Lately I’ve been wondering, “why YIMBY?” As in, why do I not only care so much about cities, but also that others may also share in the experiences that they provide? And why are my blind spots so glaring (and what can I do about them)? A recent write-up by Strong Towns’ Chuck Marohn got me thinking about my own place and space, and why I keep coming back to caring about issues of urbanity, livability, sustainability, and opportunity. Why I keep sticking my neck out to argue for more housing, in an environment where that perspective is often treated with hostility.
And one thing keeps standing out for me: it’s because I’m gay.
If you’ll indulge me a few more paragraphs, I’d like to unpack this a bit.
My childhood was spent mostly in small-ish towns, in rural Wisconsin and Texas, before my family moved to the “big city” of Detroit when I was eight. Even in Detroit, my parents sent us to small religious schools where the words “everybody knows everybody” were spoken at least once any time prospective students and parents paid us a visit. It was a selling point, but for me it was also a prison. So it was that most of my youth was spent in places and spaces where I felt limited, hindered, and judged for who I was – even as most others didn’t even know the daily internal turmoil I felt.
What I desired then more than anything, after years in small schools and a childhood in small towns, was to escape. I craved anonymity, culture, and a place and space that I could be my own person without the constant judgment and derision of others. I knew that I was gay, and I wanted to be able to share that, but I did not want it to define or confine me.
For me, cities offered the things that I so strongly desired those many childhood nights when I felt utterly lonely and alone. They offered connection, freedom, and creative outlets. They offered friendships, relationships, and heartache. And they offered professional development, community engagement, and direction.
Thus it was that I intentionally chose a very large public university to get my bachelors degree and subsequently moved west to San Francisco to a place where my gayness was not a hindrance (if anything, it could be considered to have been an asset in the Bay Area). My subsequent move to Los Angeles was motivated primarily by love, but my fear of landing in a place not as urban as SF was quickly dispelled as I encountered an even more interesting, complex, and diverse city than any I’ve ever known.
All of which brings me back to the opening question: “Why YIMBY?” And the answer that keeps coming back is that, in the way that cities have offered me unparalleled opportunities for self-expression, growth, and challenges, so too do I hope others may be able to have those opportunities. In the way that my neighborhood has allowed me the ability to walk, bike, and take transit for many of my daily activities, so too do I want others to be able to have those opportunities. In the way that my home has been a grounding place for me and my family, so too do I want others to be able to have a home too.
My white male gayness leaves many blindspots in my understanding of the world, and of cities. That is something I can and do work to change, every day, understanding that who I am and where I’ve been will always come to bear on my decisions and worldview, even as I work to broaden it. Still, I do not ever foresee a time when I might actively seek to deny others the opportunities that have made my own life experiences possible. Even if it were to mean that a new apartment building would block part of my view, shade some of my sunshine, or make parking a little harder to find; I find more comfort in knowing that others have found a place to call home than that my own place is further embellished.
The good fortune I’ve found in my life is not for me alone. Being gay has taught me to seek out the vibrancy of cities, and the vibrancy of cities has taught me to keep the door open for others to be able to make their own way too. Being gay has taught me that, rather than seeing others as alien, it is incumbent on me to see them as family and to act from a place of love.