Occupy This! Local Politics Need a Jolt of YIMBYism
Rant & Ramble
“We need to take over,” said a former high school classmate recently, referring to general politics and organizational management. Adding, “people like my dad are just against everything.” What we might diagnose as an extreme NIMBY (Not-in-my-backyard) condition.
Her father, like people we all have in our lives, represents a mindset that can creep up on anyone and is particularly strong in geographical regions with an over sense of self (rugged individualism ho!). It is a worldview where the individual concentrates on getting (protecting) his own and the idea of improving the commons is an alien concept. NIMBYism is a state of mind spanning the age continuum, but finds a considerable degree of support amongst a generation described to me by one of its own as, “it’s all about me, me, me. That’s my generation. The Me Generation.” This gentleman is in his early 60’s and has often made comments about how his generation grew up with a basic world view that you work until your 65, retire and live the highlife into your 80’s without worrying about what you’ve left–however big the mess. As he said more bluntly once, “you know, Gary. We really fucked your generation.”
Oddly, he meant it as a pep talk for people of my age, forty and under, to stay engaged in local issues and politics. As someone engaged, any sort of pep-talk is appreciated; I understand I’m an anomaly. I was one of only 194 of my age group who voted in 2009 in Traverse City. Dismal numbers in an age group that was only one contribution to an embarrassingly low, but utterly predictable, 22% total voter turnout. Still, the forty and under really stand out. As reported a few weeks ago:
The under 40 crowd represent 42% of the potential voters and only 6% of the 40 and under crowd cast a vote in 2009.
If we want to see a diverse set of world views, values, and priorities represented in our local politics more of us need to vote. We need a younger YIMBY (Yes-in-my-backyard) electorate that is engaged in the most basic aspect of community democracy – voting. As I stated before, the NIMBYs (and YIMBYs, for that matter) span the age continuum. Not everyone older than forty is a block to an improved community or a constant source of challenge for the placemaking ideals touted on this blog. In fact, I seek advice from my elders on a regular basis. They guide me – teach me valuable lessons – often. Yet, I still try to follow the rule that for every person I meet with over fifty, I need to follow-up by meeting with someone under thirty.
Why do I do that? I simply find more creative, positive energy in the generation X and younger crowds. The under forty crowd is more enthused about collaboration over competition. They don’t start with “no” or by asking “how much?”. Instead, they are wired to find amicable solutions that make our community more inclusive and connected. The mantra is, “yes! Great idea, how do we make it better. Wouldn’t this be a great addition?” We trend towards the YIMBY. We need a touch of NIMBYism to balance that, but the current climate is out of balance.
In organizations/communities where negativity, or worse, indifference, is strongly perceived, YIMBYs lose enthusiasm and retreat. The otherwise neutral activity of politics is then tarnished and becomes something to avoid. Saved for a time, or age, when we simply want to protect something. The younger demographics, seeking a positive experience, are thus more prone to becoming disillusioned and disengaged. This is unfortunate because politics isn’t bad– bad politics is bad. And, it can be changed with numbers.
Here is a civic lesson: when you don’t like how something is proceeding, increase your numbers.
One Small Step to Engagement
A MyWHaT reader sent the following comment concerning the age demographics and voting. He writes:
The younger demographic needs to be more proactive in being leaders of our community, and to not be stymied by the tough to crack political cliques perceived to exist in our community.What I think is most important, and rarely looked at with regard to the younger demographic, is how our demographic is growing. We are moving to the community for the pie in the sky intrinsic reasons, with some ideas of what worked well in our previous communities, or the typically exciting college community for someone who is a native and returning of the area. As a group we are not just growing one by one, we are often growing in pairs with couples moving to the region. As the pairs turn into threes, fours, fives, etc. how will our perceptions of the communities we grew up in, or were a part of impact how we see our community, the challenges within it, the processes that solve the challenges, and what legacy will it be important for us to leave?“
Occupy the Polls
Like everyone, I have my macro-level concerns that include global weirding, over-consumption, extreme wealth gaps, water degradation, whether or not the NBA will have a season… In the most vulnerable of times I feel that it is really all out of my control and it is easy to blame phenomena on a one group or another, but at the end of each day, if I haven’t attempted something to improve my most immediate community then I’m really just shouting at the wind.
I can’t stop the 40,000 annual road deaths in the U.S., but I can help Traverse City provide more safe and inviting transportation choices. I certainly won’t be solving the national debt crisis or restructuring Bank of America, but I can have an impact locally on how one government body spends the tax dollars it receives by continually asking it to check its expenses against a set of values. It is still a small contribution, but the impact is more personal.
I’m a YIMBY and I vote. I will vote next Tuesday for the most immediate representation I have– City Commissioners. Please, do the same regardless of your age, but particularly if you are under forty in human years, dog years or simply in heart and mind. As a friend likes to respond to questions of age and voting, “I believe not enough people vote within any age bracket.” I appreciate her optimism that, “more people voting can only help the good guys.”
If you have taken the time to read this to the end (or simply skipped to the end) there is one take away: next Tuesday, occupy a voting booth and vote. You need to vote!