk". We all had similar income levels, and similar "ways of life". Most of us got along just fine. Some, who didn't like it, voiced it in passive aggressive ways, but never could do anything about it. But you try to stick a Super Wal-Mart near the neighborhood, and they raised such a stink that Wal-Mart backed off. Does Wal-Mart tend to have a "colorful" clientele? Sure. Was it racism for why the neighborhood banded together to keep it out? Hell no. They didn't want the traffic and the poorer element in their back yard. Same thing here.

It's a shame that blacks and hispanics are at the lower end of the income spectrum. But goto any suburb in DC and you'll see a variety of ethnic backgrounds living in harmony, because they all share similar income levels. Racism is just one factor (and becoming a smaller and smaller one as the younger generations become more racially harmonious).
posted by SeizeTheDay at 6:56 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Laid to Waste, environmental justice in Chester, Pennsylvania.
posted by The Straightener at 7:06 PM on August 25, 2008


The trouble with progress is it creates friction. The trouble with the progress of civilization is that the friction is made out of people. People just have different psychological relationships to their environments than an administrator or planner does, and nothing will change that, short of reeducation.
posted by sandking at 7:10 PM on August 25, 2008


Are there any advantages to living near poor people? I can't think of any.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:23 PM on August 25, 2008


The trouble with progress...

Obviously, you're the one who gets to define progress. I considered it progress when I was able to move away from the kind of people and phenomena you think it's "progressive" to have in my neighborhood. An action taken by society may be good for you, or be good for me, or it may be good for both of us, but there is no such thing as social "progress." (The teleology's in your head.) And people who call themselves "progressives" are usually good for nuthin'.
posted by Faze at 7:32 PM on August 25, 2008


Are there any advantages to living near poor people? I can't think of any.

Low rent. Duh.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:34 PM on August 25, 2008


Low rent. Duh.

Duh is right. Totally spaced that out, even though I'm a renter.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:43 PM on August 25, 2008


I've always thought this was part of the big pushback against wind power - its the only form of power I can think of that works better when the plants are in rich neighborhoods with plenty of wind.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:46 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


The advantage of living near poor people is an enriched cultural palette, to have a greater diversity of foods and music and arts, to know people with a broader range of personal experi...oh, what the fuck am I talking to this guy for?
posted by The Straightener at 7:53 PM on August 25, 2008 [7 favorites]


"Are there any advantages to living near poor people? I can't think of any."

Then perhaps you should open your eyes, your ears, your senses...

Either I've misunderstood this, or this is a pretty offensive comment....
posted by HuronBob at 8:02 PM on August 25, 2008


or, on lack of preview, what The Straightener said...
posted by HuronBob at 8:03 PM on August 25, 2008


This is an excellent post. Thank you.

Racism is just one factor (and becoming a smaller and smaller one as the younger generations become more racially harmonious).

I agree with most of what you have to say, but race is still a hugely important factor. Much of the country is still as segregated as it was in the 1950s, the effects of white flight are still being felt in some cities while gentrification (which is often tied explicitly to racial as well as economic changes) is the primary dynamic in others, and language and ethnic identity still play a large influence on what people perceive as their neighborhood or community. Some of the economic problems with gentrification can be solved through creative policy (anti-displacement legislation, for example). The cultural/racial problems (like the legacy of white colonization of spaces of people of color, the exotification and appropriation of communities of color by white people, racial "tipping point" at which communities lose their collective identity) are much more difficult to solve.

NIMBYism is tricky because it's often used as a tool for newcomers to gentrify a neighborhood or for rich people to avoid dealing with the (environmental, social, etc.) consequences of their lifestyles. But what about poor people, for example, coming together to prevent destructive companies or influences from invading their neighborhood? Is that NIMBYism, too? Surely that would be desirable in some situations. Drawing the line between which instances are NIMBYism and which ones are democracy in action can be hard - I've encountered a lot of NIMBYers who lacked any real self-awareness that that was what they were doing. How much of the burden of waste removal, energy production, etc. is too little or too much for a community to shoulder?
posted by lunit at 8:25 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Either I've misunderstood this, or this is a pretty offensive comment....

I am most definitely NOT aligning myself with MPDSEA, and I wouldn't phrase it the way he did, but I've lived in an area with lots of poor or lower middle class people and I've lived in an area with lots of richish people. I promise you the area with the richish people was way better. More attractive, cleaner, safer, etc etc.

One of the bad parts of being poor is having to live in shitty areas. One of the good parts of not being poor is being able to live in nice areas.

The way MPDSEA phrased it was pretty awful, though.
posted by Justinian at 8:35 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Straightener writes: The advantage of living near poor people is an enriched cultural palette, to have a greater diversity of foods and music and arts, to know people with a broader range of personal experi...oh, what the fuck am I talking to this guy for?


Poverty doesn't necessarily imbue one with a free-spirited sense of culture. I can think of a few of the trailer parks in my hometown as counterexamples.

I will agree, though, that it's always good to challenge your worldview with people from different backgrounds.
posted by anifinder at 8:38 PM on August 25, 2008


Housing advocates say Duane exemplifies a vexing irony: People support affordable housing with their labor, money, and votes—just so long as it's nowhere near them.

Well, yeah. The American system of homeownership encourages this kind of attitude.

When your house represents your main investment, your primary source of net worth, your retirement fund, possibly your childrens' college educations, of course you're going to be uptight about changes to the neighborhood.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:54 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I dunno, Straightener - it seems to me that people with more wealth and education have more access to "a greater diversity of foods and music and arts" than people struggling to make ends meet. Of course, having access isn't the same as choosing to take advantage of that access...
posted by xmap215 at 8:57 PM on August 25, 2008


I live in public housing run by the regional district. It's clean and well-run - probably the best rental housing stock (for the price) in town. 40% of the units (we rent one of these) are priced "at market" (meaning, priced according to what it would cost to rent a similar flat in the city), while 60% of the units are eligible for rent assistance - these are low-income families who earn less than $36K (usually considerably less) per year.

I'm not too crazy about the 60% of tenants in the building who receive rental assistance. For the most part they are single mothers, and their children are little animals. Their guests are little better than drug dealers, and we have a constant problem with noise and petty crime. Often the doors to the building are left propped open, and people from the street can get in.

There is a "community school" about two blocks from the apartment building that is much beloved by the single mothers, and by teachers in general. We chose not to enroll our son there (schools, as a rule, are pretty good in Canada and receive decent and stable funding from the provincial government), because, rather than curriculum or learning outcomes, the chief marketing tool the school uses is a lunch program and after-school care.

At the end of the day it's all about values and expectations of success in life.

However, the housing complex we live in, while not large, does not seem to cause any more crime in the neighbourhood. The residents may be a scruffy lot, but they still need a nice place to live.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:03 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are there any advantages to living near poor people? I can't think of any.

Cheap rent. Cheap food. Ample parking.
posted by wfrgms at 9:04 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I live in Côte-des-neiges in Montréal, near poor people, but also near rich people (Westmount is right next door) It's pretty good. There's crime, and poverty, but also cafés and restaurants. It tends to be a little cleaner in the upper, richer part, but except for a stretch of Victoria Avenue a little to the north, it looks pretty good too.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:34 PM on August 25, 2008


Are there any advantages to living near poor people? I can't think of any.

Yeah, many of them are artists and/or musicians and I wouldn't wish neighbours like that on my worst enemies.
posted by philip-random at 9:37 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Journalist name of Piller looked into the NIMBY phenomenon and decided it was actually democracy. In fact, about the only form of democracy left to the average American.

It's also a form of the tragedy of the commons. Democracy puts individual interests first, sometimes to the detriment of the community.
posted by desjardins at 9:47 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


NIMBYism seems like a natural reaction in many cases. People want the burdens shared equally. It is one thing to wish that your entire community would, with you, do something good about drug addicts, perhaps so that everyone shares a similar tax burden intended to provide housing for these addicts. It is quite another thing to discover that the tax money is going to be used to build a 24-hour clinic for drug addicts right next to your house and not, obviously, next to everyone's house.

If it is impossible to build next to everyone, you need to build next to no one (in an area that is otherwise free of residences) or, if that's not possible, in a neighborhood where such a change is an improvement: a house full of supervised unarmed drug addicts on government support replaces a crumbling crack house full of guys with no jobs but plenty of guns, removing some nasty guys from the block while providing a few neighborhood jobs.
posted by pracowity at 10:03 PM on August 25, 2008


The advantage of living near poor people is an enriched cultural palette

I hate to be the one having to point this out, but just from a lifetime's worth of observation, it seems to me that a lot of people are willing to pay a lot of money and invest a lot of time and effort specifically to avoid this "enriched cultural palette."

While it would be nice if everyone saw that as an advantage, many people don't. They'd prefer to live surrounded by people who look, act, and have mostly the same background experiences as they do. They want restaurants that serve "their" food; they want grocery stores where everything on the shelves is labeled in their primary language and is immediately identifiable. Where they never have to worry about being put in a social situation that they don't know how to handle (or at least not without being able to blame the other person for creating the awkwardness).

You could, I'm sure, come up with a "knapsack"-style list of the advantages a person gets by living in an area where they're a member of the overwhelmingly dominant/ubiquitous culture. Those advantages are big selling points; people with the economic means to do so seem to actively choose (at great expense and inconvenience; cf. suburbia, gated communities) to live in areas where their exposure to people unlike themselves is minimized.

I think there's a danger in these sorts of discussions (not in this discussion in particular, but just in general) that people who personally value and enjoy living in a diverse environment simply take on premise that anyone with half a brain would also enjoy living there. While it's fine to feel this way, you're not going to make any converts — you're just preaching to the choir. If the people living in gated communities, or in suburbs with large minimum lot-size requirements and iron policies against public transportation, or even just in expensive apartment complexes with income requirements, valued having an "enriched cultural palette" highly, they wouldn't be living the way that they are. If you want to change their behavior (and since they vote and have influence by way of their choices, you may), a much better job needs to be done selling the advantages of living in an economically/socially/linguistically diverse environment.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:06 PM on August 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


As much as I love the energy and diversity of the city, I have to admit I like being able to walk around after dark without having a single thought about being robbed or assaulted. The only other place I've felt this safe is Montana. We're in a solidly middle-class community with some diversity (many Latinos; hardly any African-Americans). There's a supermercado down the road and many of the "help wanted" signs are in Spanish. I think SeizeTheDay has a point; the Mexicans who live around here are of the same social class and share similar values. I've never heard any complaints. However, if they tried to build subsidized housing here, regardless of what race/ethnicity occupied it, there'd be a fight.

I'm from Milwaukee, where the black middle class is almost nonexistent (at least compared to Chicago). The Milwaukee metro area is the most segregated in the country (2000 census) and I'm inclined more and more to believe it's a class/crime/lifestyle issue. I was never really exposed to a black middle class until I moved to Chicago, and I've never met anyone here that even finds it remarkable. I wish that were so in my hometown.
posted by desjardins at 10:28 PM on August 25, 2008


Democracy puts individual interests first, sometimes to the detriment of the community.

Or, more often, to the detriment of monied interests who hide behind the veil of "community", "American People", etc. to get what they want.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:33 PM on August 25, 2008


The advantage of living near poor people is an enriched cultural palette …

This is getting weird. We're speaking of "poor people" as if they come from a different planet. I've been "poor" in my time, and I suspect I was mostly the same as I am right now, although I probably ate better (beans and rice), smoked more (and cheaper) dope, and drank way cheaper beer (whatever somebody else was paying for).

Next time you find a panhandler in your path, remember what Neil Diamond said: "He ain't heavy, he's my brother." (No, he didn't write it but he did sing it.
posted by philip-random at 10:50 PM on August 25, 2008


This just in: Compassion, empathy don't come easily to privileged 21st Century Americans.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:52 PM on August 25, 2008


KokuRyu because, rather than curriculum or learning outcomes, the chief marketing tool the school uses is a lunch program and after-school care.

I wonder if the latter will lead, on the average, to a greater improvement in any given child's prospects in life than the former. I wouldn't be surprised if it did.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:48 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


My current favorite NIMBY story is the guy in San Mateo County, CA, (Burlingame?) who said the city shouldn't permit a particular 6-unit affordable housing building because it would mean less street parking, which he needed, because he owned eight cars.

Hope I got those numbers right. But the story is for real, and happened in the last three or four months.
posted by salvia at 12:31 AM on August 26, 2008


Are there any advantages to living near poor people? I can't think of any.

I dunno, I kinda like having people to teach school...
posted by salvia at 12:34 AM on August 26, 2008


Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person trying to gentrify this neighborhood.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:22 AM on August 26, 2008


There are no poor people, just people faring poorly.
posted by pracowity at 2:53 AM on August 26, 2008


My favorite local example of NIMBYism was when a recently-released pedophile was released from jail, and then loudly shouted out of each subsequent small town the government moved him to. I have never seen an uglier group of people burning effigies and seven year old girls stating seriously to the tv cameras that they lived in fear. It felt like an old fashioned witch hunt.

The part that highlighted how stupid their arguments against him were? When parents declared they were going to keep their children from going back to school because he might get them there. So sacrifice their education because of the fear of the pedophile who has to live somewhere, under police protection, mayyyyyy get your kid. Hmm.
posted by chronic sublime at 4:13 AM on August 26, 2008


I liked living in a poorer neighborhood of Chicago. It was, firstly, affordable. Since the wealth gradient in Chicago can be huge, there were also plenty of nice western and ethnic things within daytime walking distance. Nighttime walking distance was about ten feet.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:24 AM on August 26, 2008


I live in a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood. The NIMBYism gets to me. The biggest problem, though, is different standards of good behaviour in the various class, racial and ethic groups in the neighbourhood. Pack a bunch of people with very different ideas of what is proper and right close together in row houses, and communication drops to about negative 20.

Being middle class (what I was raised, not what I make on some stupid chart) and white, the white middle class residents really hack me off. I guess I'm more offended by the classism, militant avoidance of rational thought and selfishness of my own than the same in other groups.
posted by QIbHom at 5:40 AM on August 26, 2008


I've lived in an area with lots of poor or lower middle class people and I've lived in an area with lots of richish people. I promise you the area with the richish people was way better.

On first reading the Marin county article, my husband was thinking that he wouldn't want to live in a million-dollar neighbourhood, because there would be no shops or amenities.

Some rich neighbourhoods are nice, but I find that most are like green deserts, devoid of services, shops and (to a large extent) everyday neighbourliness. There are no people on the streets, no where to go that you don't have to drive to. I don't think poor neighbourhoods are very good either - many have a really restricted choice of shops, and can be visually "down at the heels". The nicest neighbourhoods I've ever seen have always been very mixed neighbourhoods, like (to bring up the old Jacobs example) the Annex in Toronto (actually, the nicest bit isn't the Annex proper, but the area north of Bloor and west of Bathurst that has a strong mix of incomes).
posted by jb at 6:07 AM on August 26, 2008


But I do have to admit to being a NIMBY at one point - I complained to my (idiot, asshole) city counsellor about a Walmart that was going in.

But that was because the Walmart was completely replacing a mall which had some small shops I liked (I didn't mind loosing the three dollar stores, but I miss the Indian fashion-import place), and which was actually somewhat of a neighbourhood hangout, including for the senior citizens who lived in a complex across the street; I would have been perfectly happy if the Walmart had moved in as the flagship store for the mall, or if they had proposed a development which was nearer to the street and actually improved the streetscape instead of worsening it.

Instead they ripped out a not at all attractive but still more pedestrian friendly mall to put in a Walmart with a parking lot that was twice as large, and set as far away from the bus stop and sidewalk as it was physically possible. It was in complete and flagrant violation of the suposed city policies for development, which were suposed to encourage "avenue-ization", to make neighbourhoods more walkable (and thus safer, and friendlier), not less. They cut off pedestrian access from the south entirely, and set the tone for further development that looks far more industrial instead of the commercial it proports to be.

And all of this was eagerly supported by our brain-dead councillor, who had earlier opposed the building of a battered women's shelter in the area on the grounds that it would be a blight to the neighbourhood. Well, let me tell you, the shelter did go in, and it's a bright, cheery homey building, facing the complete and utter blightation he lauded that looks more like a highway pitstop area than a commercial development.
posted by jb at 6:23 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


NIMBYs need some respect: "Private enterprise failed. Political leadership failed. The safety agency failed. So citizens say, "To hell with you. Not in my backyard."

Speaking of Toronto, my neighbourhood is nuts. Rich, poor, somewhere in the middle...everyone's mixed in around each other, and we all stand in the same line at The Beer Store near Queen and Leslie. Makes for some interesting juxtapositions, that's for sure.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:51 AM on August 26, 2008


NIMBY is special pleading our pet causes (and it should be NITBY, "not in their backyard"). It's painful to read "...if not yours, then whose?" It screams out its random, serial killer logic. Anyone whose ever rallied against toxic waste, coal burning plants, hog farms, landfills for foreign trash, or exemptions to zoning for a wealthy slumlord political donor, etc. has realized that it's a game of getting better terms. And it's always a two way street. It can't just apply to drug rehabs and not to the giant hog farm. The reality is that if our pet cause has opposition on the street, then it probably has opposition at the ballot box too. I noticed an effort among NYMBY enthusiasts to suggest otherwise to make their point.
posted by Brian B. at 7:01 AM on August 26, 2008


I don't think the Annex is a good example of a mixed income neighbourhood. Most of the houses in the area are very expensive, as are most rental units. And I am willing to bet most of the cheap housing is sucked up by U of T students. If you look at the City of Toronto's demographic data, the Annex has a lower percentage of immigrants, new immigrants, people who don't speak English, visibile minorities, etc, when compared to the rest of the city. (Similarly with income, the area is getting richer over time.)

Also, JB, which Wall Mart are you talking about?
posted by chunking express at 7:11 AM on August 26, 2008


I liked living in a poorer neighborhood of Chicago. It was, firstly, affordable. Since the wealth gradient in Chicago can be huge, there were also plenty of nice western and ethnic things within daytime walking distance. Nighttime walking distance was about ten feet.

Seriously, I think it's the only way to go. I saved well over 50% on my rent by living in a minority-white building, in a minority-white area, it was great.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:05 AM on August 26, 2008


As much as I love the energy and diversity of the city

The advantage of living near poor people is an enriched cultural palette, to have a greater diversity of foods and music and arts, to know people with a broader range of personal experi..

This seems to assume that 'poor people' means urban inhabitants. I've lived in some pretty poor rural areas and I would not say there was an enriched cultural palette or any diversity of food or music whatsoever. In the 'poor' parts of cities, yes. In trailer parks, rural backwaters, mountain towns, abandoned industrial areas, no. Not at all.
posted by spicynuts at 8:57 AM on August 26, 2008


Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America writes "Are there any advantages to living near poor people? I can't think of any."

Urban poor people tend to mind there own business. If like me you prefer not to cut your lawn three times a week while petro-fertilizing it to within an inch of its life poorer neighbourhoods are more tolerant of the lawn's condition.
posted by Mitheral at 10:44 AM on August 26, 2008


I think the Annex is gentrifying, but I think of it because I've known people lived there (some as renters, some as owners of a remarkably cheap house) who were low/moderate income, while aware that there are plenty of higher income people. I also wasn't thinking of the old Annex proper (around St George) which is super posh and not as lively - I was thinking of the Honest Ed's neighbourhood and west. It's not actually in any official neighbourhood, but sits between the Annex (which is considered to stop at Bathurst) and Dovercourt.

which Wall Mart are you talking about?

Rexdale and Islington, replacing the old Rexdale Mall. Which was no sterling example of beautiful urbanism itself, but did have a certain social utlity, and which was (slightly) more pedestrian friendly (the Wal-Mart is the big building on the right). I was pissed off not at the fact of the development, but at the way of the development - rather than taking the opportunity to improve an otherwise fairly dire area (in terms of both aesthetics and eyes on the street/safety/traffic), they made it worse. And I was doubly angry, because the city council was talking about changing the way development happens in Toronto, but our local councillor was/is insane, stupid and somewhat evil.* We did need a decent store, and as much as I deplore Wal-mart's behaviour towards their employees and distributors, there weren't any other low cost stores interested. But I really would have liked to have seen the store oriented towards the streetscape in a way that improved it and made walking more pleasant and safer. We might be in "suburban" Toronto, but it's a low income area with heavy public transit use - and would be a better area, maybe with less crime, if it had more people walking around. Certainly, it would be cleaner if there were more windbreaks to keep away the highway dirt and blowing litter.

*His arguments against having a battered women's shelter in the area boiled down to accusing all battered women of being prostitutes and crack addicts. Which is a) both untrue and hateful, and b) prostitutes and crack addicts also need a safe place with their children to put their lives back together. Thankfully, he lost that battle.

I think there is also sensible NIMBYism, and then egregious NIMBYism. It's one thing to oppose a toxic waste dump, and entirely another to oppose affordable housing meant to be sold to middle class and lower middle class people (which was the example in the Mother Jones affordable housing article). The first can often be reasonable - such things should probably be in a non-residential area - while the latter simply isn't.
posted by jb at 10:51 AM on August 26, 2008


Urban poor people tend to mind there own business.

What?? Since when? The urban poor people on my block scream curses at each other from the street up to the fourth floor window, think they own the block, damage parked cars of unknown ownership and berate people for how the shades in windows are kept. You really haven't had fun till you've been woken up at 9 on a Sunday by an 80 year old italian woman screaming "MOTHERFUCKING ASSHOLE" at the top of her lungs. Generalizing about large groups of people ain't a good idea.
posted by spicynuts at 10:59 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


that's not to say that opposing affordable housing for actually poor people is understandable, just showing how insane their NIMBYism was, because they thought teachers - or others making under $60,000 a year - would bring the neighbourhood down.

I would say that it is never a good idea to have any development which is majority poor, because that does create ghettos and unhealthy, alienated communities. I grew up in a building that was entirely subsidized - and it was much worse in terms of crime and vandalism than buildings where only a minority of apartments were subsidized. People in poverty do tend to be more socially excluded/alienated; they have a lot less stake in mainstream society, so its not surprising if they engage in anti-social behaviour. And then that anti-social behaviour becomes itself normalized (and pro-social, only for a new society within a society which is often incompatible with mainstream society - like gang culture). So you want to mix it up. You want kids from poor families and/or broken homes whose parents may not have a lot of education playing with kids from two-parent families who expect them to go to college, because it will change how they see their world, and what they expect from themselves, their relationships and their future.

Basically, if you are middle class/well-to-do, you want poor kids in your backyard now, playing with your kids, so they aren't in your backyard later, stealing your stuff.
posted by jb at 11:08 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


spicynuts writes "You really haven't had fun till you've been woken up at 9 on a Sunday by an 80 year old italian woman screaming 'MOTHERFUCKING ASSHOLE' at the top of her lungs. "

Ya, but was she screaming MOTHERFUCKING ASSHOLE at you?

Maybe I've just lead a sheltered life but I don't think I've ever heard someone screaming MOTHERFUCKING ASSHOLE in a public place in my life. 80 year old, Italian, 9AM, Sunday, female or otherwise.

The shades thing seems kind of weird though.
posted by Mitheral at 11:18 AM on August 26, 2008


Ya, but was she screaming MOTHERFUCKING ASSHOLE at you?

Does it matter? She was standing on the street outside my window. Also, when I first moved into the block I had my car vandalized several times until I had my landlord let people know it was mine.

Perhaps you have led a sheltered life. You can come to my block any summer evening and hear that and much more. Or, you can go to a Yankees/Red Sox game. Or is that not considered a public place? Or, you can stand on any intersection in NYC on any day and wait five minutes.
posted by spicynuts at 11:49 AM on August 26, 2008


Oh and on the shades thing - I was informed that having on shade half way up made it look like "there are a bunch of Puerto Ricans living up there". I've been trying to figure that one out for 8 years.
posted by spicynuts at 11:50 AM on August 26, 2008


My best friend recently bought a house in the established "village" area of the island here. His neighbors pretty well run the gamut: he's a wastewater engineer with blue collar roots, one neighbor runs the local coffee shop, another is an elderly woman. Across the street is a young couple of "limited income" and their two kids, who are actually living in a house owned by the local affordable housing group (who have done precious little to make it more energy efficient or livable for them, or to advance their hopes of being able to buy it). Behind their house is a house with a full-time senior citizen in the upstairs, and summer rental space downstairs. Across the street from her is a single mother who worked her ass off to scrape together the money to buy her house. Up and down the street are a couple lawyers, a teacher and homemaker... basically your lower to upper middle class small town blend.

In the middle of this assemblage, the affordable housing group has gotten control of two adjacent 0.2 acre lots, neither of which is buildable under existing code, and neither of which can be combined to form a buildable lot under existing code. They are proposing to build between four and six attached townhouse type units on this tiny property, which would require basically throwing out any kind of sane zoning and just saying "anything goes for you, you crazy altruists!" The entire neighborhood, up and down two streets and across the joining street, are predictably enough opposed to this. It will take the single remaining green space in the neighborhood and fill it edge to edge with house, and will have to include at least ten new parking spaces, which means the whole front yard of the two properties would be paved.

What does the affordable housing group say about the opposition? You guessed it: "They're NIMBYs!"

The residents opposed to this massive building project (and four new houses at once on an island of 850 year round residents is by any estimate a massive building project) point out that it throws away the zoning book completely, it is hideous from an environmental perspective (replacing green space with pavement and building footprint will greatly increase storm runoff down what is a steep and thin-soiled road), will drastically drop their home values (homes none of them were able to casually afford) and will not serve any identifiable group of potential buyers. Living on the island is expensive and requires an unusually high commitment to an unusual lifestyle. There is no pool of committed buyers lined up for this project, lots of relatively inexpensive homes are for sale on the island right now and aren't moving, and all signs point to the necessity of these houses becoming rentals, thus embedding a sudden large transient population in the middle of what was a long-stable neighborhood.

The fact is, a lot of "affordable housing" projects are ill-considered, ill-planned, and flat-out wrong for the communities they are foisted upon. Most of them are driven by real estate professionals and developers, who have a pretty obvious conflict of interest in the whole thing. And propping up this entire scam is the ease of charging opponents with "nimbyism," which is always a more or less explicit accusation of racism or classism.

I'm proud of my friend and his neighbors for refusing to be cowed by the real estate developers plastering them with the NIMBY label. I encourage anyone else reading this to look carefully at plans for any sort of development in your neighborhood (be it "altruistic" or commercial), and defend it from these vultures when they arrive. It is your backyard, and if you don't want someone shitting in it, stand up and say so. As several people upthread have pointed out, it's one of the last vestiges of democracy and community decision-making still available to us.
posted by rusty at 1:42 PM on August 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


spicynuts writes "Does it matter? She was standing on the street outside my window"

If it's not directed at you then even if it woke you up it can't be a symptom of her not minding her own business, at least as presented.
posted by Mitheral at 4:06 PM on August 26, 2008


Most of them are driven by real estate professionals and developers required of the developers by the planning department.

Real estate developers would rather build market-rate housing. They're often required to build a certain percentage of affordable housing in order to get permission to build the market-rate stuff. In high-end resort areas like Jackson Hole or Aspen, 6 out of 10 units built must be affordable. Often this is done so that people who work in that community (mostly service workers) can afford to live there. Looks like the Island Institute in Maine has taken on that cause.
posted by desjardins at 4:31 PM on August 26, 2008


and four new houses at once on an island of 850 year round residents is by any estimate a massive building project

Tee hee.
posted by salvia at 4:42 PM on August 26, 2008


From the Onion article, way upthread:
When I first moved in, I loved the 50-cent coffees—it was like living in the '80s—but I wish they'd listen to me and start making lattes. I know I'd pay the extra three bucks, and I'm sure everyone else around here would, too.
I can't quite pull this open yet, but I feel like this paragraph sums up a lot of what is unsurprising but disappointing and also exasperating about gentrification (which is, just to be clear, not always the same thing as NIMBYism).
posted by LMGM at 5:07 PM on August 26, 2008


The "affordable" housing proposal in my neighbourhood was aimed at families earning $60k a year. That is a lot more than the folks being pushed out of the neighbourhood by Yuppies make. It is what the young, fresh out of college Yuppies make.
posted by QIbHom at 5:22 PM on August 26, 2008


desjardins: I'm thinking of the affordable housing developers -- i.e. the companies that specialize in just that. Avesta got their hooks in our little local affordable housing group early and have driven the process right off the cliff, insisting that new development was the only way they could get any grant money. This presumes, of course, that "get grant money" was the goal of the group. And where will that grant money go? You get one guess.

Everyone who wasn't interested in building new houses left the group in disgust, and what's left represents no one but Avesta.

I shouldn't have made it that categorical, you're right. I was trying to only speak of my experience here.

Also, I know Brooke, the Island Institute fellow sent here to work on affordable housing. She quit. It was a complete train wreck, and I suspect the II will vet applicant groups a little more carefully next time. Being associated with this disaster made them look very bad.
posted by rusty at 5:53 PM on August 26, 2008


If it's not directed at you then even if it woke you up it can't be a symptom of her not minding her own business, at least as presented.

1. We are going to have to agree to disagree on this. "Minding one's own business" to me also involves not bringing one's business loudly into the public arena. Even if I'm wrong, it's at minimum incivility.

2. You're ignoring my other points, such as car vandalism.
posted by spicynuts at 6:06 AM on August 27, 2008


"Minding one's own business" to me also involves not bringing one's business loudly into the public arena

It does to me too, and I would say to the majority of people. Noise is considered a public issue pretty much everywhere. Whether the noise in your particular case is acceptable or not (I would say yes, sorry), there is no question it's public business.
posted by fatehunter at 10:49 AM on August 27, 2008


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