Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
You can be a winner at the game of NIMBYism.
The Bay Area is facing a housing affordability crisis that’s only growing more desperate. It seems as if there’s no end to the death spiral of soaring rents, deepening congestion, and rising displacement. Until now, that is!
The “Bay Area Regional Planner” game lets you and two to 12 friends demonstrate that, with thoughtful planning, regionally focused zoning, and a little bit of pluck, the housing crisis can be fixed. And solving it can be very stimulating!
From the creator of “California Water Crisis” and “The U.S. High-Speed Rail Game,” this new board game puts you in the seat of various Bay Area municipal zoning authorities. “Bay Area Regional Planner,” which has exceeded its Kickstarter goal, was first developed as a planning tool for the San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation. Yes, that’s right—why should they have all the fun?
In “Bay Area Regional Planner,” you and friends decide where to zone for additional housing in order to double the Bay Area’s housing over the next two decades. Each player pursues a set of policy goals dictated by county voters. But watch out! The other players may be pursuing policy outcomes that differ from your own. You will need to compromise in order to overcome the NIMBYism built into local government priorities—and that’s where the fun comes in!
Here’s how the game works:
- Draw an economy card! These come in four different shades—“Recession,” “Standard,” “Boom,” and “Bubble? Or Is It Different This Time?”—and each one lists the aggregate new housing demand and maximum upzoning for the round.
- Know your policy priorities! You’ll also get two goals per round. These vary by priority and locality. For example, there’s “Minimize new shadows: No D-8 zones anywhere” and “Don’t urbanize the Peninsula: At least 5 R-1 zones in San Mateo County.”
- Watch your commute times! Many of your policy priorities concern commute times for county residents. Upzoning for certain zoning types causes commuting times to rise. Your priority may be to keep commuting times under 40 minutes for Alameda County, San Mateo County, and Santa Clara County.
- Keep rents affordable! Fail to upzone, however, and rents will rise where demand outpaces supply. Your policy goals may include lowering median rent to $2,000 or less—and keeping it that way.
Sounds simple and straightforward, right? You bet it is. The great thing about Bay Area Regional Planner is the game construct that requires counties to plan at a regional level and seek solutions that work across county lines, without facing the wrath of self-interested voters at the polls.
In real life, many San Francisco residents demand that other Bay Area municipalities shoulder more of the upzoning burden in order to protect the character of San Francisco neighborhoods—even though the housing demand is greatest in San Francisco. Meanwhile, in outer Bay Area counties, the fight to resist density is rooted in the argument that more residents means more drivers and more drivers means more strain on Bay Area roads and infrastructure. Framing this entire conversation is California’s utter inability to adequately and fairly administer the property levy thanks to Prop. 13 and the Tax Revolt of 1978.
What a mess! That’s why it’s up to you and your friends to sort it all out. Play length for “Bay Area Regional Planner” is about 60 to 100 minutes; dice not required. Tamale tokens sold separately.