NIMBYism is the biggest obstacle to the evolution of vibrant urban communities, but the incentives for some to use public forums to impose restrictions on neighboring properties are great. Local politicians often bow to the most vocal residents, often with minority opinions, to avoid making waves, but their impositions are at the expense of the overall community (and the environment).
NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) activism is as bad as ever and getting worse, according to startling new statistics from a consulting company that specializes in overcoming opposition to development.
The third-annual Saint Index, a gauge of public opinion on urban development, found one-quarter of Americans say they or a family member have actively opposed a development project. That means Americans are twice as likely to oppose development than support it. Among the findings, 78 percent of Americans think there should be no new development in their community, 44 percent oppose new apartments or condominiums (up from 34 percent in 2006), and 69 percent say their local government is doing a fair to poor job on planning and zoning.
In his blog Rob discusses varying definitions of NIMBYism:
The key to understanding NIMBYism comes from political science, not the technicalities of zoning. NIMBYism occurs when a politically unrepresentative minority exacts unreasonable costs on the larger community, up to and including blocking otherwise supported developments. This definition comes from a provocative article by Morriss P. Fiorina titled “Extreme Voices: A Dark Side of Civic Engagement” that appears in this text.
Rob discusses strategies and solutions for dealing with activists. I tend to agree that as much as we would like to just ignore them, they don’t just go away. The best strategy is to be transparent and educate the community about the benefits. A vocal minority will have a more difficult time making waves when well-informed neighbors are brought into the discussion along with them.
The bottom line here is that people serious about changing the status quo in American cities must have a robust understanding and strategy for handling NIMBYism. Thanks to rapid changes in the mechanics of planning — the goals of written plans and character of the zoning — higher density, pedestrian and transit-oriented neighborhoods are increasingly legal again. What remains is the public engagement strategy to minimize the size and ranks of the vocal minority and convince American communities they’re the right form of development for our communities.