Progressives against progress
Northwest Washington, DC, where I live, is one of the wealthiest and also liberalist communities in America.
The median income and home prices are 4–5 times the nation’s. We have some of the nation’s most exclusive private schools. Most here are not just college grads but post-grads. We work in government, the professional versus right-wing media, and in law, lobbying, politics, policy and communications. Nearly all of us vote Democratic.
Nobody in America is more East Coast political elite; we wear the Trump insult as a badge of honor. But don’t call us “limousine liberals.” We walk, bike, rely on unreliable mass transit, or we drive Prius, Subaru or expensive electric cars if we must drive while hating cars.
You might think the most privileged, politically savvy liberals in America, people who tell America how to live, would “be the change you want to see in the world” and “think globally, act locally.”
You might be wrong. With our unmatched political, policy, legal and rhetorical experience and expertise to fight change and protect what is ours, nobody does selfish NIMBY better.
· The River School, “the first — and only — independent school of its kind in the nation for children with hearing loss and their hearing peers,” has outgrown its modest facilities and wants to move to an abandoned estate nearby to expand the school and provide green space for the children to play.
Not so fast, says Stop the River School, an organization of concerned neighbors. It will bring thousands of suburban cars, further choking the busy roads and endangering school children. Also, “other neighborhood schools and day care centers would be negatively impacted,” and “historic structures and foliage are at risk,” their website warns.
· Just up the road, the city has proposed a new public elementary school at a neighborhood park to relieve the serious overcrowding at existing schools.
Nope, neighborhood opponents say. It’ll bring more traffic (endangering children). The $56 million budgeted should be “spent on other, more constructive, less wasteful uses of public funds.” The school “is not needed or wanted — and on our park — which is important ‘green space’ in a neighborhood where apartment dwellers and rowhouses don’t have yards,” a neighbor vented on the local listserv.
Other progress our progressive community has battled:
· The city’s rejuvenation of a deteriorating public park with a new outdoor pool, soccer field, and other modern park facilities.
The problem? The design, the loss of old trees (many already dying), drainage, parking, and of course, traffic endangering children. “The pool would have been completed long before the pandemic had the NIMBYs not delayed things,” a local mom kvetched on a local mom site.
· A transitional shelter for homeless mothers and children next to the local police station. Neighbors couldn’t argue against sheltering our modern-day Madonna and Baby Jesus, so they nitpicked the approval process, the design and the potential horrible impact.
The project would be “entirely out of scale with the neighborhood: it is too tall, too dense, and would have material adverse impacts on the neighborhood” such as traffic and noise, the lawyer for the opposition said.
(Update: The shelter was built and the horrors haven’t come to pass.)
· A mixed-use development in one of DC’s wealthiest communities at an abandoned grocery store. It would bring new life, commerce and denser housing desperately needed to ease the city’s housing shortage and staggering home prices, and make our community even more walkable.
Wealthy opponents filed hundreds of documents to halt or slow the project, arguing it would change the community, bring traffic, and also threaten a cherished deli by bringing competing merchants.
· A neighborhood farmer’s market was similarly opposed because it would compete with a favored albeit aging, decrepit, awful grocery.
· The city’s new comprehensive affordable housing plan allowing a new apartment building in the community, again to relieve the housing cost crunch and also advance progressive transit-oriented denser housing to ease reliance on cars.
Opponents fulminated the building would create a “concrete canyon,” fuel climate change from the reflected heat of the building, and ruin the character of the community — formerly code for keeping Black people out.
The Black mayor’s plan was also racist, said wealthy White opponents in the 80% White community. The proposed apartment building near their $2.5 million homes would only produce more “luxury” housing units that fail to welcome Black families. I marvel at the Simon Biles-level logical gymnastics.
The progressive NIMBY fights all have a powerfully effective tactic: righteous spin.
Progressives can’t come clean and admit — and argue for — their selfish NIMBY interests. So like Republicans calling for tax cuts not to fatten their silken pockets but to “create jobs,” progressive NIMBYs spin their narrow personal interests into broader public interests, a moral fight for what’s right for the commonweal.
Progressive NIMBYs are also skilled at marshalling their own data, research, analysis and argumentation to second-guess expert decisions they don’t like. Like Trumpers “researching” the internet to “prove” the Covid hoax stole the election.
It’s also interesting how progressives Jekyll-Hyde into conservatives when it comes to property rights when it’s their own property.
When the facts are inconvenient, progressive NIMBYs in my community also make the fight about process and procedure and drag it out, because Lord knows the community is lousy with equally self-interested lawyers and has the bottomless pockets to pay them.
Finally, when all else fails, if you want to throw the ace card, throw the race card, the climate card or the child card, declaring that any change you don’t want will hurt Black people, the planet, and most of all, the innocent children who are our future.
Unless they go to school here.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.