Nimby Wars Far More Nuanced Than Often Described

The Saint ReportNIMBY, Planning and Zoning, Saint Index, saintblog, Thought Leadership

Mike S 2014(1)By P. Michael Saint, Chairman and CEO, The Saint Consulting Group

NIMBY’s are often in the news these days and the press stories seldom catch the complexity, nuances and shades of grey in such land use fights. For example:

But who are Nimby’s and are they good or bad?

Our latest national polling at Saint Consulting shows most Nimby’s are middle aged, upper income, highly educated, politically moderate, white, male homeowners, who fear new development will harm their property values and lifestyles. Younger, less educated, less wealthy, apartment dwellers who want to see economic progress in which they might participate are less apt to oppose new land use projects.

Critics call Nimby’s selfish. They claim Nimby’s raise the cost of residential development, making it harder for the “not rich” to find affordable housing. They block progress, like new telescopes or ballparks, or prevent socially desirable change, like wind farms or solar installations or retirement living facilities or distribution of energy supplies. And critics claim Nimby’s operate with bad motives: They fight because they have their piece of the pie and don’t want to share it with others.

Those who applaud Nimby’s, claim they are protecting the beauty, health, safety and integrity of communities. Their claims that new development will bring real harm to an area, are not fiction, or selfish, they say, but legitimate safety and environmental concerns. They did not see themselves as selfish but as those fighting to protect the community for everyone.

In many cases, Nimby fights pit anti-change, pro status quo, people with an economic interest to protect against those who see an opportunity to fill a profitable unmet need that will increase jobs and taxes and mean progress in the community.

And all these land use opponents are not necessarily local residents who live nearby the planned project. They can be competitors who are protecting profits or people with a cause who travel hundreds or even thousands to miles to block a project they feel is against the public interest.

When one digs deeper than the headlines, one finds the so-called Nimby battles over new development are far more complicated than portrayed in the press and involved far many more defensible positions on each side of the argument.

Mike Saint is chairman and CEO of The Saint Consulting Group, email