Are People Who Oppose Development Selfish? A Season’s Greetings Message

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By P. Michael Saint, Chairman and CEO, The Saint Consulting Group

Are people who oppose new development selfish? I ask that question in all seriousness. But depending on whom you ask and what project the “NIMBYs” are opposing, you will get far different answers.

I was reading a columnby Doug Hendrie, an Australian writer, who claims that selfish NIMBYs who want to protect their home property values are responsible for sprawl that makes compact, high density development impossible in Melbourne, harming society.

Another writer, Christopher Sands, writing in the Huffington Post, says that big infrastructure projects are being blocked by selfish NIMBYs and concludes that while public input on land use should not be stopped, large national or North American “apolitical” infrastructure commissions should be formed to approve big projects like pipelines and bridges.

Other writers claim selfish people, whom they characterize as NIMBYs, are putting the world at risk by blocking wind farms or other alternative energy plants. These writers, and those who support vertical development, bridges and high speed rail, and alternative energy like wind power, reject opposition arguments on safety, environmental or traffic grounds. They see these as simple excuses by desperate, selfish NIMBYs, who care about their own property and pleasure more than they care about building a better society.

But when those who oppose landfills, or mines, or fracking or a host of other land uses, cite the same environmental arguments as those opposing wind farms, they are often not considered selfish NIMBYs, but valiant citizens who are trying to protect the community.

But are those who oppose oil drilling near their homes really any less NIMBY than those who oppose windfarms?

And who gets to decide which project is “good” and should be built, like solar energy facilities, and which are “bad” and should be opposed, like oil pipelines, if the process is not an open Democratic one with all sides able to voice their opinions?

Is branding someone in a derogatory manner, by calling them NIMBY, simply a function of whether you agree or disagree with the value or goodness of the proposed project?

So, in answer to my question, NIMBYs are selfish only when they disagree with you on whether something should be allowed.

I hope you all have a great holiday and a wonderful 2012.
– Mike Saint

P. Michael Saint is chairman and CEO of The Saint Consulting Group, email

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