Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
More local-level policy wonks are saying “yes in my back yard” to density, transit, and change.
Last November, voters in Boulder, Colorado, narrowly rejected a ballot measure that would have given neighborhoods the ultimate say over zoning changes. The measure would have essentially transferred the city’s zoning authority to 66 different neighborhood-level associations. It was a disaster in the making.
Ballot issue #300 and #301—a separate effort to require every development in Boulder to pay for upgrades in infrastructure and amenities—would have stifled growth in Boulder. That was the whole point for the homeowners who already reside there. (“They are coming for our neighborhoods,” read a memorable tagline from one ballot-measure advocate.)
Those measures lost at the ballot, but they galvanized Better Boulder, a coalition made up of the groups who mobilized against the November ballot measures. Across the country, similar campaigns for downzoning, restricting housing supply, curbing public transit, and other so-called not-in-my-back-yard machinations have spurred similar movements. There’s AURA in Austin, the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation in San Francisco, Greater Greater Washington in Washington, D.C., and many others.
You might call the response a nationwide YIMBY movement: a nation of local policy wonks crying out, “Yes in my back yard”—yes to density, transit, and change. Next month, this movement becomes official: Boulder is hosting the first national YIMBY conference from June 17–19.
“YIMBYtown” will assemble representatives from policy organizations in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, and several other cities. The organizers have announced three keynotes so far: Sonja Trauss, the woman who launched SFBARF; Sara Maxana, a steering committee member for Seattle for Everyone, a group that supports a controversial upzoning initiative in Seattle; and Alex Steffen, a San Francisco resident and author of Carbon Zero.
Good news for YIMBYs who’d like to attend but don’t see a flight to Boulder happening: The programmers are offering need-based travel and accommodation scholarships to attendees, and waiving the $99 registration fee to boot. Community activists can apply for grants through Sunday, May 8.
“Our hope is to learn from each other’s experiences and discuss how we can collaborate going forward,” says Will Toor, former mayor of Boulder.