For years, Eric Saul has followed heated local-government debates about housing and development, tiring of the raw anger that he too often encountered at meetings and on social media. Saul, an architect who lives in Silver Spring, also grew weary of arguments with local NIMBYs—people who often resist progressive urban projects. (The term stands for “not in my backyard.”)
In 2019, Saul launched a satirical website, the Takoma Torch, to make fun of NIMBYism, and more recently he’s been doing the same with his character Nimbee, which is just what it sounds like: a NIMBY bee. Saul acquired a bee suit last spring and has been using it to get across his point of view. The twist is that rather than opposing NIMBYism, the bee cheerfully espouses it. “Nimbee is a petty-grievance-next-door caricature,” says Saul, who accompanies Nimbee as its “beekeeper.” (The suit is worn by an anonymous pal.) “I’m hoping it raises awareness through humor. You might sway somebody if you’re the cool-headed funny guy rather than the hot-headed mean guy.”
Chatting with Nimbee sounded fun, but I wanted to go even further: What’s it like to actually be the bee? Saul was game to let me don the suit. I met him near the Takoma Metro. He wrestled the suit from the back seat of his car, then helped me put it on (no easy feat). We were ready to waddle around and spread some honey.
Our first stop was a mixed-use building under construction that will bring 37 apartments to the former site of a 7-Eleven. It’s the kind of project NIMBYs often hate—a perfect target for a “protest” from Nimbee. I held up a sign reading “Bee Against Development!!,” and Saul and I both made cartoonish thumbs-down signs. Soon enough, people were stopping to chat. This is where the real action happened: Saul started explaining why he thinks Nimbee’s NIMBY positions are wrong. Did any of it sink in? For those who wanted to listen, perhaps. But the getup mostly drew selfie-snapping teens and hugs from children. Politics aside, people tend to react positively to a cuddly bumblebee wandering around their neighborhood.
If this whole idea of supporting progressive development policies with a giant ironic insect seems kind of hard to follow, you’re not alone. A bit later, I was flashing a sign that read “Bee Against Bike Lanes”—a major NIMBY flash point—when a pedestrian slowed to weigh in. She gently disagreed with the bee’s position, and Saul told her she should disagree with it: Bike lanes improve safety and encourage car alternatives. “Well,” she replied, clearly a bit confused, “you should make the bee less cute.”
This article appears in the April 2023 issue of Washingtonian.