Shifting the dial on anti-development sentiment starts with stories about people – “the neighbourhood characters” that create the neighbourhood character, says Natalie Rayment, co-founder of YIMBY Queensland.
Rayment, a registered planner and director with Brisbane-based Wolter Consulting Group, established YIMBY Queensland in 2017 as an antidote to anti-development sentiment.
“I’m proud of the work we are doing, and disappointed when so much of the media coverage about development is negative. It’s hard to work on amazing projects that will transform a city, only to see people standing in front of a camera with their arms crossed, saying ‘not in my backyard’.”
The YIMBY rallying cry – Yes in my backyard – may have started as a rebuttal to the well-worn “negative NIMBY narrative”, but it also responds to a host of urban challenges: unaffordable housing prices and rising rents, grinding commutes and corroding quality of life, climate change and urban sprawl.
And this grassroots YIMBY movement is gaining traction in cities like San Francisco, where rental costs have skyrocketed, and in countries like Sweden, where climate action is driving urban densification.
“Cities around the world are dealing with the same issues. The easy answer is to continue to sprawl, because as soon as we talk density the community says ‘no’ – even before they understand the trade-offs of low density,” Rayment says.
These trade-offs are illustrated in Infrastructure Australia's latest audit. The cost of congestion could escalate to $40 billion by 2031. Borrowing for housing makes up around 90 per cent of total household debt. Australia’s emissions per capita are nearly double the OECD average. And yet, community opposition has cancelled $20 billion of infrastructure projects in the last decade alone.
Rayment says changing the narrative starts by “putting a face to the human story” behind each policy and planning decision.
“There’s a lot of discussion about neighbourhood character – so let’s talk about the characters in the neighbourhood. Let’s talk about the families who can’t afford to buy a house or the millennials who can’t even afford to rent in the community they grew up in. Let’s talk about the key workers who have a two-hour commute, or those ready to downsize being pushed out of the neighbourhood where they have built their community ties.”
Rayment and her “army of volunteers” pound the pavement, attend community hall consultations, talk to school groups, letterbox drop and engage with a host of allied associations to help people understand the complexities facing urban planning and development. “We need educated conversations, and the community is ready to talk.”
Developers must also deliver on their promises, “from render to reality”, if the industry is to reframe the debate, she argues. But the industry also needs to get better at sharing the positive examples of density done well.
“I’ve been at community conversations where members of the public asked the professionals there to name one good development that had been delivered in Brisbane over the last five years and everyone sat back and stared.
“Examples of excellence should be in everyone’s vocabulary. We shouldn’t have to think for even a second about an impressive affordable housing project in Logan or an amazing high-rise apartment on the Gold Coast or a great townhouse in Brisbane – we should be able to point to them immediately and the difference they are making to people. We need to share our passion for great development.”