YIMBY or NIMBY? Both are worse…

Hardly a week of 2023 has gone without an article, op-ed or news segment about the scourge of NIMBYism and the virtues of YIMBYs. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Financial Review have both published series on the topic. There have been puff pieces in almost every major news outlet, from The Guardian to The Herald Sun, and an episode of SBS’s Insight. The small number of groups organising around the mantra ‘Yes, In My Backyard’ are gaining traction in the post-pandemic housing crisis and policy debate. Among them are Sydney YIMBY and YIMBY Melbourne, launched in mid-2023, and Greater Canberra, established in 2021. In September 2023, the three groups formed the Abundant Housing Network. The most recent formation is Housing Now!, a coalition of Business NSW, the Committee for Sydney, the NSW Vice Chancellors’ Committee, Sydney YIMBY, the Shoppies and the Health Services Union. The YIMBY phenomenon, born out of California in the late 2010s, has landed on Australian shores.

With rents rising rapidly and house prices at record highs, YIMBYs’ central argument—that the key to lowering housing costs is removing barriers to new construction—has been fully absorbed into government rhetoric, and increasingly into policy. YIMBY organisations are busy attending Council meetings, writing submissions and providing comment to an increasingly sympathetic media. A growing cadre of opportunists—politicians, property developers, lobbyists, consultants and think tankers—is hitching personal and professional ambitions to the YIMBY trend. And YIMBY talking points are spreading throughout social media, capturing the particular disaffection of a millennial middle class for whom unmet need is an unfamiliar experience.

In a moment when housing inequality is more politicised than any time in the past fifty years, a pro- versus anti-housing binary is becoming the dominant framework for debate. Much as YIMBYs raise some sound arguments and decent, if insufficient, policy proposals, any prospect of radical transformation of Australia’s housing system requires a clean break from the binary of NIMBY vs YIMBY. A radical housing justice movement that aims to decommodify housing will need to confront not only reactionary, anti-development homeowners and their structural basis, but also a YIMBYism that is, even if not explicitly hostile to it, content for non-market housing to continue as a marginal and marginalised feature of the housing system.

What do YIMBYs want?

It’s often said that YIMBYism is trickle-down economics for housing, and that’s broadly true. However, this is not to say that all YIMBYs oppose or ignore solutions other than deregulation. YIMBY Melbourne, for instance, proposes an admirable set of tax and finance reforms including negative gearing and capital gains tax concession roll-backs, and the expansion of social housing through value capture, inclusionary zoning and developer contributions. YIMBYs are not all alike; some want maximal deregulation of and devolution to the market, while others see planning reform as a step towards social democracy. Yet they are united in the view that private enterprise should drive the production of housing, that prices should be set by markets, and that market housing can become more affordable through the loosening of land-use regulations that restrict the type and density of new development and thus permit the construction of more housing. The latter is captured in the YIMBY catchphrase ‘legalise housing’: allowing higher density development, they argue, will enable developers to ‘build housing where people want to live’—that is, in inner-urban areas where the imbalance of supply and demand has driven prices highest—and lead to the excess supply or ‘housing abundance’ needed to drive down prices through the trickle-down process that economists and housing scholars call filtering.

The logic of filtering is simple: a new home is built to a higher standard than the existing dwellings like it, attracting a premium and thus a higher-income household. The home vacated by that household becomes available to one earning a slightly lower income, who in turn vacate a slightly worse dwelling. A chain reaction thus unfolds down to the lowest-income households in the market. If the construction of new homes is sufficient to exceed the number of households looking for somewhere to live—the ‘rate of household formation’—then prices fall.

However, while there is some fairly solid evidence that housing supply militates against prices, whether it can actually produce housing affordable for low-income households is questionable. There are strong incentives to renovate or redevelop properties once they ‘filter down’ through the lower reaches of the income distribution and generate lower returns on investment. As a result, properties at the bottom of the chain can disappear before they become affordable to low-income households. And because filtering is a slow process, it interacts with structural changes to urban infrastructure, morphology and economy which cause areas that were previously relatively cheap to become profitable for reinvestment. Think the dark, damp terraces that were once considered working-class slums but are now some of the most sought-after homes due to inner city deindustrialisation and the growth of white-collar employment. Or more recently, 1960s and 70s unit blocks that are being rehabilitated or redeveloped with increasing frequency.

This is the side of the filtering that interested geographer Neil Smith,i whose ‘rent gap’ theory of gentrification held that landowners would reinvest in properties when the discrepancy between their realised returns on current use (or capitalised ground rent) and potential return generated through conversion (or potential ground rent) became sufficiently large. The conversion of a property to its ‘highest and best use’ necessarily removes cheaper homes, through demolition or ‘upward filtering’, and means that as well as being some of the worst homes going, any ‘naturally occurring affordable housing’ is fleeting at best.

It’s on gentrification where YIMBY logic is most confused. YIMBYs contend that increasing supply can prevent displacement because it keeps rents low. But eviction and displacement are antecedent, not subsequent, to reinvestment that closes the rent gap. It’s the renters moved out of the walk-up so it can be gutted or demolished; the share house dwellers evicted so the home can be renovated and resold; the public housing tenants forced to relocate so that their estate can be redeveloped. Gentrification as a process of revalorisation, leading to class and race transformation, is not ‘caused by rising prices’: it is rising prices. The effect of new development on surrounding areas might not be immediate but the local economic transformation that it catalyses has the effect of raising the gap between current and ‘highest and best’ use, incentivising further rounds of displacement and reinvestment.

There’s also good reason to doubt whether private property developers could and would build the level of excess supply required for filtering to provide meaningfully affordable housing. As economist Cameron Murray has shown, over the past couple of decades the planning system has approved tens of thousands more dwellings than developers have actually delivered. Economic conditions such as the high costs of borrowing, materials and labour that developers currently face can mean that approved projects are delayed until they can be expected to meet a targeted rate of return. Furthermore, large developers are incentivised to limit new dwelling completions even when house prices are rising, in anticipation of higher returns in the future when the market peaks. The growth of the build-to-rent sector, in which developers like Mirvac and Meriton retain and lease the properties they build, also weakens the argument that the industry will work to undermine house values by flooding the market with new homes.

Even if we put these limitations aside for a moment and enter the simulated city of neoclassical economics, in which more supply results in lower costs, the effect of new market-rate supply alone is uninspiring. A Reserve Bank research paper by economists Trent Saunders and Peter Tulip estimates that prices will fall by 2.5 per cent for every 1 per cent increase to the total stock of housing. At a national level, the Albanese government’s new target of 1.2 million new homes nationally by 2030 would—in the unlikely event that it is met—create a surplus of 187,000 homes, or a 1.7 per cent increase to the total stock of housing according to Housing Australia. Some crude mathematics based on Housing Australia’s projections suggests that this could make rents in 2030 around 4.3 per cent lower than they otherwise would be—an extremely modest effect in an optimistic future, and one that will be unevenly distributed, being more difficult to achieve in Sydney and Melbourne where the so-called supply-demand imbalance is greater.

The politics of YIMBY

With public debate about housing inequality planted firmly on the terrain of supply and demand, racist reactionaries from neo-Nazis to Peter Dutton to Sky News and the Institute of Public Affairs have sensed a political opportunity to demand lower migration in order to correct the supply-demand imbalance. While YIMBYs do not make this case, their more palatable solution offers little to practically reject this side of the debate. Both sides accept filtering’s inherent premise that housing quality should correlate positively with income. Put more plainly, they are happy for the poor to continue living in worse quality homes than the rich, with the best anyone can hope for being a small step up the housing hierarchy. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns throughout 2020 and 2021 served to illuminate the harsh realities of this logic, with lower-income households being at higher risk of contracting the virus due to their combination of essential work and overcrowded homes, as well as having fewer amenities and services within their local areas and facing harsher restrictions and policing. Neither the YIMBYS focusing on more supply nor the racists and reactionaries calling for reduced demand offer meaningful near-term solutions for the million-plus low-income households spending more than 30 per cent of their incomes on rents or mortgage repayments.

This is not a new tension but the historical status quo of housing in Australia—a country where the vast majority have accessed housing through the market, and where policy and ideology have combined to make private home ownership a pillar of economic security and social status. Historically this has been a major cause of low urban density; throughout the global North, cities with more renters, and in particular those with mass public or social housing, tend to be denser.ii While Australia experienced a roughly two-decade period in which public housing accounted for 10–15 per cent of new home construction, and as many as one in four rentals, public housing was also another mechanism for expanding private homeownership via sales to sitting tenants.iii

The political economy and the culture of homeownership both underpin NIMBYism and the continued demand for freestanding or semi-detached homes. Though sometimes more straightforwardly racist, classist or reactionary, NIMBYism emerges within a system of ‘asset-based welfare’: capital growth is a built-in expectation within Australian housing and social policy, with owner occupation enabling wealth accumulation that funds social security and mobility including comfortable retirement.iv It should be no surprise that a perceived threat to the value of one’s most significant asset generates opposition.

The context in which YIMBYism emerges in Australia is thus similar to that in the United States in some ways but different in others. Sociologist Max Holleran observed its rise in San Francisco, Austin and Colorado—three cities increasingly dominated by the tech industry, the significance of which should not be understated—in the 2010s. In Yes to the City, Holleran describes how YIMBY movements are ‘emphasizing the rights of middle-class newcomers to wealthy cities’, with a ‘tech-oriented practicality’ and ‘ideological flexibility … useful for getting things done’.v The tech industry’s chauvinistic intellectual culture filters down from its great ‘entrepreneurs’ and is frequently displayed when US YIMBYs debate academics or anti-gentrification activists. The industry also wields considerable financial power, helping fund YIMBY organisations, campaigns and legislators. Stripe and Yelp executives, for instance, provided initial funding to California YIMBY, and the latter’s founding partners later donated US $1 million. Meanwhile, California state senator and YIMBY darling Scott Weiner received campaign contributions from a host of tech corporations including Google, Amazon and Facebook. The industry does not have such wide-reaching influence in Australia and likely never will; Antipodean YIMBYs so far seem to be independent and unfunded, though no doubt there will be offers available.

Nevertheless, YIMBYism has found a particularly productive niche in Australian politics. For both Labor and Liberal parties, it offers an alluring market-based solution to the housing crisis that requires little-to-no revenue expenditure, redistribution, or challenge to the social relations of capitalism. Jason Falinski is the most notable among the latter. The former Member for Mackellar and now NSW party president was one of a host of ‘moderate’ Liberals ousted by the 2022 election, having been touted previously as a trailblazer who would help lead the party into the twenty-first century. Falinski, like fellow Teal victim Tim Wilson, wants to reassert homeownership within Liberal party ideology. Claiming that ‘Australia’s founders wanted a classless society … by ensuring everyone had the chance to own a home, he has previously stated that falling rates of home ownership represent ‘an urgent moral call for action by governments of all levels to restore the Australian dream for this generation and the ones that follow’. Falinski chaired the Morrison government’s Inquiry into Housing Affordability and Supply, which gradually descended into farce as he casually dismissed submissions calling for tax reform and social and affordable housing investment—the submissions of what he labelled ‘special interest groups’—and focused exclusively on planning regulations as the barrier to supply and thus affordability. Since leaving office, he has continued to advocate against planning regulations and rent control proposals, though one of his last acts as Member was to host an online petition opposing a Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council plan for 450 homes in his electorate. He was slated to appear at the recent launch of Sydney YIMBY, but was apparently held up at a meeting—perhaps with the property management company Airtrip, which he now chairs, or the Falinski Property Group.

Those who did speak at Sydney YIMBY’s launch included former NSW Labor MP David Borger and current Inner West Labor councillor Philippa Scott. Borger was NSW Housing Minister from 2007 to 2008 and now leads Business Western Sydney, one of the coalition partners in Housing Now!. Borger decried the profound wealth inequality created through the housing system; like Falinski, he seems to have read Capital in the Twenty-First Century up to the point where Piketty calls for wealth taxes and then come up with a different conclusion. Along with others on the panel, he proclaimed that cities have always been built by markets (a confidently incorrect reading of history) and that the role of government was to enable this historic trend. Scott took a slightly different tack in characterising YIMBYism as ‘social justice’, insofar as it enables more people to live in places with good amenities and infrastructure, like her Inner West. Such a ‘social justice’ argument would be convincing were it not for the fact that 98 per cent of new construction is market-rate housing built by the private sector and, following YIMBYism’s own arguments about filtering, will be purchased or leased at a premium rather than by households earning incomes significantly lower than local levels. If cheaper established dwellings are being demolished to make way for expensive new ones, the benefits of Leichardt and Marrickville may well flow upwards.

For the Labor Party, YIMBYism offers a new kind of third way—yet another attempt to address social need through market mechanisms.vi For Labor governments unwilling to adequately fund public or social housing, regulate rents in the private sector and revisit negative gearing and capital gains tax reform, a focus on state planning systems is a helpful diversion. Recent comments from Prime Minister Albanese are a case in point. In July 2023, he argued that housing affordability was not a question of regulating prices but of ‘how … we get States and Territories to have better planning, so we get increased supply of housing’. Announcing the revised targets for the aptly-named Housing Accord, Albanese stated that ‘supply is the key to putting downward pressure [on rent] and assisting renters’. NSW Premier Chris Minns has similarly attempted to focus attention on NIMBYism and the planning system while fending off calls for rent control and vacancy taxes, and after committing just $70 million for new social housing in the 2023 budget.

While YIMBYs do propose reforms beyond planning and heritage, the practical effect of prioritising and praising of densification above all is to license governments to ignore the rest. This was revealed most starkly in the wake of the Victorian government’s Housing Statement. YIMBY Melbourne praised the statement and initially made no mention of the proposal to demolish all forty-four public housing towers that remain in inner-Melbourne for just a 10 per cent uplift in social housing (and huge increase in market-rate housing). They later responded on X (formerly Twitter) by supporting the plan — which will cause tremendous harm to current tenants while slowing to a halt any allocations off the social housing waiting list — with the caveat that residents should be rehoused. And while some YIMBY organisations might support more public or social housing construction in general, they simultaneously elevate the profile of economists, politicians and writers who are explicitly anti-public housing, like Ed Glaeser and Matt Yglesias internationally or Falinksi and Tulip at home (the latter of whom is now working for the free market think-tank the Centre for Independent Studies). Whatever the ideological diversity within the YIMBY movement, it is their most neoliberal ideas and adherents who are gaining the greatest traction.

By placing housing affordability on the terrain of planning and heritage, YIMBYism also offers Labor a cudgel with which to attack the Greens. Earlier in 2023, in an attempt to sell the Housing Australia Future Fund’s grossly inadequate social and affordable housing targets, Labor labelled Greens housing spokesperson Max Chandler-Mather a hypocritical NIMBY for opposing a private apartment complex in south Brisbane while demanding more housing from the government’s bill. This is an increasingly common tactic, particularly towards Greens councillors who have occasionally aligned themselves with residents opposing rezoning or redevelopment (though they are far from alone in doing so). The counter-proposals of residents and politicians, such as for more public housing or community facilities, are framed as unrealistic and therefore ‘anti-housing’. In her YIMBY manifesto for The Sydney Morning Herald, Parnell Palme McGuinness claimed that anyone who demands ‘impossible trifectas of quality, affordable housing and attractive design’ is a ‘social-justice NIMBY’ whose actions result in ‘no development, no density, no dwellings’. This is a false dichotomy that serves to constrain possible outcomes to the tyranny of property ownership, whether that property owner is a company or individual seeking to maximise their windfall from a site or a government agency operating according to the same rationale. It also defies reality. In Glebe, campaigns against the demolition of public housing in recent years have resulted in superior outcomes: 100 per cent social housing for one site, 100 per cent public housing at another, and retention and refurbishment at a third.

Saying ‘Yes, and…’

Some YIMBYs fetishise density, pointing to Haussmann’s Paris and Cerda’s Barcelona as proof positive. Australians love to visit these cities, they argue, so why not replicate them here? They are wonderful places to visit, no doubt, and creating denser cities is a worthy urban policy goal for a range of environmental and social reasons. Yet the imagery belies the politics of housing in such cities, and the many other lessons that we should learn from them.

More than 110,000 social housing units have been added in Paris this century, two thirds through new construction and one third through retrofits and purchases. The city is one of several French municipalities subject to a national law requiring 25 per cent of its housing stock to become social housing by 2025—a milestone the city has already met and revised upwards to 30 per cent by 2030. Crucially, Parisian social housing is expanding its footprint through mandatory inclusion within new private development and urban land acquisition for infill development. Rather than housing only those on the lowest incomes, it is also an option for middle-income households, and is approaching one fifth of the population. It offers a genuine alternative to the private rental sector—in which rents are capped—and drives higher standards within that sector. It’s a far cry from Australia, where social housing has shrunk to less than 4 per cent of the total stock and grown by fewer than 20,000 units in the same period of time. As well as saying ‘yes’ to Parisian density, we can say ‘yes’ to Parisian social housing and rent control.

In Barcelona, like Paris, it’s certainly easy to be blown away by the beauty and vibrancy of the city’s dense, historical core. But this has not been a recipe for affordability; you would quickly be laughed out of town by the city’s vibrant housing movements if you told them that you wanted to replicate their city’s crisis-riddled housing system. In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis and rapidly rising unemployment, mortgage defaults soared and a wave of evictions swept the city. A platform of people affected by mortgage foreclosures, known as La PAH, organised against these evictions, in many cases through direct action to physically prevent them from taking place and defending people’s right to remain in their homes and renegotiate their debts. One of La PAH’s leaders, Ada Colau, shot to national fame when she used the occasion of a televised enquiry into evictions to accuse a representative of the banks of being a criminal. Not long afterwards, in 2015, she rode a wave of post-GFC and post-Indignado activism all the way to the city’s mayoralty—a position which she held until May 2023. In that time, tourism-led gentrification and displacement joined mortgage defaults as a major cause of housing insecurity. Her administration fought valiantly to improve rights to housing, trying (not always successfully) to enact measures to prevent evictions, to impose rent controls, to stop short-term tourist rentals and hotel construction, and—crucially—to build more public housing. As well as advocating for superblocks, we need to organise like Catalonians to build collective power among precarious tenants and borrowers in order to more radically change the housing system.

Saying ‘No, but…’

Some lessons can be learned from elsewhere, others from Australian cities’ pasts. If Barcelona is today home to one of the most famous movements for housing justice, in the 1970s that title belonged to Sydney. Between 1971 and 1974, the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF), under the leadership of Jack Mundey, Bob Pringle and Joe Owens, along with Resident Action Groups (RAGs) across NSW, contested government- and private-sector-led projects by imposing ‘Green Bans’ on numerous developments. This period has been examined endlessly by twenty-first century activists and scholars within labour, housing and environmental struggles looking for some kind of inspiration and guidance. Nevertheless, it is worth revisiting this period, for its lessons are more salient than ever.

The Rocks Green Ban is probably the best known. The NSW government had proposed to raze the Rocks so that the Sydney CBD could extend along the headland, but met opposition from local residents of what was then largely Maritime Services Board housing (later transferred to the NSW Housing Commission). Led by Nita McCrae, residents resisted displacement and eventually won the 79-unit Sirius public housing complex for households who would be displaced by the revised redevelopment. It continued to provide good quality housing for low-income people until it was sold by the Berejiklian government for $150 million in 2019, to a developer who as we write is converting it into luxury apartments.

Less well-known are the Green Bans on Woolloomooloo and Waterloo, which both similarly preserved and extended low-income housing. The proposal for Woolloomooloo was to demolish existing homes and develop commercial office buildings, as well as the Eastern Expressway. In Waterloo, the NSW Housing Commission had planned to expand the Waterloo public housing estate by resuming homes to the east of the existing estate and building a further six thirty-storey towers to rehouse many of the displaced. Green Bans were placed on both sites, at the request of the Woolloomooloo RAG and the South Sydney Action Group respectively, with the latter rejecting the Housing Commission’s paternalistic assumption that Waterloo residents would be better off moving into modernist towers in the park. The ban in Woolloomooloo extracted a $17 million grant from the Whitlam government so that the Housing Commission could purchase and develop public housing across 65 per cent of the redevelopment area.vii And both bans, along with imperatives from Whitlam’s Department of Urban and Regional Development, forced the Housing Commission to commence detailed consultations with residents that led to a paradigm shift in public housing design and construction, with well-designed medium-density infill functioning to increase density in established neighbourhoods with minimal displacement.viii

Sydney’s inner city public housing schemes, built from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, are examples of ‘density done well’ in modern planning parlance (albeit neglected by the last three decades of inadequate funding for repairs and maintenance). They are a direct outcome of residents’ and Builder Labourers’ challenge to the authority of public and private property owners over urban development. Buildings like Tao Gofers’ Sirius, and also many lesser-known complexes by in-house and commissioned architects working in Waterloo, Woolloomooloo, Glebe and elsewhere,ix would not have been built without residents and unionists saying ‘no’ to original proposals and fighting for alternatives that reflected both local housing needs and the wider public interest of decent and affordable housing for low-income people.

Arguably the most significant BLF ban was at the ‘Black Ban’ on what became known as the Block, in Redfern. Here the Builders Labourers opposed the demolition and redevelopment of sixty-four terraces adjacent to Redfern Station, supporting the Aboriginal Housing Committee. Led by Bob Bellear, the Committee occupied several of the homes between Vine, Eveleigh, Louis and Hugo Streets that had been purchased by IBK Constructions with a view to redeveloping the site. These homes, Bellear wrote at the time, had been home to several Aboriginal families who were subsequently evicted and displaced from the ‘Black heart’ of Sydney,x which in the 1970s was already showing signs of gentrification that threatened to undermine its role at the centre of the movement for Indigenous self-determination.xi The occupation, assisted by the BLF’s Black Ban and repairs to make the dwellings habitable, politicised the precarious housing situation of Aboriginal people in Redfern and eventually won a $500,000 grant from the Whitlam government to establish the Aboriginal Housing Company and for the purchase and renovation of the terraces for use as affordable housing for Aboriginal families. The struggle over the Block should serve as a lesson that any housing movement needs to reckon with sovereignty, dispossession and reparations, challenging not only YIMBYism’s pro- vs anti-housing binary but also unreconstructed calls for public housing.

While it would be some years before the term ‘NIMBY’ was born, the unionists, residents and progressive professionals behind the Green Bans faced similar criticisms, with developers, politicians and media sympathisers labelling them ‘anti-development’ and ‘anti-progress’. Certainly the Green Bans stopped some projects that might’ve built more homes. Yet the politics of the Green Bans was not defined by saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’; rather, it was defined by what they said ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to, and by the methods that they used to progress their vision. The movement used bans to block things when they were socially regressive and then used the breathing space to propose and fight for more just alternatives. The BLF only enacted bans when residents could articulate how their opposition was in the interests of the wider public. It was not enough for local residents to be against a particular development; indeed, the BLF received numerous requests for Green Bans that they would choose to deny. Green Ban leaders insisted that they were neither pro- nor anti-development, but explicitly contested the very meaning of ‘development’; Mundey always referred to developers as ‘so-called developers’, and the broader Green Ban movement rallied under the slogan of people before profits.

The Green Bans illustrate how, rather than automatically acceding to whatever a developer might propose, opposition and bargaining can win better social and environmental outcomes. Of course, we live in different and in many ways more challenging times for such opposition, and much of the opposition that we do see today is not interested in these outcomes. Yet as Australian governments embark on another round of projects with harmful impacts on diverse working-class and low-income communities, there is an imperative to define and fight for alternative possibilities that put people before profit. Rather than an offering a reflexive ‘yes’ to the redevelopment of public housing estates, to up-zoning around new metro stations without protection for local low-income households or to new stadiums and waterfront megaprojects, we need to think strategically and creatively about where and how we can win an urban future of decent, secure and affordable housing for all.

Thanks to Godfrey Moase at the United Workers Union for inspiration for this title.

i Neil Smith, The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City, Hoboken, NJ: Taylor & Francis, 1996.

ii Gail Radford, Modern Housing for America: Policy Struggles in the New Deal Era, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

iii Patrick N. Troy, Accommodating Australians: Commonwealth Government Involvement in Housing. Annandale, NSW: Federation Press, 2012.

iv Lisa Adkins, Martijn Konings and Melinda Cooper, The Asset Economy: Property Ownership and the New Logic of Inequality, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2020.

v Max Holleran, Yes to the City: Millenials and the Fight for Affordable Housing, Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press, 2022, pp 61, 154, 40.

vi Elizabeth Humphrys, How Labour Built Neoliberalism: Australia’s Accord, the Labour Movement and the Neoliberal Project. Leiden: Brill, 2019.

vii Meredith Burgmann and Verity Burgmann, Green Bans, Red Union: Environmental Activism and the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation, Sydney, NSW: UNSW Press, 1998.

viii Caroline Butler-Bowdon and Charles Pickett, Homes in the Sky: Apartment Living in Australia. Melbourne, Vic: Miegunyah Press, 2007.

ix Michael Zanardo and Noni Boyd, Affordable Housing in Sydney: Architecture Guide Map, Sydney, NSW: Studio Zanardo, 2019.

x Robert W. Bellear (ed.), Black Housing Book, Broadway, NSW: Amber Press, 1976.

xi Johanna Perheentupa, Redfern: Aboriginal Activism in the 1970s. Canberra, ACT: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2020.

About the authors

Alistair Sisson

Alistair Sisson is a Macquarie University Research Fellow in the Macquarie School of Social Sciences.

More articles by Alistair Sisson

Kurt Iveson

Kurt Iveson is Professor of Urban Geography at the University of Sydney.

More articles by Kurt Iveson

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Nice coverage of the issue, however one of the main critical issues is seemingly not discussed at all. That is, the quality of the outcome, ie. the type of urbanism produced. Other things being equal, this is the reason why some of us ‘fetishise’ Paris or Barcelona. Intramuros Paris is the densest city in the western world and in fact only exceeded by Hong Kong. Not by Tokyo or any Chinese or Indian city which may have many more residents but not at higher density. Paris has a density of ≈25,000/km2 in its 87km2 while Barcelona is the second densest at ≈16,000/km2 (though the ≈8km2 Eixample is 36,000/km2) and the only other comparable size zone with similar density is Manhattan with ≈28,000/km2 on its 57km2, but overall NYC is about one third this density.

It is a very widely held misconception that high-rise equals high-density but Paris and Barcelona completely disproves that. Further, even rarer than high-density hi-rise that comes close to Paris is an acceptable urbanism. Some residential districts of Manhattan actually exceed Paris’ density, such as the UES and UWS both at about 42,000/km2 (both ≈5km2), which is achieved by having some hi-rise but not many people would claim better urbanism. This is why people ‘fetishise’ Paris and Barcelona, including New Yorkers. There are lots of reasons why people like Manhattan but strict urbanism isn’t really the thing. New Yorkers laud NYC for other reasons. It’s not that hi-rise could not achieve such densities but that in the west it rarely, if ever, does.

The authors confound the story of Paris and Barcelona by emphasising the housing affordability issues which have everything to do with AirBnB. It has nothing to do with the nature of the housing, ie. whether hi-rise or of Haussmannian dimensions. Both cities are getting to grips with AirBnB and the often illegal lets involved. In fact, Paris has made considerable progress in addressing its housing issues as shown by Maagda Maaoui (https://www.architectural-review.com/buildings/housing/social-contract-parisian-social-housing, Architectural Review 2022) and by Jonah Freemark (https://doi.org/10.1080/19491247.2019.1682233; Doubling housing production in the Paris region: a multi-policy, multi-jurisdictional response, 19 Dec 2019). And without building hi-rise. It is interesting that some Grands Ensembles are being rehabilitated but even more significant that they are being densified; for example the Nuages site is remediating those deadzone open spaces by infilling with Haussmannian scale buildings. This approach is directly applicable to Melbourne’s high-rise social housing.

The problem with the neoliberal version of Yimby is that when left to the developers they will build neither Paris nor Manhattan, though their publicity might say differently. They’ll build soulless hi-rise with all those set-backs and open spaces that ends up creating a soulless zone with awful urbanity, often deadzones especially in a car-dependent society like ours. It is as true in Australia as in the US or London-as-Dubai on the Thames. The only reason Manhattan, or parts of it, achieve a different outcome is that they essentially build their medium-to-hi-rise residential to the old European “perimeter-block” model, instead of the “towers-in-a-park” model everywhere else. Developers, planners and politicians believe or have been convinced by so-called experts that this ‘modern’ arrangement is better. But it is without a doubt the worst of all models, especially since it hardly ever achieves the desired high-density. Australia is in the process of replicating this awful model and one only has to visit a few cases that are approaching maturity to understand: Melbourne Docklands or Sydney’s Olympic Park. Curiously we have one good example that could be used as a model: Potts Point which I believe remains Australia’s densest suburb at about 10,000/km2 (but only 0.7km2) and despite a few hi-rise it is mostly medium-to-low rise. No accident that it is also one of the most desired areas with some of the priciest real estate values.

Paris and Barcelona achieve it all, density and urbanity, without exceeding 6-7 floors. So forget either Nimby or Yimby, and instead go with Himby: Haussmannian In My BackYard, s’il vous plait.

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