Magazine

Real Estate

Forget ‘Not in my backyard,’ YIMBY could be the new group on the rise

In the age-old struggle between builders and neighbors, independent pro-housing advocates can change the calculus.

Cambridge, MA - 06/22/2016 - Jesse Kanson-Benanav, head of A Better Cambridge, a citizens group that advocates for more housing development in Cambridge, poses of a portrait in Vellucci Plaza in Cambridge, MA, June 22, 2016. (Keith Bedford/Globe Staff)

Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/file

One of the most active pro-growth YIMBY groups is A Better Cambridge, chaired by Jesse Kanson-Benanav.

If you have spent any time in the development world, you know the term NIMBY. Not In My Back Yard is a catchall term for neighbors who fight new projects over concerns about traffic, density, and property values. NIMBYs have successfully cut back or killed many a development in Greater Boston.

Now they’ve spawned a countermovement: YIMBY — Yes In My Back Yard. YIMBYs are a small but growing group of activists pushing for more housing and development, under the theory that building more is the only way this crowded and costly region can remain affordable to everyday people. One of the most active pro-growth YIMBY groups is A Better Cambridge, chaired by Jesse Kanson-Benanav, while others have sprouted in Roslindale, Newton, and Andover. They mobilize to contest zoning changes and other rules that discourage development and drive up costs. There was even a national conference in Colorado last year to share war stories and strategies. A second is set for July.

Advertisement

In a local political climate where development debates often boil down to builders vs. neighbors, the emergence of a third group — independent pro-housing advocates — can change the calculus, giving voice to renters and would-be buyers who can’t afford the scarce housing in many municipalities. YIMBYs have scored some victories, beating back a plan to reduce density in a chunk of Cambridge, for instance, and helping legalize backyard apartments in Newton. But Greater Boston remains a notoriously tough place to build.

As this nascent movement grows, that could start to change.

Tim Logan is a Globe staff writer. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.