Not in my backyard

Apr 28, 2024

Those of us in the AEC business need to do a better job educating the general populace about the benefits of smart development.

As someone who has worked for and been an owner of companies that support developers, and someone who has been a small-scale developer myself, I have to say that NIMBYs (not in my backyard people) drive me absolutely bonkers.

A current project attempting to get permitted in our hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas, is a great example. At the top of Dickson Street, there is an empty surface parking lot that out-of-state developers want to build a seven-story building on. For the readers’ perspective, Dickson Street is the main entertainment strip for the town – full of bars and restaurants – and it dead-ends right into the heart of the University of Arkansas.

This proposed building is in a walk-to-everything location. It’s a mixed-use project with retail on the ground floor and apartments above. And the public outrage about it is remarkable. One Facebook post put out by a particularly vocal complainer who owns a local bar has had more than 300 comments and 100 shares, the preponderance of which have been in agreement with her about what a horrible project this is.

The irony of it all is the very same people who don’t like the architectural design, who don’t like the building height, and who don’t like the lack of parking are the very same people who are lamenting our lack of affordable housing, lack of walkable housing, and sprawl. They are also the same people who want more public transportation, less dependence on automobiles, more sustainability, and less environmental impact. And they also want better parks, better schools, higher teacher pay, more bike and pedestrian paths, and better police protection.

It’s mind boggling. Those in favor of even tighter vertical height restrictions than we already have in place cannot do simple math. Math such as having a $4 million piece of property divided by 60 apartments is $67K land cost per apartment versus $4 million divided by 30 apartments is $133K land cost per apartment. Which one do you think will result in lower rental prices?

If you want viable public transit, you have to have density. Enough people in one spot makes a bus stop there viable. Vertical height supports that.

If you want the least amount of paving and lowest impact on drainage, you want taller buildings.

If you want “better” design that is more compatible with our existing older buildings, it will raise the cost of the building. That makes rent prices go up. Not to mention, you should see some of the homes and yards of those design “critics.” To say they need work is a tremendous understatement!

If you want people to be less dependent on automobiles and to be able to walk to work and school, you need to let them live where they can actually do that.

If you want better parks, schools, bike paths, and police, that takes property tax revenues. Which do you think generates more annual property tax revenue – a seven-story 60,000-square-foot new building, or a dusty, dirty surface parking lot? The money has to come from somewhere.

Then there are those hand-wringing about the fact that this city is not the same as it was 10, 20, 30, or however many years ago. Of course it isn’t! What city is? What city that isn’t on the decline, that is?

The NIMBYs also complain that rent is too high for local downtown retail businesses to survive. What is the cure for that? More people living downtown and more customers is how to make that rent that business owners pay more affordable!

I really think those of us in the AEC business who work with and serve developer clients need to do a better job educating the general populace about this stuff. As long as we keep silent and don’t explain how it all works and the benefits of smart development, the NIMBYs will command the stage and control the messaging. If we are really going to help our clients, this kind of marketing and PR has to round out our firms’ full range of service offerings. The ignorance has to be combatted for the benefit of all. 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.