YIMBYs hate us – “us” being, roughly, the baby-boomer generation – because we have betrayed their dreams. Instead of flying cars, we have drones armed with missiles. Instead of a world united in endless progress, we have melting ice-caps. Instead of a community of all humanity, we have homeless people shitting in the street and rising rents.
The Liberal generation has failed, generally speaking. The economy is fragile and poised to collapse. The world in riven by war. Black people are being gunned down in the street. The millions who marched in the streets against the Vietnam War and for Civil Rights have retired, with savings and medical care, leaving the young people to fend for themselves.
It’s not all our fault. White-supremacist Christian greedheads have used their money power to hijack American society, with great effectiveness. The Tea Party, the Freedom Caucus, the Koch Brothers, Antonin Scalia, and the entire “vast, right-wing conspiracy” are winning, or rather have won. We are holding on to the appearance of tolerance and a society based on individual rights by the thinnest of margins and the greatest of efforts, and even now the outcome is uncertain.
Here in Seattle, in the midst of a crisis of housing affordability, the battleground is our back yards, but the scope of the conflict is much wider. YIMBY does not just mean “Yes In My Back Yard,” it means “Yes, to place where everyone can live and dream of a secure, meaningful future.” Judging by the people who speak out visibly and frequently, most of the YIMBYs are white, college-educated people with professional aspirations. Their dreams are of a world saved by technological advances, cleverness, and creativity. It’s a good dream for young people to have, but if things go on as they are it will never come to be, and they hate us for it.
So when we say “Leave us alone in our relatively pleasant neighborhoods where we can enjoy our backyards and our parking spaces,” they want none of it. Their message to us is: “If you cannot provide for everyone, then you must share what you have.”
This is only common sense and decency. And in fact, we – the baby-boomers of the neighborhoods – must wake up and take a stand in favor of renters’ rights and the relief of student debt and the creation of decent jobs for all. We must make common cause with young people and with people of color to demand that the system provide for everyone, not just those who managed to save for their retirement starting 40 years ago.
But the right-wing, libertarian, market-worshipping solutions proposed by the current administration will not work and must be resisted. Mayor Murray’s plan to upzone the city in exchange for a smidgen of affordable housing is a massive sell-off of a public asset – development capacity – in return for a pittance. Affordable housing is a social good, and will never be produced in adequate quantities by profit-seeking developers. Murray’s plan to give away our space and light and grass and air…and parking…to men whose only concern is money is like grandpa selling off the furniture to pay this month’s mortgage. There may be no other way to save the house, but in the end we will all be living in the parking lot, along with our neighbors.
Tax the rich. Fund education. Create jobs with public spending. Divert money from weapons to social goods. These are the plain, old, Liberal ideas. We must fight for them again.