Are NIMBYs and YIMBYs Two Sides of the Same Coin?
California’s severe housing crisis could see some relief from new zoning measures signed into law by Governor Newsom. Besides supply and demand, the debate over zoning has been linked to issues of racial equity, with the case against single family zoning being that it causes segregation, especially in California. This is largely true, but ignores the inevitable and positive trend of enclavism. The YIMBY and NIMBY sides, even if at odds over zoning, mirror each other more than they’d like to admit. They both operate under the same Liberal Capitalist paradigm. This liberal capitalist paradigm, which is at odds with enclavism, even applies to how the debate over local control over zoning is framed.
While on the surface it appears that NIMBYs are enclavists because they want to keep their communities under local control in order to keep out outsiders and preserve neighborhood characteristics, they are still atomized individualists operating under the framework that emerged out of the 2nd half of the 20th century. This liberal capitalist framework treats people as economic units rather than as part of a tribe. In contrast embracing one’s tribal identity, whether ethnic or some other op-in identity, is the very essence of enclavism. Enclavism is the belief that communities must serve a specific group of people and that the economic debate over free markets vs. equity is secondary.
The stereotypical California NIMBY is an upper middle class Baby Boomer homeowner who embraces the social values of the Civil Rights era but the economic values of the Reagan and Clinton eras with an emphasis on the 20th Century single family home model. This individualistic strain of NIMBYism is antithetical to securing a birthright for one’s descendants or seeing one’s interests being served by being part of a greater identity group and this applies especially to housing policy.
Maintaining high housing costs via zoning has become a substitute for other forms of identity based exclusion but this doesn’t just apply to outsiders. For instance younger people are told by older NIMBYs that if they can’t afford to live where they grew up, they must work harder or move somewhere else that is more affordable. California NIMBYism is reactionary, but in the sense of wanting to maintain a version of late 20th Century Liberalism. While many California NIMBYs lean left or virtue signal as antiracists, the NIMBYs who are motivated by ethnocentric concerns are forced to make tradeoffs. For instance comments on an SF Chronicle article by NIMBYs from the affluent, White, East Bay enclave of Lafayette complaining that zoning changes will impact the quality of students in local schools border on pro-enclavism sentiment. However the tradeoff of maintaining one’s community’s demographics also prices out the community’s own young people. It segregates by age and income but fails to serve the long term interests of an identity group. Under the current paradigm the choice is either total inclusivity or paying a premium to practice economic based exclusion as a substitute for the genuine preservation of a community, tribe, or enclave.
While YIMBYs, who are for inclusivity in housing, tend to be much younger and have different interests than older well off NIMBYs they still operate within the same paradigm of liberal capitalism. For instance recent zoning reforms succeeded in large part because their proponents used anti-racist arguments to promote free market policies, tearing down the economic barriers to diversity and inclusion. The cause of anti-racism triumphing over opposition to free markets from both NIMBYs and “progressives” who oppose any market rate housing, is a form of woke capitalism.
While new zoning reforms that increase the housing supply are generally positive it is the philosophical framework of YIMBYism that is flawed. For starters YIMBYs tend to have a utilitarian and productivist mentality, that puts economic commodification in housing production over all other concerns including social capital, aesthetics, and the identity of a people and place. This productivist mindset plus the YIMBY slogan of “this area” is for everybody epitomizes neoliberalism. For instance the YIMBY left are strong supporters of Fair Housing legislation which is antithetical to the enclavist ideal of freedom of association and building up communities around identity. A perfect example of this ideological strain is State Senator Scott Weiner, who is the main proponent of YIMBY policies in California, and is far left socially but fairly corporate and centrist economically. This is the dominant ideology of the Silicon Valley and NIMBYs have even accused YIMBYs of being backed by Silicon Valley elites.
This same dichotomy applies to the debate over property taxation, as older NIMBYs that benefit from existing low tax rates at the expense of younger families are very selfish but the Left-YIMBY’s call to abolish prop 13 tax protections feeds into a kind of rent based capitalism which is antithetical to an ownership society where one can build a legacy for one’s descendants. Both sides also neglect the need to build up long term intergenerational wealth.
Leftwing anti-gentrification activists propose really bad policies such as constraining the supply of housing by blocking all market rate housing but ironically are the only group in California housing politics that breaks from the existing paradigm in that they believe an area belongs to its residents to the point of almost wanting a system of internal passports. These types of leftists are in a sense enclavists but are selective about which groups should be allowed to pursue enclavism.
In summary what NIMBYs and YIMBYs have in common is a utilitarian mindset that views housing policy primarily as an economic commodity, thus neglecting the importance of identity and social capital. YIMBYs are obviously better on zoning, but both sides fall under a ridged one size fits all planning model, for instance single family homes or utilitarian apartments in boxes. Both sides fall into a lack of nuance such as holding simplistic positions like low-density-good and high-density-bad, ignoring that there are good and bad versions of both high and low density living, and that there is a nuanced and wide range of possibilities. We need a wide variety of models including compact village-like structures and only enclavism can resolve the debate over density, local control, and aesthetics, and meet each community’s needs, concerns, and desires.
YIMBYs will likely win out in the long run, as the older nimby demographic is waning in influence. A new paradigm is needed but reluctantly supporting the YIMBYs, could help millennials re-enter or forge their way into the middle class. There needs to be a new paradigm that reconciles the YIMBY position for more housing with enclavism. Enclavism is a new framework that is pro-diversity but also an alternative to the outdated neoliberal version of multiculturalism that can better serve the specific needs of the many communities and people’s that make up California’s great mosaic.
The enclavist ideal, that an area belongs to a people and that people should live with the group they are most compatible with goes against the capitalist view that only the market can determine where one can live, but also conflicts with elements of liberalism including civil rights legislation that inhibit freedom of association.
This does not just apply to urbanism but touches upon broader issues of how society functions and how we define the California dream. Enclavism is an alternative to the hypercompetitive model where all must compete and sacrifice under one shared mass society. The current model of liberal capitalism, as well as other one size fits all solutions, will continue to cause a decline in the quality of life, even with more YIMBY policies on housing. Pan-enclavism is the one opt-out from dystopian scenarios and a true diversity, true freedom solution where all can seek out communities that serve their needs and interests, thereby ending the culture war which the current YIMBY vs. NIMBY debate has become part of.