I’m traveling in The Netherlands right now, and it’s given me an appreciation of how silly some of the discourse is. Urbanism isn’t a new theoretical construct; it has been and is being executed well at scale around the world. Hundreds of people older than my parents are really out there riding the bicycles, strollers are effortlessly boarding the trams, and everyday families are living in 4-6 story apartment buildings on walkable streets. It’s happening! Go see it! We don’t have to invent these things from whole cloth or speculate about how they will play out. If we wanted to, we could just copy.

I also knew going in that the transit was going to better in terms of coverage and frequency. I didn’t realize how much it was going to be NICER. The tram has level boarding, it’s modern and clean, it moves with a sense of urgency and efficiency but isn’t actively trying to knock over the standing passengers. Even the bus is built like a luxury car - everything fits together tightly, vibrations and shimmies are well controlled. On a just off the line New Flyer in SF, you go over a slight bump and it’s literally a deafening rattle as every seat and panel down the length of the thing reacts. I understand why Americans refuse to use transit that communicates to its riders that they are poor. I wonder what is going to take us to get transit that makes you feel rich.

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Moved to SF in 2015, got involved in YIMBY the next year. Over the past 6 years, it has been remarkable to see the progress. Thank you Matt for giving this issue so much visibility.

Here locally, the NIMBY forces seem despondent. They know they are loathed as the selfish “got mime, eff u” crowd, which is why their only argument is a hand wavy thing about gentrification of neighborhoods like Sunset SF where housing has been 1M+ for over a decade.

They’re losing, they know it, and the bitter tears make for great cocktails.

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10 years ago we were also coming off the housing crash. To this day when I tell friends that we need to build more housing sometimes they’ll say things like “look how that worked out last time.” The affordability problem is just so bad now I don’t think people could continue to ignore it.

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Oct 6, 2022·edited Oct 6, 2022

I consider myself an ardent YIMBY, but I do have some sympathy with the idea of limiting development in the countryside we'd like to bequeath to future generations. It may be that most of the world's classic "greebelts" are ill thought-out (they're just too close to city centers). That's my vague impression of the UK case (and maybe Oregon?). But if they're located sufficiently far from the urban core, maybe they're worth doing?

To give an idea of what I'm talking about, I'll use the example of my home state, Massachusetts. I have this vague notion it would be desirable to place relatively stringent regulations on sprawl once you get to some point west of Worcester—‚but let 'er rip in terms of house building east of this line.

To ease the possible spike on housing prices west of this line, green light pro-density regulations in the existing regional centers and already dense locations (Springfield, Amherst, Pittsfield, etc).

The key is removing the NIMBY-veto in favor of rules-based, non-arbitrariness implemented and enforced by the *state* government.

To be clear, I'd still take a completely laissez-faire house building rules system over our current NIMBY nightmare. It's truly awful. And maybe that's where we'll end up. (And maybe it won't make any difference because most people will want to live closer to urban amenities or jobs.) Another way to square the circle would be via the tax code: implement a strong "shall issue" legal standard with respect to homebuilding permits, but massage the tax code to favor density and punish sprawl.

Anyway, the rent is too damn high, agreed, but I personally thing dense housing abundance is better than sprawly housing abundance.

EDITED to add a TLDR: Like most YIMBYs I want to sweep aside rules against density. I'm more sympathetic to rules against sprawl...

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One trend I notice in my sprawl-y sunbelt city (Houston) is that while there are single family homes close to the city core, once people start having kids they move out to the suburb to access “better” schools. I know housing and school policy are tied, but I feel the next YIMBY challenge will be getting people to stay & invest in their city core neighborhood beyond their DINK days.

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Matt alluded to building code reform. THIS seems like the next frontier. To hear my architect/builder spouse tell it, getting things through planning and permitting in the Bay Area takes YEARS. Recent Chron op-Ed put average number of days to get permits in SF at over 900! Once you have your permits, you need an inspection basically any time a new subcontractor does any work on the property. We’re talking scores of inspections for residential, and many times more for commercial. They’re functionally bribes being paid to city officials. It’s completely inflexible. And the regs just keep getting more and more and more stringent. It’s time to take a hard look at the building code.

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Since Boise got cited here, my take is that the acuity is much more a one-off of the pandemic causing an unusual spike in in-migration (unusual even for Boise, which has been growing fast for quite some time), and now is quite aggravated by supply chain and labor shortages still ongoing. There are quite a few projects that are approved and queued up, but are waiting until these factors become more favorable to build.

On the whole, Boise's politicians lean on the YIMBY side. They're even in the middle of a complete rewrite of their zoning right now, where they want to allow more usages by right. Very excited about what comes out of it--but as always, I'm terrified that our overlords in the state legislature will find some way to ruin things.

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Re: single stairs. For any building there should be a way out if the stairs are on fire. If there isn't a second staircase (and elevators are not safe in a fire), then the only option is to go out through a window. If you cannot rely on there being a firetruck with a ladder, then the Canadian two-storey limit makes sense, as jumping from higher than two stories is likely to cause serious injuries or kill.

If you can rely on the firetruck getting to you before the fire - and that means a combination of using fire-safe materials and having integrated alarms (reducing the time to the truck arriving) and fire-suppression systems (holding back the fire for longer), then you can safely have a single staircase up to the height of a firetruck ladder. Ladders on standard firetrucks run to about the equivalent of the tenth floor, so that should be the height limit for a single-stair building.

If you want higher then you should have to create a permanent endowment for the fire department sufficient to provide a truck with a longer ladder capable of reaching the top storey of your building and to replace that truck every six years.

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Have rents in the Bay Area decreased? If not, isn’t Matt’s victory lap premature? Do we really know how the new legislation will play out once the lawyers get involved?

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I’ll kick in $50 for a plaque at the triangle house: “At this site on [date], the YIMBY movement was born . . .”

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We need to push for inclusionary zoning in other areas besides high-cost blue states, too.

In Texas, where I live, areas with good schools often use deed restrictions to prevent people from building smaller and more affordable housing units within them. This perpetuates racial and economic segregation and locks lower- and middle-income families out of the best public schools.

I imagine the same thing happens throughout the South. I know of several municipalities that "seceded" from the main city in their metro area to form their own school districts after schools were integrated.

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I agree with some of the proposed solutions, but I have always thought the diagnosis of the root cause was mostly bad, e.g., "Homeowners benefit from scarcity and strong local veto, homeowners care a lot about land use issues."

I have *never* heard anyone say they did not want more housing because *supply/demand* would make it worth less than it is. That would be N, not NIMBY. And most people are not looking more than 1/2 mile from where they area anyway. It's NIM Back Yard, not NIM City. Rather, they think not-unreasonably that if their house in a 1/4 acre community is flanked by two new 4-unit buildings, it will make their house look worse to people who want a home in a 1/4 acre community compared to the other homes.

Many homeowners look at their home as a 30+-year investment and think moving sucks. So they are conservative in the don't want change, because if they wanted something different, they probably would not have moved there in the first place. Many specifically choose a type of community related to density. A friend chose a 2-acre community because he's a homebody who wanted trees, lots of space, and few neighbors. My wife and I chose a 1/4 acre community because it was the balance of density we wanted. Another friend lives in Boston's dense South End and is a foodie and likes a bunch of restaurants to walk to.

Exaggerated, of course, but imagine a billionaire decided to mess with Matt Y and bought all the property except his in a 50 yard radius (or 100, or 200) of his DC townhouse, demolished everything else, and raised corn and chickens. Would he thnk, "food is good, and the new housing scarcity in my area will make my home more valuable"?

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I'd love to hear the YIMBY perspective on Houston. I just moved away from near there after 24 years. Houston has no zoning laws and was able to annex most of its surburban areas due to laws set in place years ago. You would think it would be a free-for-all but actually has evolved very well over the time I was there. Its issues have to due with infrastructure due to expolsive growth and the impact of its climate (heat and storms). A comparison to Dallas would be interesting, as it has tougher zoning laws, but way more flexible than San Francisco, and has been better at building its light rail system. Both eventually will run out of land, but I think Houston will be in better shape due to the flexibility it has to adapt. I think a YIMBY/NIMBY discussion for Texas would be helpful as what is happening in California now will be going on there in the near future. It's already too late for Austin.

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"San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBARF)"

I feel like they could have workshopped this a bit more -- why Federation and not Coalition, Alliance, Union, Organization, or basically any other word that didn't start with "f"?

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You outlined the legislative successes of the YIMBY movement in California over the last decade. But do we have data on the effectiveness of these new policies on housing costs, homelessness, economic growth, or any other relevant metric reflecting the aims of these policies??

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Broadening zoning rules is important but the problem is deeper and wider than that. Take a simple thing like suburban design. Curvy roads, curved sidewalks, cull-de-sacs, etc. Why is this so ubiquitous? Many suburban cities have grown to a point that what they desire the most is a good old fashion downtown.

But their land planning isn’t set up with the typical grid street design. So they get some fancy developer to build them a faux downtown with a commercial core surrounded by dense housing and gradually getting less dense as you get away from the core. These developments are fine. But they’re not the downtowns people are looking for. Grid streets, mixed uses, high density.

Don’t fall for the developers who sell you with “We will bring in the Cheesecake Factor”. Oh wow we’ll be just like downtown Boulder or Austin or whatever college town you enjoy strolling around in - if we can get the Cheesecake Factory. No, no you won’t.

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