What NIMBY stands for and what it means are two separate matters.

CityLab staffer Eric Jaffe reports on the need for a better definition of "NIMBYism", a task being taken on by Austin land-use regulations lawyer Chris Bradford. On his new blog Club NIMBY, Bradford argues that we are all powerless to define the practice of NIMBYism systematically. In order to diminish NIMBYism, those concerned with zoning restrictions, land use regulations, housing affordability and income inequality in American cities must improve their understanding of the obstruction.

“Developing a sound theory of NIMBYism will, of course, enable us to define NIMBYism,” he writes. “But if a ‘theory of NIMBYism’ is to be useful, it must explain NIMBYism as well as define it.” The key to any strong definition or explanation, suggests Bradford, is that it must go beyond the simplistic idea that NIMBYism aims to protect home value, full stop. Bradford builds his own central thesis around the idea that NIMBYs seek to monopolize “access to neighborhood amenities”.

Bradford hopes that his posts will incite a larger discussion about NIMBYism and address the fact that the response puts home value at the center of wealth accumulation in a society focused on property values.

As for realistic policy solutions, Bradford makes an initial go at these, too. Rather than trying to undo existing single-family zones, he says, an easier place to start would be for local planners and officials to stop automatically applying such zoning to new developments. “There is no particular constituency for zoning fringe greenfields exclusively for single-family use, so cities ought to stop doing it,” he writes. “This practice merely begets the next generation of NIMBYs.”

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