Not All Opponents to New Development are NIMBYs

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(The Saint Report posted a Washington City Paper report on Walmart’splanning success in DC without a fight. Here Mike Saint comments on a related discussion on NIMBYs between City Paper columnist Lydia DePillis and Megan McArdle, a senior editor for The Atlantic)

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

I have been telling clients and potential clients for quite some time that when people think and talk about opposition to new development, they often label it “NIMBY” even when the opponents are not local and are not “NIMBY” at all.
We see four distinct classes of opponents to new development and each has a different set of motivations. But they tend to merge and make it difficult to identify which is really driving the opposition.
As Lydia DePillis states in her Washington City Paper blog, one group of opponents is often labor unions, who are fighting new development for economic reasons. They fight against non union end users, usually Wal-mart, or non union hospitals or against use of non union construction workers. Their motive is to either force union concessions or punish non union companies.
The second opposition group is competitors. They also fight for economic reasons. Their concern is loss of profits or market share or even being driven out of business by a new market entrant. These are often businesses that depend on most of their sales coming from a small geographic area. Think quarries, hospitals, retailers, shopping malls. In this case, an increase in the number of providers does not increase the total revenue dollars available, so prices are cut and profits shrink.
The third group is the opponents whose opposition is based on philosophy. They are environmentalists, preservationists, smart growth and global warming activists, and others who are opposed because the proposed development clashes with their own vision of America. They will often journey thousands of miles from home to fight a coal mine, pipeline, or oil refinery (among other things).
And finally, there are the NIMBY’s who fear the new development will harm them in some way – increase traffic or pollution or crime, or block their view, or lower their property values.
I do not usually find a differentiation between DePillis’s point #4 and labor unions and environmentalists, who use social and economic justice arguments to fight development.
I do agree with Megan McArdle, writing in The Atlantic, though, on the definition of the term “NIMBY”. Most NIMBY critics do use the term as a pejorative when criticizing new development opponents who they say are selfishly blocking development that would benefit the larger community.
For Lydia DePillis’s column, “What I Talk About When I Talk About NIMBYism”, click here.

What are your thoughts?

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

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