NIMBY, YIMBY, 'Generational Friction' Over Seattle's Affordability Crisis

May 3, 2018
View of Downtown Seattle
Photo: Unsplash/Kirstyn Paynter

Millennial, programmer, activist, and Seattle resident Zach Lubarsky is one of the faces of a particular brand of YIMBYism (Yes In My Backyard) currently engaged in a generational, political showdown over housing in The Emerald City.  

Lubarksy and fellow activists are using data to advocate for changes in Seattle's zoning laws, namely, to add more density in single-family neighborhoods encompassingd more than half the city's land. These efforts have become a source of confrontation between younger tech workers and renters who are being priced out buying in the city, and Boomers who moved in decades ago, and historically espoused NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard). Politico reports, "Such nakedly self-interested politics have been all the more insulting to Millennials, a generation that, surveys suggest, puts a huge store in fairness, personal sacrifice and community building." Ethan Phelps-Goodman, Millennial and former Facebook engineer working with Lubarsky, says that many Millennials are asking, “‘You got yours, and now you don’t want anyone else to have theirs?’”

According to longtime affordability advocate Laura Loe Bernstein, Seattle’s younger residents have already pushed the city into the opening stages of “a deep cultural shift in what it means to be successful,” and, especially, a shift in the connections between success and housing. Ten years from now, she says, city residents may give very different answers to questions like “Is property a measure of success or not? Is living in a detached home a measure of success or not? What does success look like?” Millennials, adds Loe Berstein, are forcing Seattle to engage in nothing less than a “reimagining of the American dream.”

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