“Neighborhood”: Should we spell it N-I-M-B-Y?


(This week, we welcome back veteran communicator Terry Gallagher.)

What’s so bad about NIMBY? Wikipedia says the acronym for “not in my back yard” is “used pejoratively to describe opposition by residents to a proposal for a new development close to them.”

There are plenty of good reasons for people to want to control access to their neighborhood. Some of the claims go pretty far: “Compact, walkable communities—the opposite of poorly planned sprawl—are the solution to some of our biggest shared challenges, from childhood obesity to social isolation, from crash deaths to disappearing farmland, from the high price of gas to the architectural blight of strip development.” (That’s an excerpt from a website promoting communities planned so they’re walkable.)

In addition, for most Americans, their home represents their single most valuable asset. So it seems pretty reasonable that people will object to new developments in their neighborhoods. In my community, some residents are objecting to higher-density housing units on nearby properties. In coastal areas, people are opposing wind farms because of their impact on scenic views. In a neighborhood in San Francisco, residents are objecting to a city plan to provide transitional housing for “aged-out” foster care children.

But how far should NIMBY-ism go?

And how do we weigh competing claims?

Higher-density housing seems to be a good thing in a downtown area. Alternative energy and wind power are good things. Housing young, needy people in an area where they have access to social services is a good thing. So where should those good things go, if not in your neighborhood, or mine?

Earlier this year, residents of Staten Island objected when a Muslim congregation planned to convert a former Catholic convent into a mosque. Is that going too far? Remember that the great fast of Ramadan is just around the corner so Americans soon will be more aware of their Muslim neighbors, due to news media coverage if not personal experience. What anxieties will resurface this year in neighborhoods?

This is one of many real-life NIMBY stories unfolding this summer. The photo above is an earlier Staten Island Live news photo by Michael McWeeney, part of a story by SiLive reporter Anthony Barone. Their headline? “Mosque is a peaceful sanctuary on industrial row.” A solution still has not been found. The latest SiLive story this week says the convent is no longer an option and Muslims on Staten Island will be spending Ramadan still searching for a site.

These are urgent “Neighborhood” issues. How do we weigh development requests? Maybe we should draw some lines—but how do we weigh the requests?

Please, share with us your thoughts on this: How do you draw these lines?
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ABOUT TERRY GALLAGHER: After working more than 20 years in higher education, Terry Gallagher is exploring new ways to use media and messages to build stronger institutions and communities.  Most recently, he has joined the board and helped launch communications efforts at the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, a new group with a long history.

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