It’s the great Australian dream – a home of your own with a big backyard. So when high-rise apartment buildings go up in those backyards, people start to get a bit, well, defensive.
Protests and letters to council all with one familiar catch-cry; “not in my backyard” or, as it’s become known, NIMBY.
But a new movement is countering the NIMBYs’ calls to keep developers out, and it’s one that’s said to help millennials into the housing market. It’s called YIMBY, you guessed it – “yes in my backyard”, and it has made its way to Melbourne.
“YIMBYism is really about higher density and creating new spaces in the inner suburbs of any city,” says University of Melbourne lecturer Max Holleran.
Rather than opposing high-rise developments in inner and middle suburbs, YIMBYs want them to be embraced.
“The whole idea of NIMBY-ism is ‘as long as it doesn’t happen in my neighbourhood, it can happen somewhere else and that’s fine’,” Mr Holleran says. “You can’t just throw your problem into another jurisdiction – those days are over.”
YIMBYism has taken off in US cities including San Francisco, Denver, Colorado and Austin, Texas, with mostly millennial residents demanding more high-rise development in the hopes of pulling rents and house prices down.
Australia is starting to take note. A YIMBY Queensland organisation was launched this year, and hot on its heels is YIMBY Victoria, started by Mr Holleran and architect and planning expert Jean Darling.
The group is in its infancy, but plans to lobby developers, local councils and the state government to provide more well-planned, high-density affordable housing in suburbs such as Richmond, Fitzroy, Kew and Templestowe – to name a few.
Melbourne’s population is forecast to hit eight million by 2051, according to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. It is expected the city and its suburbs will need an extra 1.6 million new homes over the next 35 years.
“Melbourne’s growing so quickly and people are frustrated with the lack of quality development,” Mr Holleran says. “People need access to good jobs and good city services, and the only way you can do that is to have mixed-income housing within the city centre.”
Though the movement began with millennials’ frustration at being locked out of the housing market, Mr Holleran says people of all ages are starting to see the value in high density inner-city living.
“It’s not just the hipster, avocado toast people, it’s also elderly people who don’t want to rely on their cars as much anymore, they want to be in a more walkable area.”
Ms Darling says YIMBY is not about giving developers free rein to build whatever and wherever they want, but about getting communities to support good design. She says the way to do that is for developers to be more transparent about their plans.
“I think people just want to have more say,” Ms Darling says. “If we educate them and roll out more engagement, they can understand that developers and communities shouldn’t be enemies – we can work together.”
Both YIMBY Victoria founders admit part of the challenge is not just getting communities on board with new developments, but convincing people to embrace apartment living.
“People are not going to get their cake and eat it too. They’re not going to get to live in these really close, inner suburbs and have the same kind of home that you would see in the outer suburbs.”
Ms Darling is confident YIMBY Victoria can help change the way Melburnians think about where they want to live.
“Everyone wants their own backyard with a swimming pool and a tennis court,” she says. “I was that close to buying into it, but I just thought ‘why would you want to spend all that money on maintaining a pool, when you could share it?’”
There are examples of where this kumbaya-style approach is starting to work. Mr Holleran, originally from the USA, says YIMBY-ism is permeating throughout the States.
“Denver’s a good example of a city that had a tremendous amount of its population move to suburbs in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s,” he says. “It’s now doing a really good job filling up the city core again.”
He says even New York City allowed for denser construction to provide more affordable housing and public housing.
“It’s not just a pro-market logic of ‘we need more housing, throw it in here’, it’s an idea that embraces some of the social justice perspectives.”
Ms Darling says she would like to see developers providing “community dividends” – parks, community gardens or new cafes – but she says the community should be consulted before plans get underway.
“Rather than the developer speculating that that’s what they need, I always go with the ethos of ‘just ask them’,” she says. “It has to be mutually beneficial.”