Problems With NIMBYism


  • NIMBYs (Not in my backyard!)
  • CAVE people (Citizens against virtually everything)
  • STPs (Same ten people)

We’ve all got them. The ones who show up at hearings to block anything different from happening in a city, a neighborhood or district. The town was good enough for them when they moved there, so nothing needs changing.

This kind of thinking is dangerous. Cities that fail to see trends and recognize opportunities are risking a lot. City leaders should continually ask themselves:

Do young adults think our city is fun? 

Are there more or less families in the community than before? Why?

Where are retirees locating when they downsize from their homes?

There are other important questions to ask, too. Often times the answers reveal that a city should pivot from its long held strategic plans. (Notice I wrote “pivot”, not “retreat from”)  Modifications to existing norms are crucial to a city’s long term viability. In recent years we have seen huge changes in how people choose to experience a city- housing preferences, multi-modal transportation, work environments and local food movements, to name just a few.

Cities who are early, and thoughtful, adopters of these changes are reaping the benefits. Those that resist often struggle, all in the effort of appeasing a vocal few in the community.

Here are some of consequences that cities face by rejecting thoughtful progress.

“Over serving” the wrong people leads to stagnation. In business the concept of “over serving” certain clients is time honored and makes good sense. If you buy $1 million in widgets every year from a company you can expect them to pay more attention to your needs than someone who rarely purchases their products. Local governments, however, tend to “over serve” the ten people who show up at every council meeting to complain, often at the expense of the majority who want something more from their community.

No progress, no talent. All cities want to attract talent to their communities, at least those cities that aspire to build strong economies. Today’s talented, mobile workforce gathers in urban places around the globe. They seek progressive minded places that celebrate their histories AND welcome new thinking. In my recent blog on Savannah I wrote of a community that is true to its roots and inviting. That’s a great combination.

The Creation of a Geriatric Monoculture. (An Andres Duany term) “I’ve been here for fifty years. So what I say should carry more weight than what others believe.” We all know this guy. He sings the praises of 1974 and pines for the good, old days. And he usually has a few allies who feel the same.

I understand this guy’s position and applaud him for his engagement. However, allowing him and his partners to bully decision makers into accepting their vision as the ONLY one in the community is wrong. People with children bring energy to town. Young, single people bring noise. Even active seniors value different experiences than this guy. Their voices are important, too.

I have heard others say that the best cities are ones where everyone can live. As a child, a young adult, a parent and in retirement. That’s a worthy goal.