NIMBYs In Berkeley Have An Anthem

Gary Lapow writes great songs for kids, but for his new tune he decided to venture into the realm of NIMBY politics, due to frustration with development in his Berkeley neighborhood:

The song is rife with references to corruption and greed underlying the effort to build more compact, multi-family projects in urban areas with access to public transit infrastructure and jobs.

But Mr. Lapow never considers that there are other reasons besides money for building projects that go “up” rather than “out” over open space or farmland and that address the housing under-supply that has been making the Bay Area un-affordable since the 1970s.

Maybe he doesn’t care if new sprawl projects take root on the urban edge instead, or maybe he’d just prefer that new projects go “up” in somebody else’s neighborhood.

The lyrics are also factually inaccurate. For example, he asks how we could build new projects when there’s a drought going on. But residents in compact development in urban areas have vastly decreased water usage per capita than people in sprawl housing. Where does Mr. Lapow think the future residents of these projects would live, if not in a Berkeley apartment?  The alternative suburban housing is much more water-wasting.

He also talks about displacing existing residents and driving out poor people. The gentrification issue is a tough one, but most new projects have affordable housing components, and I wouldn’t be surprised if these new projects will provide high-quality homes for people of low and moderate incomes who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to live in places like Berkeley.

I bet a lot of the Berkeley people who agree with Mr. Lapow consider themselves environmentalists. But to be an environmentalist, you better have a plan for how we deal with population growth and suburban sprawl. And if it doesn’t involve more multifamily housing in cities with access to multi-billion dollar transit lines like BART, then how exactly do we pull it off? And how do you grapple with the economic impacts of not building enough housing so middle- and lower- income people can afford to live in the Bay Area?

I guess it’s easier to write a song complaining about changes in your neighborhood than thinking through these bigger issues.


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