YIMBYtown is an annual gathering of passionate activists and policymakers from various government levels, spanning from local to national. But it is more than just a conference; it is a civic catalyst, a spark for change. This year, Austin, Texas played host, drawing a diverse group of voices determined to confront NIMBYs and stand up for their neighbourhoods and future neighbours, and along the way, address one of the most urgent challenges of our time: housing.

While the event primarily focuses on challenges in the United States, it also offers a platform to celebrate successes and share insights from all across North America, including notable achievements in Canada, and that is how I got the opportunity to present on a panel alongside my friends and fellow Canadian YIMBYs: Kathryn Davies from Calgary, Mark Richardson from Toronto, and Russil Wvong from Vancouver.

"It was enlightening to see just how far this decade-old movement has come in the US in terms of organization, funding and political legitimacy. YIMBY voices are taken seriously by political leaders of all stripes who are looking for pragmatic solutions to the problem of housing. Canada has a lot to learn from our neighbours to the south as we start to take our own housing crisis seriously. YIMBYtown showed that pro-housing voices have an amazing capacity to get things done, and to have a good time while doing so." – Kathryn Davies, Co-founder of More Neighbours Calgary.

At the core of YIMBYtown are the discussions and debates that shape the future of housing policy. It brings together local activists, politicians, NGOs, and even some folks from Washington DC who influence decisions at the national level—decisions that could reshape America as a whole.

Although us YIMBYs could talk for ever about how to make our cities more sustainable and affordable, the two-day YIMBYtown conference gives us plenty to chew on.

“It was great to hear first-person accounts of successful reforms to speed up housing approvals and reduce construction costs in places like New Zealand, California, Montana, and Texas, and to share what’s happening in BC. We’re all facing a very similar challenge. When COVID hit, there was a massive surge in people working from home and needing more space. In the wake of COVID, we suddenly need a lot more housing.” – Russil Wvong, Volunteer with Abundant Housing Vancouver.

In sessions like "The Many Barriers to Equitable Transit-Oriented Development," participants explore the complex challenges hindering fair access to affordable housing, especially in areas that are well-served by public transport or upcoming transit projects. From zoning rules to community opposition, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome, but the determination to find solutions remains strong.

Similarly, the "Parking Reforms" topic sparks dynamic conversations as attendees brainstorm new approaches to address the often-overlooked issue of urban parking. It is no secret to us YIMBYs that by reimagining the role of parking in city planning, communities can unlock valuable space for developing much-needed housing while also making alternative modes of transportation more feasible and appealing. However, conveying this reality to communities is not as straightforward as the simple math behind it.

Take Toronto, for example. As one of the leaders in urban reforms in North America, the city removed parking minimum requirements in 2021. Yet, we are still debating even the possibility of developing our neighbourhoods around pedestrians and alternative transit options rather than prioritizing cars.

Now, imagine the challenge of convincing communities in VERY car-centric cities like Austin, where public transit and active transport infrastructure are close to nonexistent. To be fair, Austin is working on a new comprehensive transit plan called Project Connect, which, if successful, could transform how people move around the city. One heartening aspect of this project is that Austin voters actually approved a referendum (Prop A) in November 2020, to allocate a dedicated revenue stream to fund investments in Project Connect (8.75 cents of the City’s property tax rate revenue). However, despite such significant public support, as you might have guessed, even “The Project”, as Austinites call it, is facing a good share of pushback from NIMBYs!

While parking reforms are rightfully (yet slowly) gaining the attention they deserve in our critical urban planning debates, perhaps some of the most inspiring moments at YIMBYtown emerge from stories shared in sessions like "eTOD in Action: Lessons from North Berkeley BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)," where real-world examples of successful transit-oriented development initiatives give you sparks of hope, demonstrating the transformative potential of thoughtful urban planning and community engagement. From affordable housing projects to lively mixed-use developments, these case studies showcase the tangible impact of collaborative efforts to build communities that are more inclusive and sustainable.

Amidst all the knowledge and experience flying around at YIMBYtown, there is one thing we cannot ignore: the importance of giving YIMBY voices a megaphone, both in the US and beyond. In Canada, in particular, where housing affordability remains a pressing concern, the need for proactive advocacy and policy innovation is more urgent than ever. By harnessing the energy and enthusiasm generated at events like YIMBYtown, Canadian activists and policymakers can drive meaningful change at the local, provincial, and national levels.

YIMBYtown 2024 was a great opportunity to connect with pro-housing voices from around North America, and dig into how local jurisdictional differences about process and political approvals can directly impact the delivery of new affordable rental apartments. We learned a lot by being there in-person, and exchanging ideas and information with colleagues.” – Mark Richardson, volunteer technical lead at HousingNowTO.

Whether we call it good news or bad, and despite how much us Torontonians love to critique our city, Toronto stands out as a shining example of progressive leadership in urban planning. With initiatives like investing in more transit and promoting mixed-income neighbourhoods, the city has shown a steadfast commitment to creating more equitable and affordable housing options for its residents. Though challenges certainly exist, Toronto's willingness to tackle these issues head-on serves as an inspiration to cities across North America — and they are watching us.

Now, sitting in my office in downtown Toronto, gazing out the window at the bustling street, I can feel how the passion and determination we witnessed at YIMBYtown 2024 echoes in the streets of Toronto, where we all work hard to shape a future where everyone has a place to call home — a future worth fighting for. And it's up to us to find and empower YIMBY voices to lead the way.

Urbanity Fair