When Environmentalists Became Pro-City Development

The tide is turning against people who claim to be environmentalists but oppose urban development. Grist ran a nice profile on the burgeoning YIMBY (yes in my backyard) movement of people frustrated with high housing costs and the environmental impacts of pushing new development further out over open space.

The piece features State Senator Scott Wiener, who has taken up the legislative mantle for these YIMBY efforts and authored SB 35, one of the first state laws to start limiting local discretion over infill projects:

Environmentalists are usually thought of as folks who are trying to stop something: a destructive dam, an oil export terminal, a risky pipeline. But when it comes to housing, new-school environmentalists — like Wiener — understand that it’s necessary to support things, too. To meet California’s ambitious goals to cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, regulators say the state must build dense, walkable neighborhoods that allow people to ditch their cars.

The article includes a wonderfully succinct quote about why promoting infill is pro-environment, and why fighting infill is an anti-environmental act:

If you slow down development in cities, houses will sprawl out over farmland, and people will wind up making longer commutes. “You can’t legitimately call yourself an environmentalist,” Wiener says, “unless you support dense housing in walkable neighborhoods with public transportation.”

In many ways, this fight is generational and class-based, as older homeowners fight to preserve their artificially inflated and low-taxed real estate investments by choking off new supply. But as more people find themselves in the “have-nots” camp, homeowner groups will lose more battles to these YIMBYs.