It’s no secret: San Francisco makes it a tortuous quest to build housing.
The insane hoops developers have to jump through often take years and costs millions of dollars.
But if a slow “death by a thousand fees” doesn’t kill a development, you better believe Not In My Backyard neighbors—NIMBYs—will.
SF’s unique housing process means anyone can call in a project for a hearing and it can be thrown out for even the smallest reason—creating a paradise for the polarizing practice of NIMBYism.
So much so that a counter movement, YIMBYism, is now stacking piles of cash to fight the city when the answer to more homes is “no.”
Even the state government is cracking down on San Francisco’s Dr. No attitude towards building homes, launching an investigation into why it takes so long and demanding the city submit a plan to build 82,000 homes by 2030.
Hate the system, love the game
Frustration with the system is rife among San Franciscans, but a new game, loosely-based on one of the creator’s lived experiences of the city, provides an outlet for even the most wound-up pro-housing activists among us—set to an 8-bit jazz “banger” soundtrack no less.
Enter Owen Weeks and Steve Nass, a pair of 33-year-old advertising copywriters who now live in Brooklyn.
Nass was inspired to create the game from his own experiences living in SF from 2014 to 2019, where he saw the nightmare housing situation firsthand. Nass says his friend and colleague Weeks is a total transit and urban planning nut too.
“We definitely think there needs to be more affordable housing, upzoning—you gotta give people places to live,” Nass told The Standard.
On click one, players are greeted with a 90s-feeling strategy-game aerial landscape; on click two you’re hit with one of many tongue-in-cheek error messages: “Apartment buildings make us feel unsafe. Please don’t unpack that statement.”
Icons around the screen invite you to click more, but progress evades you just like a San Francisco building permit: “Keep our local fiefdom weird!” another NIMBY error message demands.
“It’s an interactive picture,” said Nass. “We’re not programmers. We wanted to keep it comically simple.”
And comically simple it is, with over 50 hilarious but all-too-real excuses popping up as you plug away trying to get something built in Nimbyville.
“We went to a bar one night and put down as many [error messages] as we could think of,” said Nass on the game’s creation. “Then we cut it down to our favorites, but we wanted to create that feeling of, oh you’re trapped, you know?”
The game has since taken off online, with Vice picking up the story after its Monday release and messages flooding in from Twitter and Reddit.
“I kind of hoped it was mostly an SF issue, but it turns out it wasn't,” Nass said. “People were saying, ‘oh this is a Vancouver simulator.’ ‘This is a North Toronto simulator.’ And these were places we knew nothing about, but depressingly around the world it seems to characterize a lot of places.”
Nass hopes the game will help energize frustrated city residents into fighting for more housing.
“If you are in SF, maybe this is a chance to become more of an activist and go to town halls,” Nass said. “Maybe it gets you out there to try and make a change. SF is an example of a city that is beautiful and, yeah, the Painted Ladies are nice but we gotta get over the fear of apartments in my opinion.”
You can play Sim Nimby for free here.