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To Build Great Cities, Push Back Against NIMBY Sentiment

Movements opposing changes to land use and transportation development policies can thwart initiatives capable of confronting urban quality of life challenges, city officials said recently. Some advised pushing back.

Traffic along Glades Road interchange of the Turnpike in Boca Raton, Fla.
Traffic along Glades Road interchange of the Turnpike in Boca Raton, Fla., on Feb. 25, 2022.
(John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)
Long labeled “Not In My Backyard” or NIMBY, citizen-led opposition to land use changes happens regularly in communities nationwide — but municipal leaders described the value behind contentious concepts like multifamily zoning and transportation systems and advised pushing back.

“When you go to the great cities of the world, they’re not thinking about the neighborhood, they’re thinking about the system,” said Bernard Zyscovich, founder and CEO of Zyscovich, an architecture and urban design firm in Miami, speaking on a panel Monday at the CoMotion Miami conference.

In Fort Collins, Colo., the City Council has repeatedly approved land use zoning changes to allow for more housing density. A citizen-led group, Preserve Fort Collins, has challenged the move on multiple occasions, collecting several thousand signatures — enough to repeal the ordinance.

“So last Tuesday, we passed it again,” said Jeni Arndt, mayor of Fort Collins, during another panel at CoMotion, a gathering of transportation and urbanism leaders from the private and public sectors. She and others have described single-family zoning’s problematic history that enabled moves like redlining, which carved out neighborhoods with largely white populations.

“We’ve been trying to get rid of that, [single-family zoning] since I’ve been mayor,” said Arndt, who has described herself as “pro-housing, pro-density, pro-transit, pro-environment.”

Opposition to development and zoning code changes often tends to overflow into transportation planning as well, Zyscovich said.

“There’s so much great thinking. And so many decades of planning. We need to find a way to just get past the NIMBYism, and get it done,” he said. “We live in a world of NIMBYism related to transportation. For years and years we talked about it in terms of development, and quality of life. But transportation and access and mobility are, in fact, quality of life.”

Transportation systems, by their very nature, are networks. Their integrity is the ability to form easy connections from one mode to the next, and from one neighborhood to the next. And when transportation planning becomes interrupted by inconsistent decision-making, the region suffers, Zyscovich said, noting that in Florida’s Miami-Dade region, the transportation system needs to connect the region.

Housing and transportation do not live in silos, but need to be planned in unison, said Daniella Levine Cava, mayor of Miami-Dade County, adding that both require creative approaches to address modern challenges.

One regional issue, she said, is the out-migration of longtime residents pushed out by rising prices in housing and elsewhere. These, she noted, are driven up in part by the in-migration of people from other areas, drawn to the absence of a personal state income tax.

“We have to do density,” Levine Cava said. “We’re going to have to accommodate our people somewhere.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.