One on One: The IMBY Movement

by Shilpi Paul

One on One: The IMBY Movement: Figure 1
Construction on 14th Street NW

In this edition of One on One, UrbanTurf chats with Michael Hamilton, the DC resident behind In My Backyard, or IMBYdc.

As the name suggests, In My Backyard attempts to counterbalance the NIMBY or Not in my Backyard movement which, Hamilton believes, leads a small group of active opponents to sometimes derail developments that the more-silent majority may favor. IMBYdc diagnoses developments and issues that are in danger of being shot down by NIMBYs, and organizes a sort of counter-campaign to support them.

Below, Hamilton discusses the issues that IMBYdc tackles, why he created the group, and his dream for the city.

Why did you start IMBY?

I started IMBYdc after reading about the proposed liquor license moratorium centered on U Street. It bothered me that a small group of residents could potentially derail development in such a large area, and do so against the wishes of the thousands of people who live in or near the affected area.

While the moratorium is our primary focus now, we plan on moving on to other issues in the future. You can expect IMBYdc to support development that improves the District and creates more options for our residents.

How do you feel that NIMBYism has gotten in the way of progress in DC?

Small groups are able to delay new buildings or businesses for months or years simply by complaining loudly enough. Sometimes they’re able to stop a project completely. This is extremely costly, particularly for small businesses, or developers who don’t have the resources to deal with the entitlement process. Due to this leverage, NIMBY groups can often extract concessions from developers for their own benefit, but these concessions often end up hurting the community at large.

For example, a plot of land might be most profitably developed as a large apartment building, which would provide affordable housing for DC residents. The costs associated with the legal process to build such a building—including dealing with the NIMBYs—might leave a much smaller, luxury condo building as the only profitable option. Alternately, a failed bid to develop a parcel could leave it vacant or boarded up for years. This makes DC less affordable and leaves residents with fewer options.

What are your limits? In other words, are there situations where you believe development should be stalled?

I would only oppose a development in the face of actual, demonstrated harms, like building a factory in a residential neighborhood. My definition of harm is more narrowly defined than others. I wouldn’t oppose a project simply because I think there’s a better use for that parcel, because it doesn’t fit my tastes, or because I have a different vision for development in that area.

Realistically, I can only foresee IMBYdc opposing a project if eminent domain is used to seize private land and give it to a developer for private use.

Which neighborhoods do you pay closest attention to, and why?

IMBYdc has members from every part of the city, but right now we’re focused on the U Street area simply because of the moratorium. I’m interested in Columbia Heights because it’s a great neighborhood that I’m glad to call home, but we’ll probably focus primarily in areas undergoing lots of development in the future.

In your ideal world, what will DC look like in 15 years?

Free rent, tropical weather, flying cars, and tourists who stand on the right side of the escalator.

Fantasies aside, it’s very expensive to live in DC relative to most cities, so I would like the District to become more affordable. I think a lower cost of living probably entails tall buildings and greater density in the city’s more popular neighborhoods, but I don’t think that’s something the local government should require people to build. Making it easier to open a business would also help the situation.

I actually don’t think it’s a good idea to try to design a city around someone’s sole vision. Cities are best when they evolve organically based on residents’ preferences and interactions. It’s my hope that this process determines what DC will look like in 15 years.

See other articles related to: one on one, nimby, imbydc, imby, 14th street corridor

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/one_on_one_in_my_backyard/6829


  1. Todd said at 6:01 pm on Monday March 25, 2013:
    Props to you Michael. I live in the U Street area and from what I understand a much needed boutique hotel was proposed to be built on 13th and U and was squashed by a vocal minority. It would have been a great addition... now places like the fainting goat are in trouble of being built along the same stretch. ugh.
  1. kob said at 8:37 pm on Monday March 25, 2013:
    Proving "actual, demonstrated harms" is the rub, isn't it? Harm to whom? If new construction eliminates or curtails sunlight for a few immediate neighbors, raises their energy costs, and generally diminishes their quality of life, should their interests be sacrificed for the greater need of increasing density and height? The people most affect will probably oppose it. Are they guilty of NIMBYism? No, not in the least. Should the voice of IMBYs, who may be more distant and less affected by the new construction, count for more?
  1. mona said at 8:44 pm on Monday March 25, 2013:
    Maybe it should just be a compromise of the two where everything is considered and decisions are made based on the greater good for all and not just a hand full of very vocal people. If your light is blocked go to the devloper to see what can be done. If the building is going to be mixed house of market rate and affordable housing and a grocery store for an area that doesn't have a grocery store then maybe you can do with a little less light and enjoy being able to walk 1/2 a block to get your favorite vegatables or bottle of wine
  1. Allen said at 9:06 pm on Monday March 25, 2013:
    Todd- Are you saying that because the hotel was not built that the Fainting Goat is having a problem?
  1. Allen said at 9:35 pm on Monday March 25, 2013:
    Do people understand that you could walk across the whole length of U Street affected by the moratorium in about 15 minutes, not counting the time to wait for green lights? In the entire area there are already over 110 liquor licenses! This is certainly a lot of choices for alcohol. I believe that neither Adams Morgan nor Georgetown has this many. It is a matter of alcohol establishments driving out other businesses that would benefit the community. Georgetown has a good diversity of non-alcohol retail establishments. The moratorium area does not. There are very few undeveloped properties in the area and it is very likely that that will soon change. The growing population and rising median income of the neighborhood certainly can support retail but only if given a chance.
  1. Calvin H. Gurley said at 12:29 am on Tuesday March 26, 2013:
    The Majority wins in a Democracy... any place in these United States - period. Mr. Hamilton declares, "...It bothered me that a small group of residents could potentially derail development in such a large area, and do so against the wishes of the thousands of people who live in or near the affected area..." 1) Numbers count no matter what name you decide to call yourself. The few who can stop a development vs what number you can bring to the community meeting. 2) Haven’t you realized that D.C. is becoming a mental case like New York City, from hands to mouth and no one has the time to commit valuable family, rest and relaxation, and me TIME to community concerns? So you have a silent majority being lead by a minority. Was not like this when D.C. was affordable for most residents and there was a strong middle-class. 3) Most importantly, many must come to grips with joining the club; neophytes (newcomers) have to wait their turn before power and decisions are given to them by the aging “elders” (long time residents). However, Mr. Hamilton wrongly states, “…For example, a plot of land might be most profitably developed as a large apartment building, which would provide affordable housing for DC residents…” Mr. Hamilton you have cut your own throat in your statement. In the District “most profitably developed apartment building” does not equate to “affordable housing” – not even close to the 33 percent income ratio for the acceptable cost for housing. There have not been any affordable housing rental units built since 1960's. Stop fooling around with this economical false statement. Therefore, no matter what you name yourself…you ultimately must bring the numbers to win. Calvin H. Gurley
  1. Jos Six Pack said at 4:20 pm on Tuesday March 26, 2013:
    Build, baby, build.
  1. WhoopsieDoodle said at 3:05 am on Wednesday March 27, 2013:
    Well Mr. Hamilton is awfully sure of himself. So now he should have total say over what gets built and what doesn't? Screw that. The last thing U St. needs is another bar. How about a few more decent or even high-end restuarants? A hardware store? How about fewer places that draw noisy crowds and criminals. I'm tired of having to worry if I can walk down the street without getting stabbed. Ever read the crime reports on this prestigious website?
  1. um said at 4:19 pm on Wednesday March 27, 2013:
    To WhoopsieDoodle um no. I don't know Mr Hamilton but it's retarded to say he's trying to get "total say" over what gets built and what doesn't. He's got a right to voice his own opinion, just like everyone else. And sorry, it's not up to YOU to decide what U St needs. It's up to the market. As much as you'd like a hardware store or high-end restaurant, it won't come unless people support it. But I agree with you, would love to not have to worry about not getting stabbed. But I think that has less to do with the existence of a bar than other things going on in DC (i.e. generations of criminals getting support from DC taxpayers, gangs, only gangs having guns in DC, etc.)
  1. Peter Wolff said at 8:07 pm on Monday April 1, 2013:
    I agree with WhoopsieDoodle that U Street could use "a few more decent or even high-end restaurants." But, consider this: a moratorium would doom that very thing, at least until existing ABC-licensed establishments go out of business -- and who knows when that might be or whether any that do go out of business would be ones occupying desirable or appropriate premises?

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