The Social Functions of NIMBYism
United States Community / Economic Development Features Government / Politics Land Use
25 August 2008 - 5:00am
Author: Matthew J. Kiefer
Matthew J. Kiefer observes the full flower of NIMBYism today- no longer just satisfied with their backyard, NIMBYs have become NOPEs (Not On Planet Earth). This article originally appeared in Harvard Design Magazine, Spring/Summer 2008.Opposition to new development is fraught with so many acronyms that you need a lexicon to decode them. The catch-all term is NIMBYism, sufficiently well known to merit an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, which identifies its first use in a 1980 Christian Science Monitor story. The term arose to describe opposition to large infrastructure projects undertaken by public agencies or utility companies, such as highways, nuclear power plants, waste disposal facilities, and prisons. (These are known as LULUs, Locally Undesirable Land Uses) It has now extended outward in concentric circles of opposition, each with its own acronym: NOTEs (Not Over There Either), NIABYs (Not In Anyone’s Backyard), BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone), and even NOPEs (Not On Planet Earth!). It is also possible to find references to CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) and NIMTOOs (Not In My Term Of Office).
In any event, opposition to development has long since entered its second phase, targeting not just LULUs, but also ordinary development projects. It is now a standard feature of the development landscape, a form of ritual performance art. As a citizen activist and author of a NIMBY handbook unapologetically observes, “Everyone is a NIMBY, and no one wants a LULU.”
Interesting read. Whatcha think?
So far in Raleigh Central this month, Boylan Heights got the message for Central Prison's new hospital when the trees went down, Sunnybrook Road residents awoke to find blasting notices for a 200 ft water reuse irrigation tank in their backyards, and Glenwood Brooklyn learned of new CASA plans. We have heard "we did what the law requires" a lot in these weeks.
The scale of new development projects and our ability to measure their impacts have also increased over time. As the burgeoning land use regulatory regime has gradually supplanted planning, the effectiveness of public agencies in establishing publicly accepted templates for growth has also diminished. Perhaps more importantly, we have come increasingly to rely on private actors to build public infrastructure as a component of their large-scale development projects.
These factors combine to almost mandate wider citizen participation in development decisions. While civic engagement may be dwindling generally, it has undoubtedly risen in the development arena. Filling the vacuum left by minimalist government, atrophied land-use planning, and an eroding social contract, NIMBYism is the bitter fruit of a pluralistic democracy in which all views carry equal weight.
I beg their pardon.
When it gets to the heart of it, the author does say this:
First, although it goes against the grain of every project proponent’s deepest instincts, to overcome their sense of oppression, the neighbors must be invited to actually influence development outcomes within the bounds of feasibility. Ceding some measure of control over the design of the project eliminates the “zero sum game” negotiation that characterizes most approval processes. It often leads to creative solutions and empowers the problem-solvers and constructive participants more than the extremists.
A second element is compensation. Every project has impacts, and most fall disproportionately on an identifiable subset of people within a narrow geographic radius, who generally believe, whether they state it publicly or not, that they are entitled to some special consideration for allowing some broader social need to be met at their expense.
And the grand finale:
NIMBYism serves many social functions. In an improvised and very democratic way, it forces mitigation measures to be considered, distributes project impacts, protects property values, and helps people adjust to change in their surroundings. It is a corrective mechanism that, if allowed to function properly, can even help to preserve a constituency for development. We owe the continued existence of many memorable places, from Washington’s Mt. Vernon to the Cape Cod National Seashore, to the efforts of past NIMBYs. In fact, if the forces that animate NIMBYism – attachment to place, increases in homeownership, and public participation in government decision-making – were waning, we would lament this more than we now bemoan NIMBYism. Though it’s not so easy to do, the only constructive approach is to accord development opponents the presumption of good faith and to engage with them.
Is worth a read. Good faith would go a long way in the actions this past month.
R E S P E C T ...--Aretha