NIMBYs don’t want their neighborhood to ever change. Urbanists want everyone to live in Greenwich. But every neighborhood does change, and most places aren’t Greenwich.
Maybe most people aren’t so unhappy about change per se. Maybe they just don’t want it to happen so fast. It’s not so bad when my neighbor puts an addition on their house, but when someone tears down the block and builds a 7 story apartment building, that’s a little much.
So, maybe we should just regulate the way people think. Instead of regulating to a specific density that can’t be exceeded (standard zoning), regulate to a percent change. Dense, urban neighborhoods can handle a bunch of new units or square feet of retail per year, but rural areas maybe get one new house.
Of course, you’d have to work out how to divide a city into neighborhoods first, but we already do that. Legislative districts are a thing. An independent commission could handle that, once every ten years (census time!).
You would also have to figure out who gets the right to build in the neighborhood. First come, first served seems like a terrible way. A better approach would be an auction. Cities could auction off the right to build new housing units or commercial space. Time-limited, of course; you wouldn’t want someone squatting on a right to build for decades.
To get neighborhood residents on board, some (or maybe all?) of the proceeds of the auction could go to neighborhood groups, to do neighborhood group things. Sprucing up parks and streets, that stuff.
Percent change zoning. It could be better.