Is NIMBY a Bad Word?

posted by Patrick Slevin

The word NIMBY is part of the American lexicon, but it’s a derogatory “N-word” expressed freely by corporations, media, officials, and consultants (to include myself).  The word NIMBY reflects an “us v. them” paradigm that often alienates the community-at-large: The same community that grants the license to operate. This paradigm directly increases risk  and costs, elevates community angst, and leads to political rejection of even the most sustainable real estate projects. We can do more to change the lexicon and the paradigm.  

The NIMBY phenomenon is widely known, but vaguely understood.   Over the next several months, I will be providing comments, articles, announcements, and interviews with key thought leaders. The topic will be on social sustainability and how it expands the reach and impact of corporate social responsibility in the real estate industry. 

How does social sustainability change the NIMBY paradigm?  Stay tuned. 

Here is an excerpt of a recent story published by The Atlantic, Is NIMBY a Bad Word?, which touches upon the fallout of NIMBY attitudes.

Is NIMBY a Bad Word?

 Contributors@theatlantic.com(Megan McArdle), On Friday August 19, 2011, 1:16 pm EDT

I’m a little bit late to the party, but a couple of weeks ago, local real estate journalist Lydia DePillis stirred up a firestorm when she called people in Anacostia who were opposing a homeless shelter “NIMBYs”.  People pointed out that Anacostia has historically been a dumping ground for social services, and they just wanted to keep local commercial spaces that might actually house businesses for, y’know, businesses.  Her response: you’re NIMBYs.  Own it.

NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard. As in, ‘I don’t object to this [homeless shelter/windmill/trash transfer station/Walmart/meth clinic] in principle, but I’d rather not have to deal with it in my neighborhood.’ That definition holds true even for the people who would add, ‘because my neighborhood is already a dumping ground for that kind of crap’ or ‘it’s just not the right place for that kind of thing.’

Wikipedia says that the word is typically used pejoratively. I’d counter that it’s only seen as a pejorative term because not wanting to have to deal with negative things, even if you’re fine with putting them in some other community, is generally regarded as selfish. The other side of selfishness, though, is simply the desire to improve your community, which I don’t doubt is the motivation behind those who are opposing a women’s shelter in Anacostia. Therefore, to me, community activism and NIMBYism aren’t mutually exclusive.

For the full story go to The Atlantic, Is NIMBY a Bad Word?.

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