In NYC, the 'Y' stands for 'YIMBY'

SmartPlanet's C.C. Sullivan reveals the latest urban movement in favor of good design: "Yes, in my backyard."
Written by C.C. Sullivan, Columnist (Architecture) on

The latest thing in New York City -- aside from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's need for 24/7 personal air-conditioning -- is encouraging public support for better design. It's not just for major civic buildings and public parks, not at all. We're talking dumps, salt sheds and fire plugs.

The latest buzzword is YIMBY, the anti-NIMBY, which stands for the awkward phrase "Yes, in my backyard."

The sanitation garage looks more like a modern office building. Courtesy Dattner Architects

Tonight, a quietly organized panel discussion at the Center for Architecture (home of the AIA New York Chapter, a group supported by the Astute Architect) will revive the term, and show how architects can help make YIMBYism a broader movement.

Infrastructure, too

The panels discussion, "Taking Urban Infrastructure from NIMBY to YIMBY," essentially tackles the need for better design, as in parts of Europe, for the kinds of unheralded structures and service points that allow us to enjoy a sanitary, safe and efficient public life.

Bus garages, salt sheds, dumps and emergency stations: These are important civic support systems. But are we really designing them?

Michielli + Wyetzner Architects design for the Delancey and Essex garage in New York City’s Lower East Side neighborhood, another DDC project.

"The panel will address the role that architects, community groups and city agencies play in shaping the infrastructure of the city," according to the organizers of the talk. On the panel is Faith Rose, who as senior design liaison for New York City's Department of Design + Construction (DDC) has been working hard for its much-lauded commissioner, David J. Burney, to make real the mayor's vision of world-class "urban infrastructure."

Garage for garbage trucks

The Manhattan District's 1/2/5 Garage, the subject of the YIMBY talk, is a perfect example. It's on prime waterfront property, located at the corner of Spring Street and West Street, overlooking the Hudson River. But it's no beachfront cabana: The structure (now under construction) will serve as garage for 150 sanitation vehicles, with three separate garages for the city's Department of Sanitation. A truck wash and fueling and repair facilities round out the unglamorous program.

The sanitation department and the project team -- Dattner Architects, with WXY Architecture + Urban Design (a client of mine), Greeley & Hansen and Klein & Hoffman, among others -- had to present the project in the best possible light. But even more important was working closely with neighbors, community groups, politicians and local agencies to address their concerns about what the garage is.

And what it will look like, too.

The public got to know all about the garage. Their main concerns were its bulk, height, and appearance. To allay concerns about its long-term contribution to the city, the building features an attractive and cost-effective double-skin façade with a louvered panels. It's just one of several sustainable design innovations for this sanitation facility which will not only make it less expensive to operate but also ensure that it is a resilient and long-lasting building.

The bad old days. Courtesy The Voice of the Eye

After all, the public and the DDC agree that projects like these should be built to last.

Good design is the key to the success of infrastructure projects, but they require education and outreach, too. Examples of DDC's good work is everywhere, but they wouldn't be possible without the architects who act as galvanizers of community support -- and, at times, as lightning rods for conflict.

YIMBYs unite!

The term YIMBY is all the buzz in New York City, but it is echoing beyond the city limits, too.

The idea has roots in the suburbs of Long Island, where relatively affluent towns have long protested the development of affordable housing.

The group known as YIMBY Long Island has helped build a quiet but powerful movement across Long Island supporting the development of new, low-cost residences and housing. Their battle cry: "All communities on Long Island must provide a diversity of housing options for their residents and provide affordable housing."

A bible for better infrastructure, from New York's David Burney.

That's a valuable movement anywhere, but especially in an area where even working-class families making $60,000 can find they are homeless, priced out of the costly real estate market. (YIMBY Long Island says $100,000 is the minimum household income to purchase a home there.)

It's not my favorite acronym, and it's grammatically weird. But for affordable housing, or for ways to support our homeless veterans returning from war -- and even for a salt shed or trash bin in a city park?


Call me a card-carrying YIMBY.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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