This column is about NIMBYism, or “not in my backyard.” This is a term that is indiscriminately used in the media to describe residents of a community that are opposed to or have concerns about overdevelopment in their community. This is usually accompanied by much finger pointing and hand wringing about those selfish people who do not want to afford other New Yorkers the same “quality of life” they enjoy due to some imagined privilege, often because their homes have a big price tag (and may not have had when they were bought decades ago) and their neighborhoods are low density. Recently the historic defeat of Marjorie Velasquez has been attributed to NIMBYism in most columns and opinion pieces written about it. That is not really what was going on in this writer’s opinion, but enough about that.
I recently have been in Brooklyn several times and it is truly amazing the huge walls of 50 story apartment buildings that have gone up in Downtown Brooklyn and Coney Island. The scale of the building is simply overwhelming.
Now I realize the city administration is gripped by a positive hysteria to build up every square inch of land into enormous apartment blocks. The etiology of this is obvious and was long in coming. It is because of 2 facts: the Callahan vs Carey consent decree (covered at length in another column) which leaves the city open to enormous fines if ANY homeless from anyplace are without a roof over their head within 24 hours (for more on this go to https://www.westsiderag.com/2023/05/23/understanding-new-york-citys-right-to-shelter).
The second part of this issue was the almost exclusive focus on building ONLY luxury housing for the past 20 years. Now the city is desperately trying to makeup for lost time.
These buildings are going up so fast and under sometimes under dubious circumstances. This reminds me of the NYCHA housing frenzy in the 1960s and 1970s. They were built cheaply and poorly maintained. In addition, they became centers of crime and a cause for concern in their communities. I lived for 2 years in NYCHA housing in Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn when we left Flatbush. The building was built like crap, the walls were paper thin, the elevator broke down regularly once a week (one time it broke when my dad’s more affluent friends were inside; his humiliation was complete).
These affordable apartment buildings and shelters going up may very well have the same issues.
The 3-story homeless shelter on Blondell Ave, which is about two-thirds finished, is built on toxic ground. The solution: build on a concrete slab to avoid having to dig a foundation. Blondell Commons, the 8-story affordable housing project is also being built on toxic ground.
And, there is another side to this story; call it NIMBY if you will, but I would not agree. It is true that low-density areas, such as in the Northeast Bronx, have maintained an almost small-town quality of life for many decades, which is why the majority of us have made these areas our home. But change must come to us all, as we are part of NYC. However, there is a difference between rational urban planning and frenzied construction out of desperation. I believe that most people are rational, and can understand the great need for housing, but feel it should be integrated into the context of the community, with adequate services in place.
And here is another part to this; the number of shelters continuing to be built in areas that have already more than their fair share of taking such facilities (Westchester Square, Chinatown, and other locations). By overwhelming a community with a transient homeless or migrant population you inevitably risk destroying the stability of that community.
There are several good reasons people can be skeptical, dubious, and resistant to proposed large developments in their communities. But “NIMBYism” is such a handy word to throw around. It’s not that simple.
Happy holidays! TTFN