It’s happened again. Someone has written to the Chapel Hill Town Council imploring them not to “pave paradise and put up a parking lot.” 

When I hear someone use those lyrics when discussing the possible development of housing, I immediately know I have encountered an unfortunately not-so-rare breed: the Boomer NIMBY (BoomBY™). Blending the worst of both groups, BoomBYs have all the selfishness of Boomers combined with the, well, selfishness of NIMBYs. They are not stardust. They are not golden. And they’ll do anything to keep the garden all to themselves.

Big Yellow Taxi is a good little ditty, for sure. But Joni Mitchell has written over 200 songs, and I would wager that at least 183 of them are better than Big Yellow Taxi. And, fortunately for us, several of them touch on issues that we are currently grappling with in Chapel Hill: land use, transportation, and how we as human beings treat one another. 

As a huge fan of Mitchell and sustainable, inclusive, and walkable urbanism, I feel compelled to share other lyrics of hers that may convince our BoomBy friends and neighbors to return to their hippy roots and loosen their grip on the land. 

1. Free Man In Paris

About: Mitchell wrote this about traveling to Paris with David Geffen. Years later she wrote about throwing a drink at him and telling him “kiss my ass,” but they were still tight at this point.   

If I had my way
I’d just walk through those doors
And wander
Down the Champs Elysées
Going cafe to cabaret
Thinking how I’ll feel when I find
That very good friend of mine

Lesson for BoomBYs: Walking around cities and finding unexpected connections and pleasures, rather than sheltering in place in cul-de-sacs, makes life worth living. You should support safe and interesting places for people to walk and mingle with one another. 

2. Black Crow

About: From Hejira, the greatest album ever made, a restless and lonely Mitchell describes traveling across America, alone, while trying to get away from herself.

I took a ferry to the highway
Then I drove to a pontoon plane
I took a plane to a taxi
And a taxi to a train

Lesson for BoomBYs: It’s ok to have a car but it’s important that we also have multimodal transportation options.  

3. Shine

About: The title track from what is likely to be Mitchell’s last studio album in 2007. And as good as anything she’s ever done.     

Shine on fertile farmland
Buried under subdivisions

Shine on good earth, good air, good water
And a safe place
For kids to play

Shine on the red light runners busy talking on their cell phones

Lesson for BoomBYs: We can either build densely or we can keep paving over farms and driving killing machines everywhere. Cars are awful. 

4. Sex Kills

About: In perhaps the Joni-est move ever, Mitchell appeared on the Tonight Show in 1995 after a 25-year absence from live TV. An entire generation had never seen her perform. Did she play a feel-good number or a catchy old hit – say, Big Yellow Taxi – to win over new fans? Heck no! She played a blistering critique of crass commercialization and moral decay in an era of AIDS and environmental degradation. 

The ulcerated ozone
These tumors of the skin
This hostile sun beating down on
This massive mess we’re in!
And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills

Lesson for BoomBYs: The world is going to shit and you still want a 6,000 lb. SUV?  

5. Number One

About:  By the 1980s, the flower children of Woodstock had become Reaganites, and Mitchell pivoted from writing about the foibles of a few men in her life to the failures of all of humankind.  

You get a car
You want a boat
You want an eenie-meenie-miney miney-moe
Oh there must be more to living
Than a mortgage and a lawn to mow

Lesson for BoomBYs: Materialistic assholes have ruined everything and maybe a one-acre lawn is not-so-great either.

6: Just Like This Train

About: Life as train travel with men who are but a set of interchangeable boxcars. 

Well I’ve got this berth and this pull down blind I’ve got this fold up sink
And these rocks and these cactus going by
And a bottle of German wine to drink
Settle down into the clickety clack
With the clouds and the stars to read
Dreaming of the pleasure I’m going to have
Watching your hairline recede

Lesson for BoomBYs: Had you not fought the light rail, you could be sitting on a train to Durham right now thinking about James Taylor, instead of sitting on the James Taylor Bridge.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Stephen Whitlow lives in Chapel Hill. Trained as an urban planner at DCRP, he works for a research, evaluation, and technical assistance firm and focuses on the areas of housing affordability, fair housing,...