Does YIMBY Impair Public Health?

YIMBYs should join NIMBYs to fight population growth.

As the YIMBY "(“Yes In My Backyard”) movement sweeps through America’s cities, there’s evidence that it is sweeping in increased rates of coronavirus by packing people tighter in housing, especially poorer people. Many public officials have decried “density” and “overcrowding” as contributing factors in infection rates as well as death rates in U.S. cities

In addition, recent news articles suggest that U.S. city dwellers — especially poorer people in densely packed urban housing — live in neighborhoods with fewer trees and less green space both of which cause public health problems.

  • Urban areas have significantly less biodiversity which increases the prevalence of certain diseases.

  • Poorer neighborhoods in urban areas have less trees and open space, which increases a variety of risk factors for worse physical and mental health.

  • Densely packed neighborhoods with less trees and open space increases the “heat island effect” that kills more and more people as climate change advances.

As America’s population has ballooned — since Earth Day 1970, the U.S. population has increased by exactly 60 percent, from 205 million to 328 million — America has grown by both “sprawl” and “density”, both of which have negative impacts.

However, the YIMBY movement specifically has been forcing a radical version of densification in cities by trying to outlaw single-family zoning across the U.S. If the YIMBY are successful, every neighborhood would become a more densely packed neighborhood with fewer trees and less yards, more cement landscaping, and less open space for people to enjoy and live in. Humans would be a lonelier species in these urban jungles too, as birds would decline, pollinators would decline, and native wildlife would decline precipitously.

YIMBY adherents make all sorts of speculative and false claims about the evils of single-family living in suburbs versus the benefits of cheek-to-jowl living in urban apartments and condos. YIMBYs are also extremely angry and attacking against anyone who disagrees with their worldview, a negative attitude that is very misplaced.

If YIMBYs want to be angry about sprawl, lack of housing, and housing prices, they should be mad at the purveyors of population growth, which are the developers, city councils, and state and federal agencies and officials who incentivize, fuel, and subsidize growth at the national, state, and local levels almost everywhere in the U.S. Rapid population growth is the root cause of most housing problems, and population growth in the U.S. is a policy choice, not an uncontrollable or inevitable outcome.

Those of us who want to live with some elbow room around us — on larger lots with trees and landscapes, and nearer to vast areas of open space and forests — should not be the target of YIMBY ire.

We NIMBYs (“Not In My Backyard”) will continue defending our rights to clean air, open space, and green landscapes…and healthier living. Join us, rather than fight us. Let’s fight population growth together and make the public healthier too.