NIMBYs and Our Backyard
A NIMBY (“Not-In-My-Back-Yard”) is characterized by an array of most unpleasant qualities. Typically, this term refers to a long-term property owner or resident in a neighborhood, when in the face of change reacts with objection, resistance or worse. Impervious to reason or any sense of progress, the NIMBYs allow their fear of change and often blind self-interest to prevent their view of what might benefit their larger community or even themselves. There is also often a racist or xenophobic connotation to the NIMBY: wary of the influx of different socioeconomic types, different cultural and racial groups and their different ideas. Afraid that the world that they know is slipping away, to be crudely replaced by a modern world, which no longer makes sense, the NIMBYs exhibit characteristics of their lowest selves.
There are several distasteful aspects of NIMBYism. The old-angry-crank aspect is probably the most obvious. Then there is the “Not” part, as in “Not in My Backyard”. The NIMBY is the consummate contrarian. The one who says only “No” and objects. How is any kind of progress possible, if one is only capable of rejecting something? Then maybe less obvious is the “My Backyard” part. Each of us who are fortunate to live somewhere have some sort of backyard of our own, that is a given. But the degree to which we may be interested in the larger community we may be a part of is not such a given. Are we interested enough in what might be best for our neighbors and our neighborhood? This is the aspect that seems most incongruous with 21st century values. The NIMBY as characterized, cares about him or herself alone.
So what about those folks who are concerned about their community and would like the opportunity to evaluate any new proposed developments on their individual merits? When we look at all of the proposed developments in our community, doesn’t it feel like everybody is grabbing for their piece of DTLA? All one really needs is money, political influence and a parking lot and they can build whatever their heart’s desire. How many of them will actually live or work in their proposed developments? Almost none. So isn’t there a place to open a dialogue by folks who reside in this community about what is best for it?
Not all development is good or bad, just like not all folks concerned about what happens in their community are NIMBYs.
The Wilshire Grand going into the Civic Center is going to be the tallest building on the West Coast, what’s not exciting about that? Barry Shy’s 955 South Broadway project is a wonderful example of consideration paid to an existing Historic neighborhood when deciding how a modern building can best integrate. At Mateo by ASB in the Arts District and the re-imagination of the Broadway Trade Center by Joel Schreiber/Westbridge Capital are both examples of huge sprawling and daring developments that should enhance and activate the community.
Then there are the developers with less regard for the community they want to enter. They propose projects of little architectural value that may be out of character for the neighborhoods in question.
The lesser-proposed developments are the ones that are usually generated by developers who are more on the opportunistic side and newer to our community. They propose structures that are out of keeping with their surroundings, cast incongruous shadows, block historic monuments, and have architectural plans that seem to have been designed by accountants. Long after the deal is done, the structures they leave behind can haunt us. It's important to recall this: in 1992 some folks thought the Pershing Square design was innovative and good for the community.
There is an integrity and sophistication to the way the many distinct neighborhoods in our city unfold, and they all have their individual needs in order to thrive. What is right for South Park or the Civic Center, could destroy the Arts District or the Historic Core. On the topic of Broadway, Councilman Jose Huizar who has probably done more than anyone to revive the Historic Core, has the following to say: “The Broadway District boasts block after block of stunning Beaux Arts, Art Deco, and revival-style buildings which bestow the district with historic integrity uncommon in major metropolitan downtown areas.”
Why not protect areas like the Arts District and the Historic Core with the same restrictions that other great cities have in place? At the same time, why not revise the some of the existing regulations (a la TFAR Ordinances) to allow developers an easier time to build more efficiently in the right areas and renovate in others. The SP-DTLA wants to be a place that all members of this community can discuss and affect change to what happens in our backyard.